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Biden, Xi, Not Putin Gather at G20 Bali Summit in Diplomatic Win for Host Indonesia

U.S. President Joe Biden joined world leaders at the island resort of Bali, Indonesia, for the G-20 Summit hosted by President Joko Widodo.

“I don’t think I’m going home,” Biden joked in a meeting with Widodo at the sidelines of the summit. “You had me staying on the beach.”

“It’s great to see you again, Jokowi,” Biden said using the Indonesian leader’s nickname. “This is a — you’ve been a good friend.”

The friendly banter belies months of intense diplomatic back and forth between Washington and Jakarta ahead of the gathering of the leaders of the world’s twenty largest economies that has been overshadowed by the war in Ukraine and Western pressure to isolate Russia.

Seventeen G-20 members are represented by their heads of government, including leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) leading industrialized nations as well as Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is not attending in person, and it is unclear whether he will participate virtually. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will participate virtually despite Ukraine not being the group’s member.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan sidestepped the question of whether Biden is happy with the final list of attendees. He said Biden sees the summit as an opportunity for leaders of the world’s major economies to deal with the consequences of Russia’s war in Ukraine and will focus on practical issues including food security, energy security and debt reform.

“And so, ‘happy/unhappy,’ I think, is not quite the right way to think about, you know, whether President Putin chose to show up or not,” Sullivan told VOA on board Air Force One Sunday, en route to Bali. “President Putin made his decision for his reasons under the pressures he’s facing.”

Sullivan declined to respond whether Biden is planning to walk out should Putin participate virtually.

“That’s a hypothetical that we have not yet engaged, in terms of what the President — how the President would react,” he said.

Optimal outcome

While Widodo had to navigate more geopolitical tensions than he had bargained for as summit host, from Jakarta’s perspective having Western leaders as well as leaders of China, Japan, South Korea, India and others, without embarrassing Moscow is an optimal outcome.

“Discussion[s] also very, very good and I’m glad that America and China [can] also be here,” Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan told reporters Saturday.

Inviting Zelenskyy was a diplomatic middle-ground for Widodo who maintained that he had no flexibility to disinvite Moscow despite boycott threats from Western leaders

“And ultimately, the Western countries flinched. They blinked; Indonesia got its way,” Aaron Connelly, a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies told VOA. “Indonesia is very comfortable in this space, being a nonaligned power, trying to convene great powers that are at odds with each other.”

Jakarta will try to keep its focus on three main pillars it has selected under its presidency — global health architecture, sustainable energy transition and digital transformation. It wants to ensure the agenda developed not just by governments but also business stakeholders and civil society are carried forward to the next G-20 meeting under India as next year’s chair, Dinna Prapto Raharja, founder of the Jakarta-based think tank Synergy Policies told VOA.

Additionally, with geopolitical fault lines sharpened by the war in Ukraine, Jakarta is aiming to not stir tensions further and keep its options open.

Indonesia is facing a new kind of equilibrium, she said. “We don’t know where it will end. But definitely it won’t be the era of unipolarism where the U.S. will be the only major power.”

Biden – Jokowi

Widodo’s government is aiming for $89 billion in investments for next year and aggressively seeking funds for the relocation of its capital to Borneo, estimated to be a $34 billion project.

In their meeting, Biden and Widodo discussed expansion of their partnership including through the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, according to the White House. PGII is the West’s infrastructure funding scheme to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Washington and Jakarta are unveiling PGII initiatives on Indonesia’s energy transition during the summit. The countries are also launching a $698 million deal to develop climate-conscious transportation infrastructure in five Indonesian provinces and increase access to finance for Indonesia’s women-owned businesses and micro to medium sized enterprises.

Meanwhile trials of a nearly $8 billion high-speed railway project connecting Jakarta and Bandung, part of China’s BRI will be conducted during the G-20 summit and is scheduled to be launched next year.

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