July 12, 2022
JAKARTA – It would be too easy to dismiss the foreign ministers’ meeting of the Group of 20 of the world’s largest economies in Bali last weekend as a failure, especially since it ended without the traditional joint communique.
And then there were the shouting matches, with ministers from the United States and its allies lashing out at Moscow for invading Ukraine and for precipitating the global energy and food crises, and with the Russian minister attacking back and even walking out some of the sessions.
It was not a complete failure, however, as it helps Indonesia, the host nation, in preparing for the larger meeting in November,
the G20 Summit, which will also be held in Bali. The G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting has given us a sneak preview of what will likely happen in November, assuming the summit takes place and that all the major players in the Russia-Ukraine war attend. If the host nation decides to do nothing in the next four months, and without major changes in the balance of power war in the Ukrainian war, then the summit will be a repeat of what we just saw last week.
That is something that nobody wants to see happen. If that is the scenario, the summit will certainly be a complete waste of time.
The challenge for Indonesia now is to prevent the G20 Summit from turning into a disaster. It’s a tall order, but it should not stop the host nation from trying — not only to save the G20 presidency but to save the G20 itself from losing its relevance.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is staking his personal reputation and credibility when he assumed the rotating chair of the G20 in December last year. The 2022 presidency may not have gone according to plan because the war in Ukraine has turned upside down his global economic recovery agenda, but the challenge for the host nation has now shifted to peace and saving the G20’s raison d’etre.
The foreign ministers’ meeting exposes the large gap between Russia on the one hand, and the US and its allies, on the other. Realistically, it’s such a large gap that no one, and no power, can really expect to bridge without a major development in the Ukraine war.
It may be a challenge too big to handle for whoever holds the G20 presidency, but President Jokowi can bring together other G20 leaders not caught up in the polarizing group, ahead of the November summit, to try to narrow the gap.
Jokowi should invite India, as the next G20 chair, into the discussion of what would be the minimum that the November summit should accomplish. India has also managed to stay neutral in the war in Ukraine and in the evolving tension between Russia and the US and its NATO allies.
Other members that Indonesia may want to consult are large countries like South Africa and Brazil that have also professed to say neutral in the polarizing G20. China could also be brought in.
Indonesia appears to have overcome the first big hurdle in hosting the G20 Summit in November. After initial threats of boycotting the summit because of objections to the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin, they appear to have softened their stance and would come to Bali.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has given his words when he came to Indonesia last month and has since encouraged other world leaders to support Indonesia’s G20 presidency by turning up in Bali. Indonesia has also invited Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky as a guest to the summit, as suggested by US President Joe Biden.
Now, every G20 member is invited, plus a handful of other guests. We will have to wait and see who will come. Some may be attending in person but some may decide to attend virtually.
Indonesia has done all the right things in keeping the G20 relevant during the first eight months of its presidency, still keeping the economic agenda and its theme Recover Together, Recover Stronger intact as far as possible but shifting the priority and allocating more resources toward the larger and more important agenda: Peace.
With the world facing another round of economic recession so soon after the last one induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, any attempt at global economic recovery must be tempered with the growing energy and food crises, and possibly another recession caused by the Ukraine war. And with the West leading economic sanctions against Russia as punishment for invading Ukraine, we can forget about recovering together, at least for now.
President Jokowi traveled to Ukraine and Russia last month to try his hand at peace mediation, meeting with Zelensky first and Putin the next day in his capacity as G20 president. Besides peace, he also sought to get Russia to allow the shipment of wheat and fertilizer, which are badly needed to address the increasing global food shortage. Jokowi went there, overcoming personal danger to himself and his wife First Lady Iriana, even when the odds are stacked heavily against peace.
But no one can accuse Indonesia of not making the most of the G20 presidency in this very difficult situation that is really beyond its control. It’s a job that comes with some (limited) power but a huge responsibility.
The G20 Foreign Ministers Meeting in Bali not only shows the extent or limitation of leading the world’s largest economy in a time of war but more importantly, it has helped Indonesia make the necessary preparations for hosting the summit in November and what it can realistically hope to accomplish.