Indonesia’s leadership in G20 shines amid contention between West and Russia

With all eyes on Indonesia as the G20 chair, the summit concluded successfully as Indonesian President Joko Widodo deftly balanced the demands of the G20 members amid the Russia-Ukraine war, along with a painstakingly crafted joint declaration that addresses the war. ISEAS academic Leo Suryadinata gives us a look at how Indonesia managed to handle the situation while making it clear that the economic summit is not a platform to discuss security.
US President Joe Biden and Indonesian President Joko Widodo hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, on 14 November 2022. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
US President Joe Biden and Indonesian President Joko Widodo hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, on 14 November 2022. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

The Group of Twenty (G20) Summit concluded successfully in Bali, Indonesia, on 16 November — the meeting went smoothly with the release of the G20 Bali Leaders’ Declaration. This was especially important for Indonesia, which holds this year’s G20 presidency. Under its chairmanship, the joint declaration fully reflects Indonesia's national policy of independence and non-alignment.

Handling Russia and Ukraine relations

Formed by the world’s major economies in 1999 following the Asian financial crisis, the G20 is an international economic forum initially aimed at connecting the finance ministers and central bank governors of 20 major developed and emerging economies. It was upgraded to an international forum for heads of state after the global financial crisis in 2008.

The EU, the US, Brazil, China, Russia, India and Indonesia, are some of the key members of the G20, and each year, a different member country assumes the presidency of the group. Indonesia held the 2022 presidency amid the Russia-Ukraine war. The EU and the US joined hands in supporting Ukraine and sanctioning Russia, while China and India opposed the West’s sanctions. Indonesia initially opposed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but has refused to impose sanctions and has maintained friendly relations with Russia.   

Jokowi gave an ingenious reason for inviting both Russia and Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden has reinforced the country’s alliance with Europe and fully supports Ukraine in the Russia-Ukraine war in a reversal of former US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the world stage. The US pressured Indonesia to include Ukraine in the summit and bar Russia from attending, but Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo refused to exclude Russia. Via online video meetings, he invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to join the summit. However, he also invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to join as Jokowi did not want to offend Biden.

Delegates attend the handover ceremony during the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, on 16 November 2022. (Willy Kurniawan/Pool/AFP)
Delegates attend the handover ceremony during the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, on 16 November 2022. (Willy Kurniawan/Pool/AFP)

Jokowi gave an ingenious reason for inviting both Russia and Ukraine. He said that the G20 is an economic forum for discussing economic issues and Russia must be invited as a member state. And because the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war has severely affected the world’s energy and food supply, Zelenskyy should also be present to help solve food and fertiliser supply problems.

Not only that, when Jokowi was invited to the G7 summit, he discussed at length the disrupted food and fertiliser supply chains and urged major powers to address the issue. Following this, he personally visited Ukraine and Russia with his wife to help both countries resolve fertiliser and food export issues. While there has been some improvement in the food supply chain, the underlying problem remained unsolved. Nonetheless, Jokowi’s capabilities have earned him some praise.   

While the G20 finance and foreign ministers’ meetings prior to the summit ended without joint declarations because of disagreements among members on the Russia-Ukraine war, Indonesia was able to issue a Chair’s Summary.

Jokowi: G20 summit not a security forum

As the Russia-Ukraine war was the toughest issue at the G20 summit, failure to reach a consensus and produce a joint declaration would be a major setback for Indonesia. So how did the G20 Bali Leaders’ Declaration come to fruition?

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Indonesian President Joko Widodo attend a joint news conference following their meeting in Moscow, Russia, 30 June 2022. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via Reuters/File Photo)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Indonesian President Joko Widodo attend a joint news conference following their meeting in Moscow, Russia, 30 June 2022. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via Reuters/File Photo)

Let’s look at what happened at the G20. Only 17 heads of state attended the summit, with the leaders of Russia, Brazil and Mexico absent. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov attended in place of Putin, but only participated on the first day and left the next day. Notably, Lavrov was present while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave a speech via video conference.

While Indonesia asserted that the G20 was a forum to discuss economic issues, the US-led Western countries latched on to the war in Ukraine, with intense debate among the delegates. US and Russia supporters as well as non-allies such as Indonesia and India eventually made a compromise. 

The joint declaration stated, “Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy — constraining growth, increasing inflation, disrupting supply chains, heightening energy and food insecurity, and elevating financial stability risks.”

zelenskyy
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses a session via video conferencing during the G20 Leaders' Summit, in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, 16 November 2022. (Willy Kurniawan/Reuters)

In addition, “There were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions. Recognising that the G20 is not the forum to resolve security issues, we acknowledge that security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy.”

This declaration included what the US and its allies wanted, that is condemning the war in Ukraine, the motions to denounce Russia at the United Nations, and the human suffering and economic damage of war. However, the mention of “other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions” is clearly not what the US and its allies want.

... the US and China compromised on the phrasing of the declaration. They are well aware that if tensions rose due to the insistence from one party, it would push Indonesia and other non-allies closer to the other side...

xi biden
US President Joe Biden meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 leaders' summit in Bali, Indonesia, 14 November 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The declaration took in the various views of developing countries on the war in Ukraine, while Jokowi’s line that the G20 is not the forum to resolve security issues was also included.

Evidently, the US and China compromised on the phrasing of the declaration. They are well aware that if tensions rose due to the insistence from one party, it would push Indonesia and other non-allies closer to the other side, which would be to their detriment.

Platform to ease tensions

Responding to journalists, Jokowi said that the war in Ukraine was the most debated section in the declaration, and the delegates spent much time and effort on it. He remarked, “The Russian representative was present during the summit. Even if it was difficult, [the declaration] has been formalised.” Indirectly, Jokowi argued that Russia was “involved” in the discussion of the declaration and did not object to its contents. Indeed, Indonesia sees the declaration as a significant achievement of the G20.

The G20 ended smoothly due to Indonesia’s wisdom and efforts, the pragmatism of China and the US, and the fact that Putin and Zelenskyy did not attend the summit in person.

lavrov
Indonesian President Joko Widodo greets Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as he arrives for the G20 Leaders' Summit in Bali, Indonesia, 15 November 2022. (Mast Irham/Reuters)

The outcome of the G20 includes accepting the members’ different views on the war in Ukraine, that is the damage to developing countries, as well as the diverging perspectives of the West and developing countries. 

Members also recognised the importance of pandemic research and helping developing economies, with the establishment of a pandemic fund and economic cooperation framework. There were also proposals and agreements on key issues such as infrastructure, the digital economy and climate change.

The G20 ended smoothly due to Indonesia’s wisdom and efforts, the pragmatism of China and the US, and the fact that Putin and Zelenskyy did not attend the summit in person. In fact, one of the biggest achievements of the summit was probably that it provided a platform for the Chinese and US leaders to meet, and ease China-US tensions — at least for now.

This article was first published in Lianhe Zaobao as “印尼在G20联合宣言扮演的角色”.

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