Biden heads to G20 summit; Putin, Xi not expected to attend

An Indian artist Jagjot Singh Rubal gives final touches to an oil painting of US President Joe Biden, at his workshop in Amritsar on September 5, 2023, ahead of the two-day G20 summit in New Delhi. [AFP]

President Joe Biden heads to the G20 summit in India with big goals and high hopes that the Group of 20 leading rich and developing nations can work together on major global issues, the White House said Tuesday - amid speculation over his health after first lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID-19 the day before.

"He has no symptoms," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, adding that Biden also tested negative on Tuesday morning and would be tested on a schedule determined by his doctor. She did not say, when asked, what the plan would be if he were to test positive before his Thursday departure for New Delhi.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said the administration will be focused on issues like climate change, debt restructuring and the war in Ukraine. The gathering starts Saturday in the Indian capital.

"We hope this G20 summit will show that the world's major economies can work together even in challenging times," Sullivan said. "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 - as I said before - deliver."

Analysts say the absence of two key leaders - Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping - will impact proceedings, especially around the biggest challenge facing its host, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

"The great drama of this summit in Delhi is whether or not the countries can get a fully consensus communique, which they did last year at the last (summit) in Bali, which included paragraphs in which Russia agreed, as the communique said, that it had committed aggression in Ukraine," said professor John Kirton, who heads the G20 Research Group at the University of Toronto. He spoke to VOA on Zoom.

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"Whether or not Mr. Modi can pull off a full consensus communique the way President Joko Widodo of Indonesia did last year, we'll have to wait and see. But I think it's good news that Putin yet again has decided to skip the summit, as he did Bali last year. And it even looks like Xi Jinping of China might not show up. That will make it a lot easier for all of the other countries to take action."

Biden recently said he was "disappointed" that the powerful Chinese leader was not planning to attend.

Nevertheless, he said, "I'm going to get to see him."

Sullivan, on Tuesday, did not say when such a meeting might happen.

And analysts say they hope that New Delhi and Beijing can see past their disagreement over a new Chinese map that India disputes.

"Geopolitical tensions were certainly there well before India's G20 year," said Stephanie Segal, a senior fellow of the economics program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The fact that they are heightened, and that there's a focus on them going into this leaders summit is not ideal. My hope and expectation would be again, the framing of this summit on economic issues, that they can manage to put the border dispute in a separate category."

She said she hopes the delegations can see beyond their differences and focus on reforming multilateral institutions like the World Bank, a move analysts say would have wide-ranging effects.

"What those reforms, if they actually go through, would accomplish is putting a greater focus on what we call global public goods - so things like climate, pandemic preparedness, fragility, food insecurity," she said. "And the reforms would allow these institutions including the World Bank to provide additional financing to both emerging market and low income countries and financing at far more preferential terms."