Guide to the G-20 in Bali: the first summit of the confrontational era | International

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The world has entered in 2022 a new geopolitical era characterized by a stark confrontation of powers. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, the formalization of a Sino-Russian relationship "without limits" that aims to reformulate the world order, the worsening of tensions between the US and China and signs of a generalized rearmament are the main elements that converge in the conformation of this new, dangerous phase. Indonesia is preparing to host - this Tuesday and Wednesday in Bali - the first global summit in this international framework, on the occasion of the annual meeting of the leaders of the G-20, a group that represents around 80% of world GDP and 60 % of the Earth's population.

Two issues will inexorably dominate the agenda: the war in Ukraine and the relationship between Washington and Beijing. In the first section, Vladimir Putin finally decided not to attend, in a clear symptom of his weakness, accentuated precisely on the eve of the appointment for the Russian withdrawal on the strategic Kherson front: the Kremlin will be represented by his Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov . In the second, Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping are scheduled to hold this Monday, before the start of the meeting, their first bilateral meeting in person since the former assumed the highest office of the United States.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov upon his arrival in Bali for the G-20 summit on Sunday, November 13. POOL (REUTERS)

Many other issues float around the G-20, including issues related to pandemic management or food safety. The Indonesian rotating presidency tries not to be overshadowed by the other two. It is the perfect reflection of how the tensions in the West-East axis monopolize attention, while the North-South dynamic is accentuated and, without a doubt, will have a relevant weight in the 21st century.

Here is some element to guide you in a high-voltage summit, in which consensus conclusions or substantial progress on relevant issues are not expected, but which will offer the valuable opportunity of direct, personal diplomacy between the world's greatest leaders in the most turbulent time in decades.

war in ukraine

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Russia comes to the Bali summit weakened to a degree that few would have imagined when the Kremlin launched the invasion of Ukraine in February. Its credibility as a global power has been pulverized, and this finding is an unavoidable element in the strategic calculations underlying the meeting.

The central issue will be to see if an attempt to accompany the belligerent parties - aggressor and attacked - to start negotiations gains momentum. Western leaders are crystal clear that it is kyiv that has to decide when and how this should happen. But it is clear that Ukraine's ability to fight on and win depends critically on Western military and financial support. Thus, the western front can, without the need to explain political pressure, transmit it by the mere way of modulating aid. Although there is no open debate, the matter, of course, is part of the reflections in the highest instances of power.

In the US, nuances have been detected between the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, who has indicated, albeit obliquely, that this may be a good time for kyiv to start negotiations ―beyond public references, according to The New York Times, his position has been much clearer in private―; and a White House that avoids mentioning that concept. For now, Washington has just taken another step forward, with a new $400 million military aid package that, this time, includes tanks. The weak result of the Republicans - who threatened to reduce aid to Kiev - in the legislative elections is also an important factor. This should not exclude that calculations are not being made in the US about the extent to which it is convenient to insist on the current logic, whether a complete victory is possible, or how the Kremlin would react to the prospect of a catastrophic defeat.

A resident of Kherson waves the Ukrainian flag at a Russian checkpoint at the entrance to the city, after the withdrawal of troops from Moscow.
A resident of Kherson waves the Ukrainian flag at a Russian checkpoint at the entrance to the city, after the withdrawal of troops from Moscow. - (AFP)

In Europe too, of course, there are those who think that the time for negotiation is ripening. It can be interpreted that this position has a selfish point of view due to its objective of alleviating turmoil that impacts European citizens and fosters social discontent. But a freezing of the conflict would in no way represent a return to square one, for example in energy matters. Therefore, the reflection runs, rather, around the interpretation of what is the most pragmatic way to avoid even more serious destabilizations.

On the other hand, the great Asian powers – China and India – have given Russia oxygen in recent months by increasing purchases of its oil while the West applied multiple rounds of sanctions. Despite this, neither has offered Moscow military or technological aid that could provoke Western wrath. Both have publicly and privately signaled their discomfort with the development of Putin's war and the turmoil it creates, particularly the nuclear threat. China benefits to some extent from a distracted US in Europe, but it has no interest in the global economic disruptions that the war in Ukraine is causing, nor in the prospect of a total Russian defeat that would destabilize the Putin regime.

The summit cannot be expected to crystallize significant convergences on this issue, but it will be a unique opportunity for the leaders of the great powers to convey their positions face to face. Putin, a symbol of his isolation, will be missing, and it will be interesting to follow the choreography with respect to his representative, Lavrov.

United States vs. China

The relationship between the world's two most powerful countries has been steadily deteriorating for years and is at its most tense point in recent history. The bilateral meeting between Biden and Xi will be held with a huge range of thorny issues, reflecting a stark and total rivalry. The future of Taiwan, the war in Ukraine, the nuclear rearmament of North Korea, access to cutting-edge technologies will stand out among them.

The arrival of Biden to the White House has meant a radical change with respect to the Trump stage on many issues, but not in terms of the relationship with China. In Washington there is a broad consensus about the challenge that Beijing represents and the need to concentrate the greatest efforts on it without naive expectations of loyal cooperation or open reforms. Among other things, the Democratic Administration in the White House has given new twists to the restrictions on Beijing's access to certain technologies, as well as urging companies to reorganize their supply chains to depend less on China and more on countries. friends. Biden arrives at the summit and at the bilateral meeting reinforced by the remarkable electoral result of the Democrats in the mid-term legislative elections.

Telematic meeting between the president of the United States, Joe Biden, and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, held in November last year.
Telematic meeting between the president of the United States, Joe Biden, and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, held in November last year. JONATHAN ERNST (REUTERS)

In Beijing, at the same time, a Xi Jinping who is in favor of affirming China's leading role in the world – breaking with Deng Xiaoping's doctrine that advocated waiting, buying time and strengthening himself in the shadows – has strengthened his power with a third term. The Asian giant continues its efforts to develop its military capabilities, position itself at the forefront of technology and strengthen ties with countries in the Global South that can consolidate its international position, rebalancing, at least in part, the disadvantage of not having any formal network of alliances.

This is the background framework in which the two leaders will meet, predictably with Taiwan as the central issue. Going beyond the ambiguous positions of the past, Biden has said, on at least four occasions, that the US will defend the territory in the event of an attack by Beijing. Meanwhile, there is a growing sense in Washington that Xi is willing to attempt reunification in the coming years. Biden has said that he will also mention North Korea's defiant nuclear rearmament at the meeting, and that, if this path is not contained, the US will reinforce its presence in the area to protect its allies. There is no doubt that commercial and technological pulses will also be part of the debate.

It is not reasonable to think that the meeting will lead to an improvement in relations. The president of the United States, very expert in international relations, has indicated that his expectation is to approach, with the advantages offered by direct contact, the red lines, with the hope that they do not collide; and in the event that this is the perspective, devise mechanisms to avoid clashes.

Global North-South Relations

The rotating Indonesian presidency, headed by the president of the Southeast Asian country ―Joko Widodo―, tries to make the summit pay attention and take steps forward on issues of maximum interest to the global South, a concept that brings together realities that are undoubtedly very heterogeneous, but that also embodies convergences. The establishment of mechanisms to improve global response capacity to pandemics is one of those convergences. On the eve of the summit, Widodo has urged the G-20 countries to promote a global anti-pandemic fund, which to date has collected only 1.4 billion dollars, a figure much lower than what is required to really have an impact.

Food security issues and, of course, environmental issues that are the subject of negotiation at the COP27 held in Egypt will also fly over the Bali summit and are of special interest to the Global South. Indonesia, the host country, is a major player in this field. With around 280 million inhabitants, an economy that has had sustained growth rates throughout the 21st century, and a democracy that under Widodo has taken consolidation steps to become a reference in that sense in the Islamic world; In view of the involution of countries such as Turkey or Tunisia, Indonesia is a strong potential reference for the Global South, which until now had maintained a relatively low profile on the international scene. It will be interesting to see how he draws on the experience and contacts gained from chairing a G-20 in such turbulent times.

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