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G20 Summit kicks off in New Delhi, India, minus Xi and Putin
05:05 - Source: CNN
New Delhi CNN  — 

President Joe Biden arrives in New Delhi on Friday for the annual gathering of the Group of 20 with plans to counter mounting military and economic aggression from Russia and China, while also demonstrating the US’s commitment to developing countries.

That the autocratic leaders of those two nations – each themselves a member of the G20 – are skipping this year’s summit only underscores the fractures coursing through the gathering of the world’s largest economies.

Ahead of Biden’s arrival, officials were hurriedly working to draft joint declarations that could be signed off on by the summit’s end. But the talks have been difficult, according to diplomats, and reflected the wide divides within the G20 over the most contentious global issues.

Biden has long held an abiding faith in the power of institutions like the G20 to come together at moments of global peril and hopes to focus on issues like climate change and debt restructuring during his two days here.

Yet unlike the smaller and more like-minded G7, this week’s larger summit brings together a wider swath of nations with a broad range of outlooks, from the war in Ukraine to the imperative to counter Beijing.

For some western officials, the utility of the G20 in an era of fractured interests and global conflict is in doubt. But entering the summit, Biden’s aides emphasized they still view the forum as capable of producing valuable outcomes.

“We hope this G20 summit will show that the world’s major economies can work together even in challenging times,” US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said this week. “So, as we head into New Delhi, our focus is going to be on delivering for developing countries, making progress on key priorities for the American people from climate to technology, and showing our commitment to the G20 as a forum that can actually deliver.”

At the center of the weekend summit is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has used his turn at the helm of the G20 to focus on developing nations while bolstering his stature as a global statesman – including cultivating closer ties to the United States.

Biden’s first order of business upon arriving in India will be a late-night meeting with Modi, whose embrace by the West has drawn deep skepticism in China. Like many nations in the global south, India hasn’t forcefully condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and continues to rely on Russian energy products shunned by the West.

Biden’s most significant objective at the G20 will revolve around proposed reforms to the World Bank and other multilateral development banks, alongside a boost in funding for those institutions focused on boosting developing countries.

The institutions, created in the aftermath of World War II, have long funded education, public health and infrastructure programs in developing countries. Recently, however, China has sought to wield its influence through its own lending programs that often leave countries mired in debt.

Sullivan said this week the World Bank reforms were “not against China,” noting Beijing is a shareholder in the bank. Yet Sullivan has also described the World Bank reforms in contrast to “the scale of the PRC’s coercive and unsustainable lending through the Belt and Road Initiative.” And in an era of escalating confrontation, nearly every step Biden takes abroad could be interpreted as a challenge to Beijing – and often is by Chinese officials.

The White House has already requested $3.3 billion from Congress in additional funding for the World Bank, which administration officials say will generate $25 billion in additional lending capacity as well as $1 billion in grants to help crises facing the poorest countries and $1 billion in global infrastructure funding.

The US expects other countries to commit to boosting funding for the bank, injecting a total of $100 billion in new lending capacity.

“The biggest shareholders of the World Bank are all sitting around the G20 table. We’ve asked Congress to appropriate the financing that we would need to deliver this $25 billion but getting other countries on board and excited about it is a huge part of scaling that up to $100 billion,” a senior administration official said.

But beyond the specific reforms, administration officials hope Biden’s presence at the summit and his focus on bolstering banks whose mission is to boost developing countries will send a message about the US’s commitment to those nations.

“Having the United States coming to the table and saying, ‘OK, we know that we need to be responsive to the needs of developing countries’ is something that we think is really important to our leadership,” the official said.

The contrast between Biden’s presence at the summit – which includes a number of developing countries – and Xi’s absence will also give the American president an opportunity to highlight the US’ commitment to the developing world.

“With the Chinese president not there, the participation by President Biden will stand out and it will send a message to the region and to the world that the US commitment is solid, and China probably has other fish to fry,” said Yun Sun, a senior fellow and director of the Stimson Center’s China program.

While the war in Ukraine – and divisions among G20 members about how to respond to Russia’s invasion – dominated last year’s summit, US officials say they are aiming to show developing countries that they are committed, including financially, to supporting more than just Ukraine.

While Biden still intends to hammer home the effects of Russia’s war in Ukraine on developing countries – via food and energy security and other inflationary pressures – Biden is poised to focus much of his energy on proposals that demonstrate the US’s commitment to the developing world.

“We’ve tried to make sure that we have a really great story to tell on our ambition on other items even as we continue to hold Russia accountable for what they have done,” a senior administration official said.

The US’s focus on issues other than the war in Ukraine also underscores ongoing divisions among G20 members over the war. While neither Xi nor Putin are expected to attend this year’s summit, both countries remain united in blocking a joint communique condemning Russia’s invasion.

India, this year’s host country and summit president, has abstained from voting on UN resolutions condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has been buying record amounts of cheap Russian oil since the invasion.

For Biden, the absence of Xi and Putin amounts to both a lost opportunity and an opening as all three vie for influence on the world stage.

At last year’s G20 in Bali, Biden sat for an hourslong summit with Xi that officials said afterward generated positive momentum toward normalizing communication between the US and China.

Xi’s absence at this year’s talks prevents even a chance encounter on the sidelines, and Biden himself told reporters this week he was “disappointed” at the Chinese president’s decision to skip.

Yet without Xi there, Biden’s centerpiece proposal to reform global lending institutions like the World Bank – in part to counter what the US calls coercive lending practices by China – are unlikely to be met with leader-level resistance from Beijing.

“It won’t change our pitch,” Sullivan said this week. “China will have representatives at the table, albeit not represented at the leader level. But the United States is going to put forward the same straightforward, in our view, clear-cut case for why this is so important.”