The G-20 nations produce over 80 percent of the global gross product, are responsible for 75 percent of trade and their meetings are closely watched around the world not only by politicians but also by business community. The summit that took place on November 15-16 this year in Nusa Dua, Bali in Indonesia, was dominated by two events: the pre-summit meeting between US President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping and the war in Ukraine. Russian President Putin decided not to participate, and Indonesia, which hosted the G-20, had an almost impossible task: to convince the richest countries to contribute more both to the “inclusive recovery” of the world after the pandemic and the fight against climate change in a situation where we are facing a global recession.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo opened the G20 summit with a dramatic call: “To save the world, we have no choice but to work together.” These words flow from the motto of this year’s meeting: “Recover Together, Recover Stronger“. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to cooperate in a polarizing world, where conflicts are becoming more frequent and animosities between the world’s two largest economies: the US and China – are becoming sharper. In addition, the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ukrainian war and the energy crisis contributed to a dynamic spike of inflation on a global scale. The cost of living (including heating) is increasing dramatically in both developing and developed countries. Fear of winter is therefore visible not only in war-torn Ukraine. In addition, the effects of climate change, somewhat overshadowed by the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are becoming even more acute in the countries of the Global South and require immediate action. All this is accompanied by a food crisis, which affects the poorest countries the hardest.
BIDEN AND XI: REJECTION OF NUCLEAR THREATS
The problems facing the world cannot be solved without cooperation between the world’s two most powerful nations: the US and China. This is true now more than ever before because of the war in Ukraine and many complex crises of supra-regional scale that also affect China itself. The Chinese authorities are currently experiencing the effects of their “zero Covid” policy and months-long harsh lockdown measures in the country’s multi-million metropolises. The protests in Shanghai, Beijing and Urumqi – the capital of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region – have demonstrated a social pressure that could bring unpredictable consequences.
The three-hour meeting between the leaders of the US, Joe Biden and China – Xi Jinping just before the onset of the G-20 summit was necessary due to the ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing, tensions around Taiwan, North Korea and threats related to the Ukrainian war. Of particular concern are, of course, suggestions coming from the Kremlin about a possibility of Russia using nuclear weapons. In this respect, the talks between the two leaders produced the expected, firm statement: “Nuclear war should never be fought and can never be won.” Biden and Xi stressed their opposition to the possible use or threat of using nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Their first meeting since the Covid-19 pandemic began, did not bring any breakthrough in relations between Washington and Beijing, which, however, no one expected. The US president made it clear that “the United States will continue to compete vigorously with the PRC, including by investing in sources of strength at home and pooling efforts with allies and partners around the world.” Xi, for his part, called Taiwan the “first red line” that must not be crossed in relations between the two countries.
The remark is of particular importance in the context of this year’s visits by high-level American authorities to Taipei, including, above all, Nancy Pelosi – Speaker of the House of Representatives, who arrived in Taiwan in early August. Despite both sides maintaining hard positions, Joe Biden’s statement that “competition should not turn into conflict, and that the US and China must manage each other’s competition responsibly and keep lines of communication open” is noteworthy. Following this announcement, early next year, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will pay a visit to Beijing in order to help implement the new model of relations between the two superpowers. However, this does not mean that the dynamics of Sino-American relations have a chance to change. Unless there is a radical systemic transformation in China – and the recent protests, while remarkable, should not be overestimated – Washington and Beijing will remain on a collision course, but simultaneously will cooperate where it is possible and feasible, for example on issues related to climate change and global health.
THE WAR IN UKRAINE AND THE FOOD CRISIS
In terms of international politics, the Indonesian presidency of the G-20 was based on the country’s traditional foreign policy of “non-alignment” when it comes to armed conflicts and rivalry of political blocs. That approach dates back to the famous Afro-Asian conference in Bandung in 1955.
The Indonesian authorities, contrary to the suggestions of the West and Ukraine, invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to participate in the Bali summit. On the other hand, the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was invited, although Ukraine is not a member of the G-20. Ultimately, however, the Russian leader did not come to Indonesia, but was represented by his Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov. Zelensky attended the summit via video link and offered a 10-point “peace formula” for Ukraine that includes both the withdrawal of the Russian troops from all occupied territories and “radiation safety” at the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant. The Ukrainian president called for an end to the war “justly and on the basis of the United Nations Charter and international law.” He referred to Russia as a “terrorist state” referring to a missile that fell on the Polish territory in Przewodów in the eastern Lublin region, killing two people. Investigations are still underway to establish the circumstances of the incident. Polish President Andrzej Duda said that “it was a tragic accident and Russia is to be blamed for it.”
The issue of the Ukraine-Russia war was not approached consistently by the participants of the G-20 summit. Indonesia, which hosted the summit, took a pragmatic and ambivalent stance, calling for unity and focusing on the consequences of the war related to the food and energy crisis. Just before the G-20 Summit, the Food Security Forum was held in Nusa Dua, also attended by President Joko Widodo. In the opinion of the participants of the Forum, the food crisis results both from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and from other military conflicts that have affected the world in the last decade – from Syria to Iraq to the war on terror in Nigeria. These are not the only causes of food problems that are increasingly plaguing the international community, especially in the developing countries of the global South. The problem is multi-faceted and, as noted by Cary Fowler, the U.S. Administration’s Special Envoy for Global Food Security, includes phenomena such as “climate change, severe droughts, COVID-19 disruptions, high fertilizer and fuel prices, recent trade restrictions and conflicts. All of these factors contribute to the situation we have today, and that is what makes this particular global food crisis unique.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi who also attended the G-20 summit, presented a position consistent with was has been represented by this country from the onset of the war, calling for a ceasefire and diplomatic solutions. India has avoided condemning Russia’s attack on Ukraine, both because of New Delhi’s traditional foreign policy and its decades-long strategic and economic ties with Moscow. Similarly, the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who did not refer to the war in Ukraine in his message to the meeting participants, instead called for “increasing global solidarity” taking into account the “common future of humanity.” This was not a surprise, as Beijing and Moscow are linked by an alliance aimed at the United States, although, on the other hand, China has not provided the Kremlin with such assistance that could violate the sanctions imposed on Russia by the West.
The issue of the war in Ukraine was – according to the statement of Indonesian President Joko Widodo – the most controversial and discussed part of the joint declaration of the G-20 leaders. The wording finally agreed read that “The war in Ukraine was strongly condemned by most Member States and participants stressed that it causes immense human suffering and exacerbates the existing vulnerabilities of the global economy.” However, at the same time, the declaration contains the passage that “There were different views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions.”
The leaders agreed, however, in favor of actions that were in the center of interest of the Indonesian presidency and related to the aforementioned food crisis. The final declaration of the G20 Summit states: “We pledge to take urgent action to save lives, prevent hunger and malnutrition, in particular to address the greatest challenges facing developing countries, and to call for an accelerated transition towards sustainable and resilient agriculture and food systems and supply chains”.
The most urgent task resulting from the declaration adopted by the leaders of the world’s richest countries is to maintain and, where necessary, unblock food supply chains. The war in Ukraine, and specifically the blockade imposed on Ukrainian Black Sea ports by Moscow, contributed to the disruption of supply chains and a dramatic increase in food prices in the poorest countries from Lebanon to the Horn of Africa. Summit participants supported the UN and Turkey’s diplomatic efforts to fully unlock the Ukrainian grain exports by launching a safe humanitarian corridor over the Black Sea. The success of these efforts, however, will depend on the Russia’s actions as Moscow under various pretexts, has hindered the transport of Ukrainian grain since July this year when an agreement on grain exports was concluded thanks to the mediation of the United Nations and Ankara.
On the other hand, apart from the declaration, the summit did not bring any new solutions or ideas in terms of a systematic solution of the growing problem of the global hunger. The impression is that nothing has changed for years, and that the club of countries that themselves include 60 percent of the world’s population, does not really have much to offer Africa and other regions of the global South.
Little else has been achieved in terms of combating climate change. It is remarkable, however, that the G20 leaders agreed to continue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This means upholding the goal set back in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. This made the negotiations at the concurrent United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Egypt more fruitful, where the same commitment was repeated, and above all an agreement was reached to provide “loss and damage” funding to countries most vulnerable to climate disasters.
For Indonesia and its energy and climate problems, the meeting in Bali was consequential as Japan and the United States came up with an initiative to raise 20 billion dollars to enable the country’s energy transition, including to phase out its coal-fired power plants and accelerating by seven years the peak of greenhouse gas emissions, which is currently planned for 2030. This project will be implemented under the “Global Infrastructure and Investment Partnership” (PGII) that aims to “speed up investment in high-quality infrastructure in low- and middle income countries around the world, and strengthening the global economy. It is worth noting that the European Union is also involved in PGII projects, and the initiative was launched in June 2022 at the summit of the G-7 leaders.
DOES THE G20 HAVE A FUTURE?
Joko Widodo – the president of Indonesia and the host of the G-20 summit was fully aware of the geopolitical conditions and limitations of this year’s meeting. He himself stated: “I understand that we need a huge effort to be able to sit together in this room.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the geostrategic Sino-American rivalry pose a serious obstacle to the effectiveness of the forum in its attempts to solve global, long-term problems. One of the key ones is climate warming that increases inequalities between rich and poor countries, is a factor that is increasingly stimulating migration, and also destabilizes the internal situation, e.g. in sub-Saharan African countries.
The hopes of the hosts of the G-20 summit that took place in mid-November 2022 in Indonesia, for going beyond geopolitical limitations, turned out to be in vain. The same – or even more difficult – challenge is facing India. The next meeting of G-20 leaders will take place in September 2023 in Pragati Maidan, New Delhi.
author: Bruno Surdel, PhD, analyst, Centre for International Relations