The most important bilateral meetings at the 2022 UN General Assembly

The most important bilateral meetings at the 2022 UN General Assembly

Plus: Rumours of Xi Jinping’s downfall are (probably) greatly exaggerated

Hi Intriguer. Eliud Kipchoge has broken the men’s world record for the fastest marathon, breaking his previous record by 30 seconds. The superhuman Kenyan finished Sunday’s Berlin Marathon in 2:01:09, or roughly the same amount of time we need to hype ourselves up to go to the gym.

Today’s briefing is a ~5.0 min read:

  • 🇺🇳 The UN General Assembly: looking beyond the main event.
  • ➕ Plus: We assess the rumours of a coup in China, Germany signs an LNG agreement with the UAE, and the British pound takes a historic plunge.

Our take: We were slightly surprised by how many newspapers around the world prominently covered Italy’s election. Most stories we analysed focused on how right-wing the new ruling coalition is and whether Italy will remain a reliable Western power.


The most important bilateral meetings during the UN General Assembly

In brief:

  • The bilateral meetings held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly are often more interesting to foreign policy analysts than the headline-hogging speeches.
  • This year we saw Israeli and Turkish leaders meeting for the first time in 14 years, China and Australia cautiously discussing their relationship, and more evidence that Brazil won’t join the West in isolating Russia.

World leaders perform the traditional welcome to UNGA dance at the UN. (That’s actually South Korean pop megastars BTS performing at UNGA 2021). Source: Giphy

Behind the scenes

Over the last two weeks, the United Nations held the 77th General Assembly (UNGA), during which more than 150 world leaders descended on New York to make speeches and infuriate locals.

  • Discussions at this year’s UNGA were dominated by the Russo-Ukraine War, although a host of other topics including the Iran Nuclear Deal and climate action were also discussed.

While the leaders’ speeches grab the headlines, it’s arguable that the most important work is done on the sidelines of the General Assembly.

Here’s a quick rundown of the most interesting ‘bilats’ (diplomatic speak for meetings between two countries) that happened last week.

Four intriguing meetings

🇹🇷 Turkey & 🇮🇱 Israel 

The key takeaway: This is the first time the leaders of Turkey and Israel have held in-person talks in 14 years.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met to discuss economic and energy cooperation, a clear signal that the relationship between the two countries is warming.

  • Energy has been a crucial driver of the reconciliation – the discovery of natural gas fields in the Mediterranean has prompted Ankara to soften its stance towards Israel in the hopes of benefitting from a future gas pipeline connecting Israel to Europe.

🇦🇺 Australia & 🇨🇳 China 

The key takeaway: Australia’s new government is attempting to “stabilise” its relationship with China after years of rising tensions without compromising its stance on human rights or security.

  • Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi encouraged his Australian counterpart, Penny Wong, to “meet each other halfway” and “send more positive signals”. However, his calls were met with caution from Wong, who warned of a “long road” ahead.

Foreign affairs reporter Stephen Dziedzic described the meeting as being characterised by “careful language, [and] realistic expectations”. 

 🇷🇺 Russia & 🇧🇷 Brazil 

The key takeaway: The meeting was very friendly.

The Brazilian and Russian foreign ministers jointly expressed their concern about the negative impact of Western sanctions on Russia, making it clear that Brazil is determined to remain on friendly terms with Moscow.

  • As a thank-you gift, Russia proposed that Brazil become a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

🇺🇸 US & 🇵🇭 The Philippines 

The key takeaway: The Philippines are drifting back into Washington’s orbit.

  • US President Joe Biden and Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met for the first time last week to reiterate their support for a free and secure Indo-Pacific. According to analyst Sebastian Strangio:

“While Marcos is unlikely to wholeheartedly embrace the U.S. policy of containment toward China […] it is clear that his administration is returning to the historical pro-U.S. mean after a turbulent period in bilateral relations.”

Summit season is open!

Looking ahead, November will be a big month for international meetings:

  • 6 November: COP27, the UN’s Climate Change Conference, in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
  • 10-13 November: The ASEAN Summit in Cambodia.
  • 15-16 November: The 17th G20 Summit in Bali.
  • 18-19 November: The APEC leaders’ meeting in Bangkok (which President Biden recently announced he would skip).

We’ll be here to help make sense of the most important developments.

❓Quick poll: In your view, which of the four ‘bilats’ was the most important?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

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🇧🇪 Belgium

Belgian hesitance to impose sanctions on the Russian diamond trade is proving difficult to defend as the EU prepares another package of punitive economic measures.

  • Belgium has sought to shield the Russian diamond industry (which accounts for around 30% of the global market) from sanctions to protect Belgium’s multi-billion euro precious gem trade.
  • However, with Putin determined to escalate the fighting in Ukraine, Belgian officials may soon be forced to cut themselves off from Russia’s stones.

🇩🇪 Germany

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has returned from his energy diplomacy visit to the UAE with a modest natural gas (LNG) deal.

  • The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company will make its first LNG delivery to Germany later this year and is expected to send another five shipments in 2023.
  • Like other EU countries, Germany has been desperately looking to secure alternative natural gas supplies to decrease its dependence on Russian energy imports, but Scholz’s efforts have yielded mixed results.

🇲🇩 Moldova

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Chișinău for the second weekend in a row to call for the government’s resignation over spiralling inflation.

  • Moldova, which relies heavily on Russian gas exports, has been hit hard by rising energy prices, and protesters blame President Maia Sandu for not negotiating a better deal with Russia.
  • A harsh winter will bring more complications for Sandu, who handed in Moldova’s EU membership application shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

🇪🇺 The EU

The EU’s energy transition will require an investment of more than half a trillion euros to modernise the bloc’s electricity grid, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

  • The EU’s electricity grid needs €584B to prepare for the increasing adoption of electric vehicles and renewable energy.
  • Most of the investment will go towards reinforcing the distribution grid, while around €170B is earmarked for digitalising services to improve efficiency.

🇬🇧 The UK

The British pound fell to a record low against the US dollar on Monday (though it rebounded late in the session) after Liz Truss’s new Conservative government revealed its plan to cut taxes.

  • The tax cuts may force the Bank of England to raise interest rates to stabilise the pound.
  • The pound’s plunge is a sign that international markets are losing confidence in the UK economy.

What’s all this talk of a Chinese coup?

Palace intrigue: Reports of a coup in Beijing spread across social media over the weekend, mainly via the hashtag #chinacoup.

  • Multiple accounts said that Xi was either under house arrest or had contracted a bad case of Covid-19.

Xi is (probably) fine: Most analysts agree that the rumours are groundless. While that doesn’t mean we can be sure they’re false, the ‘evidence’ cited appears exaggerated or simply made up:

“It’s [Chinese Communist Party] elite politics so never say never but I think this round of rumors is BS… [i]n the frenzied amplification no one has presented any credible sourcing or evidence, just lots of wishful thinking.”

Noted China analyst Bill Bishop

President Xi hasn’t been seen in public since he returned from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in Uzbekistan last week. Many social media accounts claimed this was evidence that Xi was under house arrest:

  • In reality, it is far more likely that Xi is simply complying with China’s quarantine requirements.

It’s prime rumour season in China: The 20th Party Congress is just weeks away, and people are eager for information about China’s notoriously opaque political process.

There will likely be more rumours in the coming weeks. But, as plenty of China watchers pointed out over the weekend, Xi’s grip on the security services and critical party positions is so firm that future reports of Xi’s downfall are likely to be greatly exaggerated.


An interview with a supply chain expert

We sat down with supply chain expert Nicholas Stirling for this month’s Diplomatic Club. Nick began his career as a lawyer but has expanded to procurement and M&A roles in the energy and aviation industries.

Nick chatted with us about what he sees as the most significant geopolitical challenges right now and why despite all the doom and gloom, there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

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