The Indonesian G20 Summit is a Test for Global Governance and Global Leadership in the Face of Geopolitical Conflicts
1. The Challenges Facing the G20 as a Global Leadership Forum
Rarely in history has there been a moment like this in which global challenges have superseded national domestic challenges to such an extent.
The acceleration of the impacts of climate change, the lethal connectivity of infectious diseases, global supply chain disruptions, energy and food insecurity, inflation and debt, combined now with war and nuclear risks, cumulatively constitute existential threats to humanity.
G20 leaders meeting in Bali Indonesia on November 15 and 16 not only have to come up with institutional and policy responses to these geopolitical risks and systemic global challenges but also to demonstrate to publics that there are ways to exercise agency and responsibility over them. Global governance needs to prevail despite geopolitical tensions. And, global leadership needs to rise to the occasion to dismiss doubt.
Leadership involves action but also communication and connection. G20 leaders not only have to act but they must also connect with their societies. “Policy-speak” must translate into “people-speak” in order to convey empathy and for the real challenges to be understood.
This G20 summit could be a turning point for the G20 proving that the Leaders’ summit is indeed capable of being a forum for both global governance and global leadership.
However, the fundamental danger currently in this moment is that in the absence of clear leadership and decisive action, societies will feel that governance itself is threatened and that responsibility and agency are out of the reach of politics and institutions.
This could not only put democracy and other forms of governance at risk domestically but put collective global governance at risk internationally. All G20 leaders need to come to Bali prepared to lead and communicate, not to hold back, nor to privilege other forums.
2. Geopolitics as a Central Threat to Global Governance
For the first time in the history of G20 summits, the G20 summit in Indonesia in mid-November will feature a direct face-off on geopolitical issues, even as systemic global challenges constitute urgent imperatives for action.
The fact that Joe Biden, Xi Jinping, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and Vladimir Putin are in all likelihood going to be present either in-person or virtually for this summit sets up an unprecedented situation of high drama focused on the Russian war in Ukraine and hopefully efforts to reduce the threat of a nuclear confrontation.
It is the first time that such a high stakes geopolitical conflict will be addressed at a G20 summit. As a result, this presents an opportunity to demonstrate that the G20 is a platform that can rise to the occasion by facilitating exchanges and agreements across geopolitical divides. Above all, this means discussing nuclear threats in Bali in a serious effort to confirm and conform to previous historic agreements among a larger group of nations in the spirit of the P5 declaration on January 3, 2022. Presidents Biden and Xi and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have each and all made recent statements of concern on this issue. Progress in strengthening resolve on avoiding nuclear risks would be a highly significant achievement for the G20.
The geopolitical tensions escalated by the Russian war in Ukraine do not end there. Beyond this war lies the intensifying geopolitical conflict between the US and China in which confrontational narratives are eliminating possibilities for “managed competition”, much less international cooperation between the two governments, thereby threatening global governance. This intensification has been on vivid display as the Biden administration put out the National Security Strategy paper in mid-October, and immediately thereafter the 20th Party Congress manifested an increased focus on tensions in the US-China relationship and on strengthening China’s modernization.
The question now is whether China and the US can find in the G20 a useful forum in which to develop new ways of engaging each other, with the presence of the other largest economies in the world. For that to be possible, not only do the US and China need to bring modified positions to the G20 table and the will to work out solutions, but also the other G20 players need to be conscious of the possible beneficial roles that assertive representation of their interests and leadership might play in shifting the bipolar tensions into a pluralistic forcefield in which complexities drive pragmatism. Focusing on concrete programs of cooperation on sectoral systemic challenges as outcomes of G20 processes already underway, would facilitate avoiding ideological positioning currently blocking progress.
3. Diversity, Pluralism and Complexity as Alternative Dynamics
The China-West Dialogue (CWD) has been an experiment in deploying pluralism as a means of engagement, complexity as a friend of dialogue and diversity as an asset to innovation and closure. Over 25 Zoom sessions over the last two and a half years involving over 50 thought leaders from Europe, China, the United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea and Chile, the CWD has found that diversity of perspectives works to provide larger policy space for contradictory interests to be included, that pluralism of power breaks binary tensions, and that the complexity of challenges can encourage professionalism to replace polemics.
As a result of this experience, we conclude that the diversity of the G20 membership is a great asset. Moreover, the pluralism of power in the G20 is evident in the following ways: in Europe having a differentiated “strategic autonomy” approach to China; in Indonesia, India, Africa and Latin America having more eclectic views of the US alliance system and China; and in the rise of China as a commercial and security power providing a powerful presence in the world and in global problem solving. In the G20, the professional engagement of sherpas, ministers and senior officials throughout the year on complex policy issues encourages give-and-get interactions which enlarge opportunities to reach closure as compared to ideological positioning on such as themes of democracy versus autocracy.
It is a stretch, but it is conceivable that if G20 leaders chose to make it so, they could bring to Bali different mindsets for this excruciating moment. Crucially, China and the US need to be willing to re-engage with each other at the G20 table and in bilateral communications. We believe this is possible and that the European Union and European national governments could play helpful roles in pluralizing US-China relations, reinforced by the engagement of the G20 leaders from the Global South. This broader political dynamic will be facilitated by the fact that the hosts of the G20 over the next three years will be India, Brazil and South Africa, following Indonesia, which brings leadership from the Global South to the fore. Including the African Union as a member of the G20 would be a positive step toward Global South prominence in global affairs.
4. Potential Shifts in Dynamics and Modalities of Interaction
Recent events reveal openings to new opportunities. “China and the United States should strengthen communication and cooperation to help the stability of the world”, Xi Jinping told the National Committee on US-China relations according to Reuters on October 26. American Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed a desire to resuscitate a working group among military commands between the two countries canceled after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.
On October 21, European Union leaders decided to stay the course on “strategic autonomy” despite a staff paper which urged a hardening of Europe’s approach to China. France has convened the first meeting of the European Political Community which includes Turkey and Azerbaijan thereby eschewing the regime-type litmus test that has been applied by the United States and the G7.
As a consequence, the basis for geopolitical pluralism replacing the binary bipolar dynamics of the US-China bilateral relationship is now visible and constitutes a potentially powerful political dynamic with possible high benefits for professionalizing global governance in Bali and beyond.
The Indonesian G20 summit will be a test of whether the G20 can prove itself as a platform for effectively addressing geopolitical tensions to limit their damaging spillover effects by deploying pluralism as an alternative to bipolar polemics and whether the G20 can mobilize convergence and closure in Bali in responding to global systemic challenges. If G20 leaders in Bali can also connect with the anxiety of societies everywhere regarding the capacities of politics and governance to function effectively in the public interest, that could turn this moment of doubt into an era of hope.
As daunting as these challenges are, there is no other leadership forum that has a better chance to fulfill these global leadership roles the world needs at this excruciating moment.
The China-West Dialogue (CWD): Origin, Purpose and Principle
The China-West Dialogue was founded in April 2018 as a means of bringing together thought leaders from Europe, Canada, China and the United States to pluralize the bilateral US-China relationship. In more than twenty-five zoom sessions, more than fifty experienced officials, think tank researchers and academics have now been involved in CWD discussions. A foundational principle of CWD has been that it is with China not about China. China thought leaders are fully involved in shaping the series of exchanges and in participating in all of them.
As a result, CWD is a process which reflects its purpose to achieve results by embracing diversity. Participants are from a variety of professions, disciplines and backgrounds from more than a dozen countries. This results in pluralizing the interactions as a means of generating new perspectives and fresh approaches to the most important geopolitical relationship today. The China-West Dialogue is more a platform than a group. The ideas and proposals in this paper reflect the CWD process, which is designed to bring in a variety of viewpoints in forging innovative ideas and approaches.
The China-West Dialogue organized panel sessions at the annual Global Solutions Summits (GSS) in Berlin in 2020, 2021 and 2022 produced by the Global Solutions Initiative (GSI). The CWD is working with GSI this year in preparation to GSS 2023 by making substantive contributions and bringing in speakers and participants for GSS 2023 from the CWD network.
The Global Solutions Summits and the China-West Dialogue share a culture of global problem solving through discussion, debate and dialogue by seeking serious substantive exchange of a wide range of related issues and by the inclusion of a wide range of viewpoints and perspectives as a contribution to strengthening global leadership and global governance.
PROVISOS Regarding the LIST of SIGNATORIES
The list of CWD participants below contributed to this article and most participated in a discussion of the substance at a CWD Zoom meeting on September 29, 2022.
Institutional affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.
The signatories to this article are doing so in their personal capacity.
No one participating in the CWD should be held to account for every idea in this document.
Colin Bradford (Global Solutions Initiative)
Johannes Linn (Emerging Markets Forum)
Susan Thornton (Yale Law School)
Kerry Brown (Kings College London)
Markus Engels (Global Solutions Initiative)
Francoise Nicolas (Institut Francaise de Relations International IFRI)
Richard Carey (OECD Alumni)
Chen Dongxiao (Shanghai Institutes for International Studies)
Wang Huiyao (Centre for China and Globalization)
Alan Alexandroff (Global Summitry Project)
Sergio Bitar (Consejo Chileno de Perspectiva y Estrategia)
Wonhyuk Lim (KDI School of Public Policy and Management)
The views and opinions expressed in this statement do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Solutions Initiative.