G20: Time for Indonesia to Show Diplomatic Excellence

There are questions and debates regarding Russia’s membership in the Group of 20 following its invasion of Ukraine. Will the G20 remain the G20? Or will it become G19, without Russia? Or become the G13, without the G7? Or will it disband and become the G0?
President Joko Widodo at G20 Conferences

There are questions and debates regarding Russia’s membership in the Group of 20 following its invasion of Ukraine. Will the G20 remain the G20? Or will it become G19, without Russia? Or become the G13, without the G7? Or will it disband and become the G0?

Regardless of what happens next, it is clear that the forum will not be the same. It is ill, divided and in danger of becoming dysfunctional.

Within the G20, the G7 countries are generally unified against Russia. They are the United States, Canada, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan.

G20 members Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Australia (MIKTA) are already split over the Australian prime minister’s decision to reject President Vladimir Putin's presence at the G20 summit in Bali.

The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), all G20 members, are likely to oppose any efforts to remove Russia from the forum.

The positions of Latin American countries, such as Argentina and Mexico, as well as Saudi Arabia and South Korea, are still unknown, although, like Indonesia, they all supported the United Nations resolution condemning Russia.

Significantly, the political atmosphere within the G20 is not good at all. Geopolitical contentions between the West and Russia have hardened, and economic sanctions have intensified. Leaders of Western countries in the G20 refuse to sit at the same table as Putin. If Russia succeeds in conquering Ukraine in the next few weeks or months, the conflict between Russia and the West will certainly worsen. But even if there is peace in Ukraine, the contention between the West and Russia will continue, as it has become a strategic and systemic conflict.

I believe that Russia's invasion of Ukraine will go down in history as a grave mistake — similar to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 or the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. And I also believe that Russian history itself will record this invasion as a grave mistake, resulting not only in the destabilization of the already fragile world peace but also harming Russia itself.

The invasion also runs counter to the core values of Indonesia as a nation that cherishes independence, sovereignty, peace, national unity, democracy and humanity. All these sacred values were violated by Russia’s military assault on Ukraine.

The division faced by the G20 means Indonesia must work to ensure the forum’s continued relevance. As a contributor to the birth of the G20 Summit in 2008, Indonesia's main interest is in keeping the forum from collapsing.

Why? Because we are still in the midst of an uphill struggle with major global challenges – the economic recovery, the pandemic, climate change – all of which require the presence and cooperation of the G20 countries. They account for 85 percent of the global economy, three quarters of world trade, two thirds of the world population and 80 percent of emissions.

Thus, handling the G20 has proven to be a major challenge for Indonesian diplomacy. History must not record that the failure of the G20 occurred under Indonesia’s presidency.

We will certainly be pulled in different directions. As G20 president, Indonesia must pay attention to the views of all G20 members. Although it is an economic forum, we also have to anticipate that this year’s gathering will be influenced by political factors.

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We must take advantage of our political and diplomatic capital, whether toward Western countries, Russia, China or fellow middle powers. We still have political capital with Russia because although Indonesia supported a UN resolution that took a hard stance against Russia, we have not applied any sanctions on the country, and Jakarta-Moscow bilateral relations are well maintained.

I also recommend that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the finance minister and the foreign minister conduct intensive "Zoom diplomacy", or lobbying through teleconference, with other G20 countries to find a formula that can maintain the integrity of the G20. Solutions to preserve the G20 must be pursued early on, not late in the game.

The ASEAN-US Summit scheduled in the middle of this year also needs to be used by President Jokowi to bilaterally convince US President Joe Biden of the importance of safeguarding the G20. This bilateral meeting should be an opportunity for both leaders to have a straight talk on hard issues.

Outside of the G20, President Jokowi should also send a special envoy to Ukraine and Russia to help efforts to find a solution to the conflict. Some may ask whether this is possible. Well, why not? We should not aim to be mediators, because that would be a more complicated matter, but rather to be a party offering “good office” that may be able to find certain aspects of the conflict that can be bridged.

And, of course, don't forget to embrace China. Out of all the countries in the world, it seems that at the moment, China is the one with the most influence on Russia, and the view of President Xi Jinping is certain to find the ear of President Putin. Perhaps in pushing for a solution to the war in Ukraine, Indonesian diplomacy can synergize with Chinese diplomacy.

At the upcoming G20 Summit, in my view, Indonesia does not need to be allergic to references to the Ukraine war in the final G20 Declaration. Why? Because if the G20 fails to refer to the situation in Ukraine at all, then it will lose credibility in the eyes of the world.

In addition, as the president of the G20, we also cannot silence or ignore any country that wishes to speak up. Remember, Indonesia is in a position of leadership, not just a moderator of the discussion.

We also have to be realistic and lower high expectations. In an environment of strong contention and division, there are limits to what the G20 can achieve collectively. We must minimize the damage that is happening within the G20 and as much as possible reach an agreement that can avoid a world economic crisis.

And don't forget, the G20 Summit is still eight months away. There is still the possibility of an “X factor”, whatever that may be, that could potentially change the calculus of the forum. Hopefully, if this X factor occurs, it will be a positive one.

In this very fluid and dangerous global situation, Indonesia’s position must be well-calibrated. We must firmly oppose Russia's offensive because it violates Ukraine's sovereignty and independence, as well as international law, and this needs to be conveyed by Indonesia both multilaterally (which it has done at the UN) and also bilaterally to Moscow (which has yet to happen).

In the war in Ukraine, we must apply the principles of "independent and active" first and foremost toward Russia. However, we must also keep an eye on opportunities where Indonesia can help defuse the conflict.

We have an interest in maintaining the integrity of the G20, no matter what. At the same time, we must spare no efforts so that the G20 Summit in November this year is productive in producing agreements that are beneficial for the world economy and, of course, for the Indonesian economy as well.

Indonesia has always presented itself to the international community as a bridge builder and consensus builder. In this hot peace situation, it is time for us to show our diplomatic excellence.

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