Leaders of half the world’s population gathered in Phnom Penh on Sunday, but for the traveling White House press corps, big news broke half a world away as President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party regained control of the Senate in the midterm elections.
This gave Biden a political boost ahead of Monday’s face-to-face meeting in Bali, Indonesia, with China’s President Xi Jinping, who the American leader predicted would be defined by direct talks between the leaders of two rival powers.
While the Democrats will still lose control of the House of Commons, making it harder for the Biden administration to get things done, the outcome for the party was better than expected.
Speaking to reporters before attending Sunday’s East Asia Summit at a hotel in the Cambodian capital, Biden acknowledged that domestic politics are affecting his international standing. The main purpose of the US President’s trip to the region is to signal Washington’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific.
“I know I’m coming in stronger, but I don’t need that,” Biden said. “I know Xi Jinping. I’ve spent more time with him than any other world leader. i know him well He knows me. We have very few misunderstandings. We just need to figure out where the red lines are and what is most important to each of us.”
“There is never a misjudgment of where each of us stands. And I think that’s critical in our relationship,” Biden added.
Although Biden has had extensive face-to-face meetings with Xi during the Obama administration and multiple phone calls with the Chinese leader since he became president two years ago, Monday’s meeting will mark the first face-to-face meeting of his presidency.
He has yet to address many issues, including China’s recent military exercises off Taiwan, its disputes with neighboring countries over the South China Sea, Hong Kong’s crackdown on democracy, trade and new US restrictions on semiconductor technology.
The meeting takes place on the sidelines of the Group of 20 Summit, the second part of the Asia Summit season in November.
The first chapter ended on Sunday in Cambodia, which hosted as chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – a position that will now be taken over by Indonesia for next year.
The East Asia Summit is a meeting of ASEAN’s most important dialogue partners in the Indo-Pacific. It includes the 10 members of ASEAN as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the USA
That accounts for about 53% of the world’s population and nearly 60% of global gross domestic product worth an estimated $57.2 trillion last year, according to the Australian government.
The diplomatic impact of Sunday’s summit was weakened by the absences of Xi – China was represented by Premier Li Keqiang – and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who dispatched Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Biden arrived at the summit late Sunday morning but later sat at the same table as Lavrov.
There was no sound on the official feed of the meeting, which was monitored by a journalist from RFA-affiliated network BenarNews, making it difficult to immediately tell if there was a sharp exchange about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
But on Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to discuss the issue.
“The Secretary of State discussed the United States’ steadfast commitment to helping Ukraine mitigate the impact of Russia’s continued attacks on critical infrastructure, including expediting humanitarian assistance and winterization efforts,” the State Department said.
The two also discussed the extension of the Black Sea Grains Initiative, which expires on November 19, to support global food security and the continued effectiveness of Ukraine’s battlefield. Blinken told Kuleba that the US considers the timing and content of negotiations with Russia to be Ukraine’s sole decision.
Also on Sunday, Biden held separate meetings with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to discuss the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and other regional stability issues, the White House said. The US has military bases in both countries.
Biden’s presence at the summit gave him an opportunity to try to get more countries to support the US Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, an attempt to counter China’s economic and political clout in the region.
Biden returns to Washington after the G-20 summit, while Vice President Kamala Harris takes his seat at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum, better known as APEC, in Thailand on November 16-19.