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Divisions jeopardize G20's 'recover together' efforts

By Sawidji Widoatmodjo | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-11-24 08:59
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This photo taken on Nov 12, 2022 shows an interior view of the media center for the 17th Group of 20 (G20) Summit in Bali, Indonesia. [Photo/Xinhua]

As an annual forum of the world's 20 largest economies, the Group of 20 Summit usually raises expectations and hopes. However, the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Nov 15 and 16 caught special attention as the most difficult ever.

The group's 2022 Indonesian presidency, led by President Joko Widodo, had tried hard for the Bali summit to deliver great results on urgent issues including shoring up the world economy, tackling food insecurity and preventing global hunger, as 345 million people in 82 countries face the risk of starvation.

Yet divisions on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict pose a serious challenge. Evidence of this was visible throughout the year.

A meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors in April, for instance, saw representatives of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom stage a walkout, in protest of a decision to allow Russian officials to participate. And in July, Russia's top diplomat walked out of a G20 foreign ministers meeting while denouncing the West's "frenzied criticism "of Moscow.

From the ceremonial aspect, the Bali G20 meeting was a success, as is best represented by a joint communique — the G20 Bali Leaders' Declaration — that contains 52 points. These successes should be appreciated, considering that many lower-level meetings had failed to reach agreements.

Indeed, the tagline "Recover Together, Recover Stronger" had not been created randomly in the face of divisions between G20 members. Holding the G20 presidency, Indonesia was obliged to make the theme a reality. To do so, President Widodo engaged intense diplomacy.

Widodo succeeded in leading the G20 Bali Summit to deliver on sustainable development, particularly on the Bali Energy Transition Roadmap, food supply chains, biodiversity loss, carbon neutrality, vaccine technology transfer, sharing of the digital economy, tourism, cross-border payments, financial stability, multilateral trade, infrastructure building, care for migrants, anti-money laundering and empowerment of women. The G20 Action for Strong and Inclusive Recovery, which includes China's proposals, points to concrete economic betterment.

However, the G20's move to include, in its joint declaration, veiled but strong wording against Russia for the conflict in Ukraine might undermine global efforts for economic cooperation. How can G20 nations "Recover Together" if one member-Russia — does not join them?

And if recovering together is impossible, there will surely be no recovering stronger. One member being left behind will reduce the group's strength. Rather than finger-pointing, efforts must be made to resolve the conflict by promoting dialogue between the relevant parties, including through bilateral channels.

We can say that the world economic conditions are yet to improve, at least in the short term. The International Monetary Fund has predicted that global economic growth will slow further next year to 2.7 percent, or 0.2 percentage points lower than the level forecast in June. The IMF estimates that 2023 will be a year of recession. Also, the stagflation problem will persist, though on a reduced scale. The IMF's calculations indicate that global inflation will be 6.5 percent next year.

So when will people's suffering across the world end? Signals of Ukraine-Russia peace talks were released at the Bali summit but faintly, as some of the 10 conditions listed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during the meeting will prove impossible for Russia to accept. The Group of Seven bloc led by the United States is giving full support to Ukraine in terms of weapons and other assistance, prolonging the conflict.

G7 leaders even held an emergency meeting on the tragic missile incident in Poland, at which US President Joe Biden rushed to voice doubt of Russian involvement soon after the meeting.

Actually, another matter could give G20 summits more significant influence and greater strength in the future, and it relates to the group's existence and its relationship with the G7.

A study in 2020 found that G7 positions affect the power of the G20. Among them, the G7 may reject the strength and exclusivity of the G20 while recognizing the continuity and contribution of it.

Worse still, the G7 could rather position the G20 as a supporting variable for the efforts made by the G7 and similar groups, like the World Bank, the IMF and others, to shape international economic cooperation.

However, as is said by the G20 Joint Declaration, "We designated the G20 the premier forum for global economic cooperation, and today we reaffirm our commitment to cooperate as we, once again, address serious global economic challenges."

With emerging economies like China, India and Indonesia, the G20 as a broader and more representative group than the G7 gathers more strength and carries more hopes for the world to come together, especially as the role of the G7 in global economic management slowly recedes.

Seemingly, the existence of the G7 and its relationship with the G20 needs to be reconfigured so as to enable the G20 to deliver substantial results and not merely ceremonial outcomes.

The author is chief economist at ECBIS Rescons and dean of the faculty of economics and business at Tarumanagara University in Jakarta. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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