Political analysts from all over the world monitored the latest 17th annual Summit of Heads of State and Heads of Government of the Group of Twenty (G-20) - the world's most powerful economies-- which was held in Bali, Indonesia. This was done with great care not only pertaining to whether there was the required attention paid towards global economic recovery but also with regard to several dimensions which were creating crisis in different parts of the world.
Seventeen world leaders had gathered for the Bali summit, including U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Russia's President Vladimir Putin did not attend the summit but sent Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in his stead.
Professor Kamal Uddin Ahmed has drawn attention to certain interesting facts pertaining to this Conference and recalled that the G-20 Group was formed on September 26, 1999, in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis.
Since then "the G-20 remains a leading international forum of the key developed and emerging nations to deal with global economic and financial issues as well as other pressing problems. Today, the G-20 represents 54 per cent of the world's land mass, over 80 per cent of the world's GDP, 75 per cent of international trade, 60 per cent of the world's population, and about 81 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions." It has also been noted that "the G-20 was quite effective in addressing the global COVID-19 pandemic through the free distribution of vaccines to the world. However, there were no significant developments at the G-20 in the fight against global climate change, especially in reducing ominously high greenhouse gas emissions".
Under this year's theme - "Recover Together, Recover Stronger" - the G-20 Summit apparently tried to highlight three major priorities: strengthening global health architecture, digital transformation, and realising a sustainable energy transition with a view to fashioning a sustainable future.
There was some discussion on these issues and many opinions were delivered. However, the world's attention was particularly drawn to areas related to foreign policy and international relations in terms of challenges and connectivity.
The international media had been following the COP27 Conference in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt and the challenges that had emerged over there. They were also noting how world leaders were tackling these issues. They watched with care how after a near three-year absence from the world stage, Chinese leader Xi Jinping embarked on a whirlwind of face-to-face meetings with Western leaders at the Group of 20 Summit in Bali, hoping to reassert China's global influence.
Following a fairly long meeting with US President Joe Biden in an attempt to prevent their rivalry from spilling into open conflict, Xi also had discussions with the leaders of Australia, France, Canada, Japan and South Korea. This was obviously an attempt to review bilateral relations and to find common denominators to move forward. China's relations with these US allies have deteriorated to varying degrees in recent years, due to rising geopolitical tensions, and disputes over trade and the origins of the Covid Pandemic. Analysts have pointed out that China tried to show that both sides could serve to stave off disagreements and reopen communication lines.
The Chinese leader's meeting with Biden has been referred to by some strategists as a way to discover measures by which both sides could not only avoid a persistent clash between democracy and autocracy but also promote the willingness of Western countries to view relations with Beijing through this prism.
It was the first in-person meeting between the two superpower leaders since Mr Biden took office. The pair apparently discussed the evolving situation in Taiwan, North Korea and Russia's incursion into Ukraine.
It may be recalled here that under the "One China" policy, Washington acknowledges Beijing's position that Taiwan is part of China, but has never accepted its claim of sovereignty over the island. The US provides Taiwan defensive weapons, but has remained deliberately vague on whether it would intervene militarily if China attacks the island - a policy known as "strategic ambiguity."
Both sides apparently opposed the use of nuclear weapons, indicating that there was a need for a simple solution to complex problems. Later, in his press conference President Biden observed that China had "an obligation" to dissuade North Korea from engaging in another nuclear weapons test.
Biden is understood to have also suggested that he believes "there need not be a new Cold War. I have met many times with Xi Jinping and we were candid and clear with one another across the board. I do not think there is any imminent attempt on the part of China to invade Taiwan. I made it clear we want to see cross-strait issues to be peacefully resolved and I am convinced that he understood what I was saying, I understood what he was saying." Mr Biden said the two leaders had also agreed to set up a mechanism where there would be dialogues at key levels of government to resolve issues. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is now expected to visit China soon.
It may be mentioned in this regard that a Chinese readout after Xi's meeting with Biden, Xi described his country's system of governance as "Chinese-style democracy," in an apparent signal to US allies that ideological differences should not become an unbridgeable divide in their relations with Beijing. The Chinese media has also observed that during the Chinese leader's meeting with the French President Xi reiterated his support for a ceasefire and peace talks to end the war in Ukraine.
Political analysts have also taken particular note of the format of in-person diplomacy by Xi during the Conference in his meeting with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, partly because ties between Beijing and Canberra have frayed significantly over the past years. The two countries have been locked in a bruising trade dispute and diplomatic freeze since early 2020, when China slapped tariffs on Australia following its call for an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus. Leaders of the two countries had last met when Albanese's predecessor, Scott Morrison, had brief informal discussions with Xi at the G20 in Japan in 2019. But it has been six years since leaders from the two sides have held a formal bilateral meeting, after then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's sit-down with Xi at the G20 in the Chinese city of Hangzhou in 2016. However, as in the case of Xi's meeting with Biden, few in Australia believe that the meeting between Xi and Albanese can completely reset the two countries' strained relations related to Chinese objectives associated with the South China Sea, Taiwan and South Pacific. John Lee, former national security adviser to the Australian government has observed in this regard, "It may be a diplomatic reset of some sorts but not one in substance where both sides begin to genuinely approach each other in good faith and preparedness to compromise".
The print media has also reported that Japanese Prime Minister Kishida in his meeting with the Chinese leader urged on the need for both countries to work together for the APEC region. In this context he mentioned that "Both China and Japan hold responsibilities in ensuring the security and peace of the region and wider international community". Many strategic analysts have felt that this was one way for Japan to suggest that the Chinese leadership should exercise their influence on the activities of North Korea and their regular firing of their missiles in ways totally incompatible with international law.
In her address to the summit, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva called on the G20 to reduce trade barriers, assist developing economies with their debt burdens and invest in climate-resilient agriculture. "We are seeing a reversal of all we had been fighting for: bringing poverty down, bringing hunger down," Georgieva said. "Now we have 345 million people that are suffering from a food crisis."
William Chen, the director of food science and technology programme at NTU Singapore, also remarked that the G20 members could still focus on ways to improve food security through investment in agriculture.
At the conclusion of the Summit, the leaders issued a comprehensive Joint Statement. They recognised cooperation is irrefutably vital for global economic recovery, dealing with formidable global challenges and building the "foundation for strong, sustainable, balanced, and inclusive growth".
However G20 leaders appear to have overlooked some other dimensions. They met in Indonesia in the midst of multiple crises, with nearly 85 per cent of the world population expected to face austerity measures and severe budget cuts next year compounded by an insufficient response to the Covid-19 pandemic in global South countries. The G20 summit motto was "Recovering Together, Recovering Stronger" yet the Joint Declaration appears to have failed to deliver any alternatives to the wave of austerity engulfing the world. Economic analysts have also noted that the summit blocked any progress towards the negotiations of a UN Tax Convention that would address the issues of corporate tax abuses and illicit financial flows. Maira Martini from Transparency International in this context has observed that the G20 members "in recent years have dragged their feet, unable to agree on key measures and failing to implement even those to which they had already committed. In the meantime, the corrupt have consolidated wealth and power, allowing them to attack everything from sustainable development to global security to democracy."
However, there were undeniably views that conflicts need to be avoided to meet and overcome the global cost-of-living crisis and many other socio-economic challenges that are growing because of climate variability. It was also underlined that international law must be upheld. The communiqué also stressed that the "use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible" and urged the "peaceful resolution of conflicts through diplomacy and dialogue."
Nevertheless, according to economic strategic analysts-- question remains as to whether the G20 Summit has missed the opportunity to effectively tackle the evolving problem of the sharp rise in the cost of living globally.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.