G20 forecast: Bleak outlook, chances of thunder

Nov 8, 2022
G20 Indonesia logo- Image: Wikimedia Commons

It’s the meeting season in Indonesia, but the chances of viable offspring are slim. Too much hate, too little harmony. That’s bad news for all.

Street posters around the archipelago are flogging the two-day Group of Twenty (G20) inter-government forum like a rock concert to boost national pride. But there’ll be no tickets for ordinary folk. They’ll hear little more than the sirens of VIP fleets hurtling past and won’t witness the anticipated daytime fireworks unless they’re among the 1,300 journos and 18,000 security guards.

Only the mega powerful will get inside Bali’s Nusa Dua resort starting 15 November. Not all will stay unless there’s an outbreak of maturity and pragmatism. As Churchill could have phrased it: Better chat than spat. The worrisome question ahead of the launch by host Indonesian President Joko ’Jokowi’ Widodo is the one which makes all party-givers twitchy: Who’ll turn up?

Only two women will have nameplates at the top table – the European Union’s Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen and Italy’s new PM Giorgia Meloni. The world is still run by ageing blokes.

The EU and 19 countries are on the list. One is Russia, and if Vladimir Putin’s Ilyushin touches down at Bali’s Ngurah Rai airport chances are that Joe Biden’s Boeing will be lining up for departure. Also in the queue to quit could be France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, the UK’s Rishi Sunak and maybe even our own Anthony Albanese.

That would leave a lot of empty hotel suites, idle limos and a crimson-faced Jokowi. In June, he visited Ukraine and Russia in a failed attempt to broker peace, a well-meaning gesture which went nowhere. That’s not surprising. Although Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous nation with more Muslims than any other country and a burgeoning economy, it has rarely beaten drums on the world stage since the Republic’s founder Soekarno saw himself as an international player. Jokowi is more concerned with domestic issues, while the country’s ‘free and active’ non-involvement policy means it doesn’t feature in the major power blocks.

In September, Indonesia’s FM Retno Marsudi pleaded with the UN General Assembly in words suggesting an upcoming panic attack: ‘G-20 must not fail … we cannot let global recovery fall at the mercy of geopolitics.’ There are other sad signs that the G20 won’t be productive. In July, the G20’s foreign ministers met privately in Bali and called for an end to the war and grain blockade in Ukraine. The get-together was boycotted by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and the UK. It ended with Russia’s FM Sergei Lavrov walking out of the second meeting session.

Reuters reported that Lavrov ‘denounced the West for ‘frenzied criticism’ and squandering a chance to tackle global economic problems.’ The meeting crumpled with no joint statement or announcements of agreements. This also happened when the economic ministers sat down – or tried to.

With these cheerless preludes Putin is unlikely to risk abuse. He’ll find more pressing engagements, like overseeing his Ukraine ‘special military operation’ across the freezing steppes. Sadly he’ll miss out on the lush and presently peaceful tropics. In that case the show may go on, even without Punch.

It used to be the G7 meeting of finance ministers till the end of last century when the door was opened wider for leaders, largely pushed by Germany, Canada and the US. Now the gathering represents 85 per cent of the world’s GDP, two-thirds of its population and 75 per cent of international trade.

This year the agenda is supposed to cover health, energy and digital transformation. These topics were chosen before the invasion of Ukraine and the energy crisis that’s followed, so there’ll be much rescheduling. Climate change should have been addressed ahead of the G20 at the UN Conference of the Parties (COP27) now underway in Egypt with leaders and delegates from 190 countries.

The G20 in Bali will be preceded by a Religious Forum Summit (R20) set up by Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama. It claims 40 million members and has recently shed much of its militancy. Its liberal wing occasionally mentions the once blasphemous ‘pluralism’. So far the shift has been received calmly, though slowly.

R20 is being touted as an opportunity to tackle extremism and offer religious solutions to political problems. A worthy endeavor though sceptics will be interested to see if reps of the right-wing Indian Hindu nationalist movement Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh appear among the 400 invitees. The RSS, founded in 1925, has a reputation of hostility to India’s 200 million Muslims. The sub-continent population of 1.4 billion is mainly Hindu, the dominant religion in Bali. If the faiths can talk to each other and reason without tossing their toys out of the cot maybe they’d shame the polis into some adult responses.

Widodo hopes that even if there’s a walkout he won’t lose face completely. He wants Xi Jinping to stay over so the Chinese leader can try out Indonesia’s first bullet train from Jakarta to Bandung (the West Java capital). It’s been built with Chinese loans and labour, though still not in commercial service.

The slogan for this month’s G20 is in English – Recover Together, Recover Stronger. These are supposedly Jokowi’s words. Maybe he should have selected Stay Together.

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