Author: Alan Alexandroff, Global Summitry Project
The G20 summit will take place in Bali in November 2022 under the theme “Recover Together, Recover Stronger”. Indonesia hoped to use its G20 presidency to encourage all countries to work together for a more sustainable global recovery as the global pandemic continues. But the preparation for this year’s summit took place before Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.
Now the crucial question is how to deal with Russia – as a member of the G20 – and its aggression against Ukraine. Many G20 members, especially G7 members, have strongly condemned Russia and supported serious economic sanctions. Other G20 members, notably China and India, have refrained from condemning Russia in various UN resolutions, showing divisions within the G20.
Almost immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine, Indonesian officials suggested that the Indonesian G20 would seek to avoid the issue. As Co-Sherpa, Dian Triansyah Djani declared that Jakarta would remain focused on its priorities, including the global healthcare system, a sustainable energy transition and the digital economy. Following the NATO and G7 meetings in Brussels, US President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison voiced support for Russia’s withdrawal from the G20.
We have seen this before. The issue of Russian aggression was first discussed in 2014 due to its annexation of Crimea. At the time, the United States and other G7/8 members agreed to suspend Russia from the G8. Russia had participated at the leadership level from 1998, although it was never invited to participate in the critical meetings of finance ministers and central bankers. In the face of Russian aggression, G7 leaders suspended the country, leading Moscow to withdraw in 2017.
The G20 is a key informal institution that includes the G7 and major emerging and developing economies. Member countries are now faced with the question of what to do with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attendance at the G20 summit in Bali – and possibly beyond. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has already indicated that Australia would support Russia’s ejection from the G20. Yet 2014 revealed that a number of members were not ready to expel or even suspend Russia. At present, it appears that members such as India, Brazil, Turkey and host country Indonesia would not support Putin’s exclusion from the Bali summit.
If the G7 leaders fail to garner support for the exclusion, they will likely avoid Putin in Bali, as they did at the Brisbane G20 summit in 2014. On the other hand, it is quite possible that Putin chooses not to participate despite the statements he will make.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson says that “the G20 is not an appropriate forum to discuss the Ukrainian question”. China has made overtures to both sides, providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine while describing the relationship with Russia as “rock solid‘, according to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a press conference on March 7.
The G20 is an essential forum for addressing the challenges of global governance. But the Biden administration has barely acknowledged the G20. With the administration’s focus on the Indo-Pacific and the divisive “Democracy Summit,” little American administrative energy has been expended on the 2021 Italian summit or now on the Indonesian summit. Added to this is the US administration’s desire to pursue a policy of strategic competition with China, or what Biden was referring to during his first press conference as “fierce competition”.
The Biden administration must lower the temperature between China and the United States. Otherwise, it plays for those – like Putin – who are determined to fragment the world order. The US-China rivalry can defuse and the G20 can provide the right platform to do so.
Key G20 players can together intensify their involvement in all aspects of G20 processes throughout the G20 year in Indonesia and make further progress at future G20 Indian and South African summits. The idea should be to use formal G20 processes with Chinese colleagues to advance the global agenda and interact in a professional manner – away from the media spotlight.
The G7, the G7/8, and in particular the G20, have evolved over the years due to the changing concerns and priorities of leaders on global governance issues, such as international finance and climate change mitigation. climate change, not geopolitics. It is not a hotbed of geopolitical rivalry. The first G20 summit convened by former US President George Bush in December 2008 was convened to address the global financial crisis. As one of its innovators, former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin has repeatedly said that the G20 is interested in “how to make globalization work for everyone”.
The G20 hosts many more formal meetings than just the annual leaders’ meeting, including sherpa meetings, ministerial meetings, sometimes including foreign policy meetings, working groups and task forces. This rich environment provides opportunities for G20 officials, especially US and Chinese officials, to advance global governance policies. The efforts of the G20 should not focus solely on the annual leaders’ summit. The frictions of Putin’s presence at the Summit, or not, can be left aside. If legitimate political concerns replace the current strained US-China relationship, the G20 could even set the stage, away from the press, for critical geopolitical discussions.
Alan Alexandroff is the director of World summit project. He teaches at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.