US President Joe Biden headed for the G20 in India on Thursday promising that the summit would "deliver" despite the absence of the Chinese and Russian leaders.
Biden is hoping to seize on the no-shows by Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin to boost US influence, and show that the club of top economies remains a key forum for international issues.
But the bloc remains divided on big issues, from Russia's war in Ukraine to climate change, with nations still far from agreeing on a final statement for the meeting in New Delhi.
Biden said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he was "focused on making progress on Americans' priorities, delivering for developing nations, and showing our commitment to the G20 as a forum that can deliver."
The 80-year-old president will also travel to Vietnam on Sunday where he is expected to upgrade relations with the former foe, in a further bid to push back against an increasingly assertive China.
Air Force One departed Joint Base Andrews near Washington, with Biden using its lower set of steps as he increasingly does, and is due to arrive in India on Friday.
- 'Milestone' -
China's Xi will miss the G20 meeting at a time of heightened trade and geopolitical tensions with the United States and India, with which it shares a long and disputed border.
Beijing did not give a reason but said premier Li Qiang would attend instead.
Putin is not even planning to make a video address at the G20, the Kremlin said Thursday, amid fraught relations between Moscow and the West over Ukraine.
Biden, however, will meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi shortly after arrival, and would speak with other leaders on the "margins," although no formal meeting had been arranged, the White House said.
"We think this will be an important milestone moment for global cooperation at a critical time," National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One.
But Sullivan admitted leaders had yet to agree on a final G20 statement, without which the summit risks being seen as a failure.
He accused China of trying to "hold climate hostage" by linking agreement on the issue to other topics, saying it was "not a game we are going to play."
"There is still some distance to travel before a final communique is released to the public or agreed among the leaders," he added.
- 'Coercive' -
White House officials said Biden would in particular stress a plan to increase World Bank and International Monetary Fund lending power for emerging nations by some $200 billion as a better alternative to Beijing's "coercive" Belt and Road Initiative.
But the absence of Xi and Putin underscores the divisions in the G20 and could hamper Biden's bid to keep the bloc as the leading forum of global economic cooperation.
Sullivan said the United States wants to show the G20 can deliver at a time when the BRICS club of emerging economies -- which includes India but has been championed largely by China and Russia -- is expanding.
Biden goes straight from the G20 to Hanoi where he will meet ruling Vietnamese Communist party chief Nguyen Phu Trong.
The pair are expected to sign a major upgrade in ties between the two countries, who have overcome the painful legacy of the Vietnam War to grow close.
Biden tested negative for Covid shortly before he was due to depart, the White House said, clearing him to travel after a scare when his wife came down with a mild case on Monday.
First Lady Jill Biden also tested negative on Thursday.