Four summits on the road ahead

Hussein Haridy
Tuesday 30 May 2023

Four international summit meetings took place in Asia last week, with each sending out important messages on a changing global order.


Seldom has the world seen four more important summit meetings than those that took place in the span of three days from 19 to 21 May. All four of them convened in Asia.

The first was the regular Arab Summit hosted by Saudi Arabia in the port city of Jeddah on 19 May that saw the reintegration of Syria into the Arab League after 12 years in the wilderness.

It was striking to see Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad once again among the Arab heads of state who participated in this transformative summit meeting, representing a break with the past 12 years of severed diplomatic relations between Syria and many Arab countries including the host of the Arab Summit Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi government had been cool towards efforts by some Arab countries to readmit Syria to the League at the last Arab Summit in Algeria on 1-2 November. However, it had subsequently changed direction and decided to go along with a strong Arab consensus in this regard.

The change came on the heels of the restoration of Saudi-Iranian relations through Chinese mediation last March.

The presence of the Syrian president was not the only highlight of the Jeddah Summit. It would not be an overstatement to say that the presence of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was the biggest surprise at the inaugural session of the summit. He was there at the invitation of the Saudi government and wanted to gain Arab support for Ukraine, knowing that the Arab world does not wish to take sides in the conflict but rather wants to work with the international community to bring peace to the country.

The Jeddah Summit coincided with the G7 Summit hosted by Japan from 9 to 12 May in the city of Hiroshima. On the margins of the Hiroshima Summit, the leaders of the Quad group of countries, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue comprising the US, India, Japan, and Australia, met for their third in-person meeting since 2021.

At the same time, US President Joe Biden held a meeting with Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in the context of the US-Japanese-South Korean Trilateral Alliance.

The three leaders discussed how to take their trilateral cooperation to new heights, including through new coordination in the face of what the three consider to be “the illicit” nuclear and missile threats of North Korea and questions related to “economic security” – read China – and their respective Indo-Pacific strategies.

The fourth summit, the first of its kind, was hosted by China in the Chinese city of Xian. Chinese President Xi Jinping welcomed the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, all five ex-Soviet Central Asian republics.

The parties at the Xian Summit agreed to strengthen cooperation in order to prevent foreign interference and “colour revolutions” in their countries, and the Chinese president held a series of one-on-one meetings with his Central Asian counterparts. The summit comes in the context of active Chinese diplomatic efforts to counter Western strategies to contain China.

If any one doubts the existence of such strategies, going over the results of the G7 Hiroshima Summit would probably lead him to have second thoughts.

China was not mentioned by name, of course, but there is no mistaking the fact that the G7 leaders meant China in the G7 Hiroshima Leaders Communiqué released on 20 May when they stressed that they would coordinate their approach to economic resilience and economic security based on a policy of diversifying and deepening partnerships and de-risking rather than de-coupling.

That language may remind some of the speech that President of the European Commission Úrsula von der Leyen delivered two months ago on the future policy of Europe towards China, where she also said that this would be based on de-risking and not de-coupling.

The use of the term “economic coercion” has been interpreted as a reference to certain Chinese market practices. In the meantime, the G7 leaders promised to deliver on their goal of mobilising $600 billion in financing for quality infrastructure through the Partnership for Global Infrastructure Investment (PGII) as a counter-strategy to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.

It came as no surprise that the Chinese government then reacted forcefully to the indirect targeting of China.

Maybe the language of the Joint Statement made by the Quad leaders on 20 May at Hiroshima was more neutral as far as China was concerned. The leaders said that they wanted to see a region, meaning the Indo-Pacific, in which no country dominated and no country was dominated and where the leadership of regional institutions including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) was respected.

It goes without saying that most of the member countries of these groups have great interest in maintaining good relations with China and do not want to be party to the fierce competition between the US and China.

The four summits taken together reflect the changes taking place in the world order today and are indicative of the fact that the West, led by the Biden administration, is trying to align the rest of the world with its objectives and interests, as well as its world view, even as many countries and many regions have different ideas of how the world should be governed.

The often-used expression in Western communiqués of the “rules-based international order” is not widely accepted in many parts of the world for the simple reason that the “order” referred to is no more than the rules that benefit the interests of the West.

One only has to compare the lofty principles that the West claims to be defending in Ukraine with their non-relevance, from the standpoint of the same West of course, to the Palestinian question and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab territory since the June 1967 War to see why this is the case.

 The US has been a driving force behind the Western support for Ukraine such that it can defend its territorial integrity, but at the same time during the Trump administration it recognised Israeli sovereignty over the Occupied Golan Heights. The Biden administration has not rescinded this regrettable decision that violates the UN Charter – the very charter that it claims to be defending in its support for Ukraine.

The G7 Leaders Communique reaffirmed once again that the member countries of the G7 group are taking steps to support Ukraine for “as long as it takes.” They also discussed US support for a “joint effort” with allies and partners to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation fighter aircraft like the US-made F-16s. President Biden, when meeting the Ukrainian president in Hiroshima, expressed his support for Zelensky’s “commitment” to a just peace based on the “fundamental principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.”

The major difference between the G7 Summit and the other Arab and international summits discussed above is that the former sent out mixed messages while the latter were consistent in the messages that they intended to convey on where they stand in a changing international system.

The writer is former assistant foreign minister.


A version of this article appears in print in the 25 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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