US President Joe Biden, right, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands before a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit meeting, Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, in Bali, Indonesia. Image Credit: AP

At a time when the world is highly divided, and a new cold war has clouded the global strategic landscape, the summit of the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies, the Group of Twenty (G20), is taking place in Indonesia’s resort island of Bali.

The world’s largest Muslim-majority country, Indonesia, is the President of G20 this year. It has tried all it can to keep an inclusive and non-controversial agenda by keeping the focus of the summit on “Recover Together, Recover Stronger” with three priority issues: global health architecture, digital transformation, and sustainable energy transition.

However, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has expressed grave concern about any concrete positive outcome from the summit due to what he thinks is a “very worrying” rise of international tensions.

The G20 became the premier forum for international economic cooperation since the financial crisis of 2007-2008, and the group’s main priorities are economics and development.

Unfortunately, it is not economics but politics that may prevent the Bali Summit from achieving substantial success at this difficult time, when the world expects G20 to assume a collective leadership role.

More on G20

However, the Indonesian presidency begins a period for countries of the Global South leading the agenda-setting for the G20.

The world is facing an unprecedented crisis economically, politically, and militarily. The War in Ukraine has been going on for nearly ten months now, and there is no end in sight. Instead, there are serious and credible threats that hostilities may stretch.

Cold War-type conflicts among global powers have also escalated in the Taiwan Strait, the Korean Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. Inflation is skyrocketing worldwide, the gas shortage has created energy insecurity at the beginning of winter months in many countries, and the food crisis has been so severe in some regions that it is famine-like conditions.

Dozens of countries are on the verge of bankruptcy. At this most difficult time, the G20 has reduced to a divided and conflict-ridden group.

The division among the group members has been particularly acute this year with the starting of the war in Ukraine. Under the Indonesian presidency, several G20 ministerial meetings have failed to issue joint official statements.

The US had wanted to drop Russia from G20, but G20 is not the same as G8, and China and several other countries vetoed the idea. Russian President Putin’s decision not to travel to Bali might help the summit somewhat, focus on its agreed agenda, and not divert too much to the Ukraine War issue.

Biden-Xi meeting

However, Chinese President Xi Jinping is attending the Bali Summit and will have his first face-to-face meeting with Joe Biden after he was elected as the US President.

The relationship between two competing superpowers, the US and China, has become hostile for some time. President Xi has secured the third term as China’s leader, while President Biden’s Democratic Party is on the verge of losing its majority in the House of Representatives.

Moreover, Europe’s largest economy, Germany, is avoiding being part of any faction and looking to expand economic cooperation with China.

The growing competition for influence between the US and China has made it difficult for the G20 chair of this year, Indonesia, to secure any consensus on commitments. However, at this time of heightened confrontational environment, Indonesia has done a commendable job of keeping the process of negotiation among member countries of the G20 ongoing.

India will follow the Indonesian presidency in 2023, Brazil in 2024, and South Africa in 2025. While the world is moving into the second Cold War period, it is significant that the four years of the G20 presidency will be with developing countries from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

This period might ignite the revival of the spirit of non-alignment within the G20 and worldwide. Cooperation among these influential countries of the South is necessary to build bridges between two competing global power blocs.

The influential developing countries can’t just sit helplessly and keep blaming the hostile global situation and the great power rivalry for the war in Ukraine to continue and become extremely dangerous and highly unpredictable.

Or they can’t just watch the global economy worsen further and lead to more state failures in the global South. Or they can’t remain silent over the continued delay in fulfilling pledges committed by countries to limit global warming.

The Bali Summit of G20 leaders may fail to produce a declaration, but the Indonesian presidency is the beginning of four years for the G20 to be led by the countries of the global South.

Thus, Indonesia’s contributions may be the prelude to elevated cooperation among the ‘non-aligned’ members within the group, which can guide the G20 to transit through a global geopolitical storm and play its part as an effective multilateral forum.