December 4, 2022

Bangkok, Thailand CNN —

Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived on Thursday for the latest of three consecutive international summits held in Asia over the past week – this time at a meeting where leaders from the United States and Russia will both be absent.

With that, Xi is poised to attend the two-day meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders in the Thai capital without having to face US President Joe Biden at an economic summit focused on a region at heart of US-China competition.

The expected absence of Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bangkok, as in Bali for the Group of 20 (G20) summit earlier this week, will also relieve Xi of the optics of meeting a counterpart he describes as a bosom friend who has become a has become a pariah in the West after its invasion of Ukraine.

Instead, Xi will be a key figure on a list of attendees from a region where Washington and Beijing have long vyed for influence, putting him in a good position to promote China’s economic vision when leaders gather to Topics such as inflation, climate change and rising food prices and energy insecurity will be discussed, building on discussions at separate summits in Phnom Penh and Bali in recent days.

Xi laid out that vision in a written statement released Thursday night at a congress of senior business leaders meeting alongside the APEC summit, in which he denounced “Cold War mentality, hegemonism, unilateralism and protectionism” — typical Beijing ones Criticism of the US reflected without naming it.

“Asia-Pacific is nobody’s backyard and should not become an area for great power struggles. No attempt to wage a new Cold War will ever be permitted by the people or by our time!” Xi said in the statement.

“Any attempt to disrupt or even dismantle industrial supply chains … will only lead to a dead end for Asia-Pacific economic cooperation,” he said in a veiled reference to economic decoupling.

Xi is attending the APEC leaders’ summit, which officially begins Friday, having already made his diplomatic advances at the G20 meeting in Bali earlier this week – where his aim was to bring China after an absence as an integral part of a global arena to be placed alongside the Western powers on the world stage.

The G20 was Xi’s first major international summit since he broke norms last month to demand a third term at the top of the Chinese Communist Party and his first meeting with several Group of Seven (G7) leaders together and face to face since the beginning of the pandemic.

At the meeting, Xi held seemingly constructive discussions and grinned at photos with leaders who have recently sounded the alarm about China as a global threat. He was also caught in video footage scolding Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with a smile.

While tensions with the West remain acute, diplomacy has put Xi on a strong footing for entering this next summit, where the Chinese leader is expected to address business leaders and continue his series of bilateral talks, including with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

“Xi’s public relations work has been successful so far. The world has accepted his third term by default, and he can show he can command both domestic and foreign audiences,” said Yun Sun, director of the China program at Washington-based think tank Stimson Center.

“For APEC, with or without Biden and Putin, China should be the focus. But without her, Xi has no peer in the room… It will be his show.

“The implied message is also important in that it shows that the US and Russia are not as committed as China.”

But the US has other ideas. While Biden flew back to the United States on Wednesday to attend his granddaughter’s wedding, Vice President Kamala Harris will attend the APEC forum before traveling to the Philippines.

A senior White House official told reporters Harris will address a meeting of business leaders taking place alongside the summit, stating that there is “no better partner” than the US in the region.

The US intensified its economic competition with China last month with Washington introducing unprecedented measures to limit sales of advanced chips and chip-making equipment in China – a move likely to have knock-on effects on the economies of APEC members.

Earlier this year, Washington unveiled its Indo-Pacific economic framework — the economic heart of Biden’s plan to engage with the region as it competes with China — which includes a number of APEC member economies but not China or Russia. The US will host APEC next year.

Also at stake is how APEC leaders will deal with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

At the G20, in the presence of Biden and wealthy G7 leaders, the summit ended with a joint statement strongly condemning the war in Ukraine. As at the G20, Russia will be represented by a junior official, according to Russian state media, with First Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Belousov speaking for Moscow in Bangkok.

While the economic fallout from the war in Ukraine will be high on the agenda, how or if attending leaders will draw Russia into that fallout could have implications for the summit’s final agreements.

And while Xi may be projecting power on the guest list, China’s own economic woes have loomed over the region in recent months and are likely to be another area of ​​attention. Late last month, the IMF listed China’s “sharp and uncharacteristic” economic slowdown as a key headwind for the Asia-Pacific region, as its growth forecasts were cut by almost a percentage point.

In his written statement to business leaders on Thursday – a day before Harris is scheduled to speak at the same conference – Xi called for “openness” in the region’s economy and accelerated scientific and technological progress there.

“I hope that all of you, as business leaders … actively participate in China’s economic cooperation and reform, opening-up and modernization efforts,” he said.

However, observers will also be looking to the Chinese leader for clarity on Beijing’s economic agenda, especially as its borders – and supply chains – remain badly hit by ongoing Covid-19 controls despite an easing of policies last month. A widespread regulatory crackdown on the tech industry over the past year has also raised concerns.

“This is the big question mark on the minds of many of us,” former Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon told CNN, citing how long China will maintain its zero-Covid policy and tight border controls that have battered Thailand’s vital tourism industry .

“It is important for (APEC) participants to talk to the Chinese President about this,” he said.