Amid Gaza war, Biden, Xi and Putin push very different aims


Reuters :
In recent global geopolitics, there have been few days with as many moving parts as Wednesday, with Russian and Chinese leaders meeting in Beijing just as US President Joe Biden touched down in Israel and wars raged in Gaza and Ukraine.

For Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Biden’s embrace of Israel is seen an opportunity to exploit Middle Eastern anger over events in Gaza and entrench their position across the developing world.

Both Russian and Chinese officials have condemned Israel for going beyond what they think is necessary for self-defence, also blaming Washington for both the unexpected conflict and wider tensions in the region.

Biden has gone further than any other recent US leader in his expressions of support for Israel – both military and diplomatic – since Hamas fighters unexpectedly poured out of the Gaza Strip on Oct 7 and killed hundreds of Israelis.

Simultaneously, however, his administration hopes to be seen as holding the Jewish state back from an even more aggressive approach, relying on a massive display of US military might to deter Iranian proxy Hezbollah from also invading Israel.

US President Joe Biden meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 leaders’ summit in Bali, Indonesia, November 14, 2022.

To what extent either of those can be achieved remains unclear – although if the United States can pull off a deal to re-stabilise the region, or at least avoid further escalation, it will help Biden when it comes to re-election and boost battered US prestige.

More broadly, however, Wednesday showed Biden, Putin and Xi all struggling to assert themselves in an increasingly unpredictable, unravelling and violent multipolar world where few of their plans work out as they had hoped.

Whether that is enough to divert Washington and Beijing from their increasingly antagonistic approach to each other is another question.

The last year has seen mounting speculation a Chinese invasion of Taiwan in the next decade might spark a wider war, prompting a dramatic plunge in US-China trade.

Addressing representatives of more than 100 nations in Beijing – including Taliban-run Afghanistan – Xi presented China as the rising defender and driver of the multipolar system, criticising attempts to “decouple” China’s economy from that of the United States and its allies.

Western officials deny decoupling is the aim, talking instead of “de-risking” by moving away from dependence on Chinese manufacturing.


Many developing world states, meanwhile, are doing what they can to avoid publicly picking between Washington and Beijing, attempting to keep up good relations with both.

The Gaza war is now feeding those dynamics.

Earlier this year, China helped broker a fledgling peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, while the US moved forward on its own Saudi-Israeli deal. Until the Gaza offensive, the latter looked like the more serious agreement.

Now that looks in doubt.

Moscow and Beijing, however, retain distinctly different interests in the current Mideast war.

Mired in conflict in Ukraine, pro-Kremlin pundits have expressed open pleasure at events in the Middle East, hoping they will further reduce already battered Western appetite for supporting the government in Kyiv.

Nervous and rising energy prices will also be good news for Russia’s sanctions-hit economy.

China, in contrast, will be desperately hoping to avoid yet another major economic shock just as it appears to be recovering from a property downturn and the effects of shifting trade.

Visiting Beijing last week, US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and a bipartisan team of senators lobbied Xi to exert pressure on Iran to avoid the conflict spreading. US officials have struggled to meet with Chinese counterparts this year, but it is still too soon to say whether shared Middle East worries might offer greater common ground.

Oil prices are already around 10% higher than before the Hamas attack, with the International Monetary Fund estimating a sustained rise of that amount normally shaves 0.15% of global growth.

As with the food price shocks of the Ukraine war, those effects will be most starkly felt amongst the poorest nations.