Biden's choices.

XI Jinping and Joe Biden arrived in Bali for this week's G20 summit buoyed by recent domestic successes. Their three hours of bilateral discussions on Monday may not have yielded any substantial results, but the extended and apparently amicable face-to-face encounter may help to decelerate rising Sino-US tensions.

On the other hand, a key focus of the US president's diplomacy in Southeast Asia has been to build up support for a US-sponsored strategic alliance directed against China. That is hardly likely to go down well in Beijing. Predictably endorsed for a third term in office, Xi is unlikely to back down from his long-term designs on Taiwan.

Biden said after the Bali talks that an invasion wasn't imminent. That doesn't mean the US will stop pouring arms into Taiwan, which China will see as a provocation - and who knows what comes next. Equally, belligerent noises from Beijing provide the US with an excuse for enhancing its military presence in the South China Sea. Would verifiable Taiwanese neutrality deter China from threatening its sovereignty?

No one can say, but it might be a path worth pursuing diplomatically, instead of repeating the errors that helped turn Ukraine into a target for Vladimir Putin's aggression. Had Putin turned up for the G20, the personal dynamic between him and other leaders would have been intriguing to watch. But, unlike Biden and Xi, he has no domestic triumphs to boast of - and, on the contrary, plenty of battlefield wounds to lick.

Will he focus on peace at home or fuel war abroad?

It may be too late for a vow of Ukrainian neutrality complemented by a rollback of Nato military encampments on Russia's borders to persuade a beleaguered Putin to reverse his hapless conquest. Again, it's hard to say. Russia and the US are talking at various levels, but a negotiated peace that would halt death and destruction in Ukraine appeAars not be on the agenda for now, and even striving for it is seen as anathema in America.

Not long ago, a mild missive to the Biden administration from the congressional Democratic progressive caucus, suggesting that the pursuit of negotiations alongside military aid for Ukraine might be a reasonable course, had to be withdrawn within a day. Support for Ukraine apparently cannot involve heightened diplomatic efforts to halt the bloodshed - after all, how would that help the weapons manufacturers and arms traders who are reaping a bonanza?

All too many of those who justifiably excoriate the...

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