Rishi Sunak will “unequivocally condemn” Russia’s war in Ukraine at the G20 summit but appeared to acknowledge that the group was divided on the issue of explicitly criticising the invasion.
The Prime Minister touched down in Bali, Indonesia, on Monday ahead of the two-day gathering of leaders of the world’s major economies.
The event looks set to be dominated by the fallout from the Ukraine war, which has exacerbated global economic challenges, pushing up food and energy prices around the world.
Divisions over the conflict are so deep that there is uncertainty over whether leaders will be able to agree a communique.
There will be no condemnation of the invasion as Russia, a G20 member, will not agree to condemn itself.
While Western leaders have unanimously rebuked Russian President Vladimir Putin for the conflict, some G20 countries including China and India have remained neutral.
Mr Sunak left open the possibility that he could meet China’s Xi Jinping at the gathering.
Asked about the apparent impossibility of jointly criticising Moscow, Mr Sunak told broadcasters at the Hilton Bali: “The G7 is a group of like-minded liberal democracies with similar values.
“The G20, we have to acknowledge, is a different grouping. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be engaged in it.
“We should make our voices heard and constructively work with people where we can to make a difference for people at home as well.”
Mr Sunak plans to use the first plenary session on Tuesday to confront Russia’s representative, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was sent in Mr Putin’s place.
He said: “I’m going to use this opportunity to unequivocally condemn Russia’s hostile and illegal war in Ukraine.
“And I know that other allies will as well because it’s right that we highlight what is going on and hold Russia to account for that and I won’t shy away from doing that.”
He said he would also use the summit to build “some strong relationships with other leaders like President Biden from America and the prime ministers of Japan, Australia and India”.
Asked if that could include China, he said: “President Xi is here and like all the other leaders, hopefully I will have a chance to talk to him too.”
Mr Sunak has a number of bilateral meetings lined up, and will have plenty of opportunities to rub shoulders with other leaders at the summit’s margins.
His series of one-on-ones began on Monday evening with drinks and nibbles with his Canadian counterpart Justin Trudeau.
Mr Sunak asked Mr Trudeau about his Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) visit, saying he was interested because the UK now has an Indo-Pacific tilt to its foreign policy.
Bali will be the first major diplomatic test for Mr Sunak, whose experience in Government has so far been almost entirely UK-focused, and a chance to set out his foreign policy vision.
As he arrived on the tropical island after a long-haul flight, the Prime Minister was met by a guard of honour and a group performing a traditional Balinese dance on the tarmac.
At the summit, he will call on fellow leaders to “step up to fix the weaknesses in the international economic system”.
Mr Sunak will return to the UK on Thursday just in time for the budget, in which Jeremy Hunt could impose up to £60 billion in tax rises and spending cuts.