Joe Biden, Xi Jinping summit snubs a missed opportunity in Indo-Pacific

By not showing up in Jakarta, Biden is sending a clear signal to the world’s fourth-most populous country that it isn’t a priority for the US. This is a baffling decision given Indonesia’s huge population, crucial strategic location and the fact it has traditionally hedged its bets between great global powers.

China is Indonesia’s biggest trading partner, but a territorial dispute over the remote Natuna Islands is fuelling friction between the two nations.

If Biden really believes that democracies are locked in a battle with autocracies, he should be courting a nation like Indonesia (the world’s biggest Muslim-majority democracy) rather than snubbing it.

If Xi opts against going to New Delhi, as looks increasingly likely, it will be an even more significant snub. Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has attended every G20 summit in person (besides the COVID-affected meeting in 2021), reflecting the gathering’s unique importance in bringing together leaders of the world’s major economies.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi views hosting the G20 as a major moment for India on the world stage, likening it to holding the Olympic Games. Xi’s absence would lower the status of the event and highlight growing tensions between India and China, which have a contested border 4400 kilometres long.

Xi travelled to last week’s BRICS summit with the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa in Johannesburg but did not deliver a scheduled speech, raising suspicions he may have been ill.

Among those who will miss out if Xi stays away from next week’s gatherings is Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who had flagged a meeting with the Chinese president on the sidelines of the G20. Every face-to-face encounter with Xi is a chance for Albanese to advance issues in Australia’s national interest – including the release of detained Australians Cheng Lei and Yang Hengjun.

Next week’s summit season could have provided an opening for the world’s most powerful leaders to seek common ground and manage their differences. Instead, it is shaping up to be a massive missed opportunity.

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