At the most challenging G20 in history, can Indonesia run a successful summit?

Indonesia is holding the G20 Summit in Bali on November 15-16. Heads of states from the world’s largest economies are attending – although Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided not to attend in-person.

However with unstable global political conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, energy issues, as well as global economic downturn, this is believed to be the most challenging G20 summit yet.

A number of important G20 working group meetings failed to produce a communiqué (a drafted consensus statement expressing members’ commitments and vision for the future).

As the host country, Indonesia has worked hard to prove that the G20 summit is able to produce some solutions to reduce, if not overcome, the global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and current political instability.

Despite the host’s hard work, the legitimacy and accountability of the G20 forum to accommodate multilateral cooperation between major powers is currently questionable.

Indonesia’s capability to succeed as G20 host is also being tested. The international community is still waiting to see if Indonesia will be able to bring the conflicted parties together to reach consensus.

Challenges at this year’s G20

The G20 forum was first established to respond to the global crisis, including the Asian financial crisis in 1997, the September 11 attacks in New York in 2001, the US subprime mortgage crisis in 2008, and the European debt crisis in 2011.

The G20 is an informal economic cooperation forum. Thus, it should be more flexible to encourage its members to produce multilateral agreements that are difficult to reach under other international organisations, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization (WTO).

For example, at WTO conferences, which are more formal in nature and have binding decisions, deadlocks between developed and developing countries frequently happen. Consequently, they find it difficult to reach an agreement.

Since the G20 is an informal forum,, its member countries are more flexible in deciding the agenda and consensus they want to implement. However, it does not mean that it is easy to create a consensus at the G20, because each country has different interests and economic structures.

Amid the backdrop of global political and economic instability, the G20 in Bali has become more challenging.

The deteriorating economic conditions in G7 countries – the world’s seven largest economies, consisting of the US, UK, Italy, Japan, Germany, Canada, and France – have affected the nuances of the series of G20 meetings this year.

Data from from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2022 shows that G7 countries have experienced a slowdown in their gross domestic product (GDP) growth during the second quarter, compared to the first quarter. Meanwhile, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, Indonesia, has shown fairly consistent GDP growth at 1.5%.

It is obvious that in almost all of high-level meetings held as part of the G20 agenda, G7 countries have strongly condemned Russia, causing failures to produce communiqués. This happened, for example, during two G20 finance ministers and central bank governors meetings on October 12-13 and in July 2022.

However, the G20 summit usually has different characteristics from lower level meetings, such as engagement groups and working groups. World leaders not only represent the people in their countries, but also come as individuals whose attitudes and behaviour can sometimes be contrary to those of their people.

The level of implementation of the G20 countries’ commitments to previous G20 Summit agreements, from 2008 in Washington to 2019 in Osaka, was 71%.

This percentage shows there can still be some optimism that this G20 summit can be successful in producing an agreement that can be implemented by member countries to accelerate the stability of global conditions.

However, again, this year’s G20 is facing much tougher challenges than ever before. It is natural for the public to doubt the ability of the G20 to address various global issues as a forum for international cooperation.

Questioning Indonesia’s G20 presidency

The challenges of global economic instability, increasing rivalries between major powers, and failures to produce agreements in G20’s ministerial dialogues have all put Indonesia in a less favourable position as G20 host.

Indonesia has two important roles at this G20 summit.

First and foremost, Indonesian government aims to prove to its citizens its legitimacy and capability in chairing an international forum. This is important for Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo for the sake of his legacy before he leaves office in 2024.

Second, Indonesia wants to boost its credibility in the global community as one of the emerging countries with the largest economies.

The world is now waiting for Indonesia to not only ensure that the G20 summit can produce mutual agreements to resolve the economic crisis, but also to make the G20 forum itself a place where world’s leaders, from the north and the south, can meet together to consolidate their different agendas and interests.

After all, at least the international community still hopes that this multilateral conference can bring some fresh air amid current uncertain global conditions.

Different interests from each member country have made it difficult for Indonesia to even set the summit’s priority agenda, which include transitioning to renewable energy.

Read more:
What is the G20 summit in Bali? Who’s there? And what are the top 3 topics on the agenda?

Therefore, if Indonesia can successfully encourage all G20 members to express mutual commitments, it will be evidence to prove to the world the value and usefulness of the G20 forum.

Learning from previous G20 summits, whose dialogues sometimes failed to produce consensus, Indonesia needs to anticipate any possibility of raising tensions that might prevent the forum from reaching a consensus.

There is so much stake for Indonesia in this year’s G20 summit. The forum could help enhance its bargaining position in regional and international affairs, especially as Indonesia will chair ASEAN next year.

Indonesia’s desire to be a peace broker may seem too ambitious. To make the G20 summit run smoothly is enough to show the world that standoffs caused by conflicts of interest among nations can still be “addressed” through multilateral forums.

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