G20 meeting signals the failure of Western multilateralism
The West is violating the logic of multilateralism by pushing unilateral sanctions to achieve political objectives against adversaries.
Multilateralism, already under threat to the extent that the UN General Assembly devoted its 75th anniversary session in 2020 to “reaffirming our collective commitment” to the principle, is facing further erosion consequent to the breakdown of relations between Russia and the West and the mounting of serious tensions between the US and China, in which Europe is tentatively joining.
Globalization, anchored essentially in multilateralism, is being reversed. Already under stress as a result of the Covid pandemic, the global economy is under more pressure from the continuing conflict in Ukraine, including the unrestrained use of sanctions as a policy instrument by the West to achieve political objectives against its designated adversaries, without concern for the disruption this causes in normal exchanges between third countries. Unilateral sanctions violate the logic of multilateralism.
The G20 was set up to bring developed countries and emerging economies together to collectively address issues of global growth and financial stability that the more restrictive G7 group could no longer do on its own after the 2008 financial crisis provoked by the mismanagement of the US banking sector.
The G20 was, in a sense, a nod towards multipolarity, but more with the intention of taming it and keeping it under US monitoring.
The future of the G20 is now uncertain. It is most unlikely that sanctions against Russia by the West will be lifted in the foreseeable future. This means whatever cooperation was possible between the West and Russia in the UN Security Council on certain issues will no longer be feasible.
With Russia and China making common cause on key issues of global or regional peace and security because both are being treated as adversaries by the US, international cooperation on issues of concern to the entire global community will be seriously impaired, within the UN and outside.
The G20 is already feeling the stress of the current geopolitical tensions. For instance, no joint statement could be issued at the end of the meetings under India’s presidency of the G20 Foreign, Finance and Development Ministers. The West is determined to prevent any joint declaration unless there is a clear denunciation of Russia’s “unprovoked” military intervention in Ukraine and Moscow is held responsible for issues such as the global economic impact of the conflict, including food shortages affecting the neediest countries.
With the West unbending on this score and Russia, with China’s support, now unwilling to accept even the compromise language of the G20 Bali joint statement and insisting that the G20 mandate is only to deal with economic and financial issues, it will be surprising if a joint statement emerges from the New Delhi summit this weekend.
In that case, it would be the first time the G20 has failed to issue a consensus statement. It will then be left to India to issue a Chair’s statement that would incorporate the Bali language on Ukraine, with the note that the relevant paragraphs were not approved by Russia and China.
This likelihood is all the more certain now that both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will not be attending the summit. Their absence shows how fragmented international relations have become, to the point that it is not considered worthwhile to keep open the channels of communication between major powers at a time when international peace and security as well as global economic and financial stability are under threat.
One can speculate that Russia concluded that with the G7, the EU and Australia deeply hostile to Russia and continuing to arm Ukraine and seek Russia’s military defeat, and the likelihood that when President Putin addressed the plenary session Western leaders would insultingly walk out, it would serve no useful purpose for him to attend the summit. The dialogue at President Putin’s level with his Chinese, South African, Saudi Arabian and Turkish counterparts is being sustained bilaterally in any case. Brazil, besides, is a member of BRICS and Argentina’s membership of the grouping has been approved.
President Putin’s presence would have been a positive gesture towards India, which has not condemned Russia on Ukraine despite Western pressure, absorbed Western flak for buying Russian oil, refused to invite Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky as a guest, and which has laid such store on the success of its presidency. Putin’s absence though would also spare India diplomatic headaches in managing Russia-West tensions at the summit. The Russian delegation has, of course, participated fully in the G20 deliberations in various areas.
The reasons for President Xi’s decision not to attend are more complex. China remains in a tense border standoff with India, troops from both countries are facing each other in the Himalayas, and 19 rounds of military talks haven’t fully defused the situation. The brief exchange between President Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg last month does not seem to have been productive enough. President Xi may have felt that he might be cold-shouldered in India. If no bilateral dialogue is held with India, it would deepen differences, and if one is held but China has no plans to defuse the crisis, that too would make the situation worse.
President Xi may not be ready as yet to hold a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden, who is keen on one, and would like to play hard to get, waiting for more overtures from Washington, which has already sent several cabinet-level ministers to China. President Xi may not also want to engage the US president on Indian soil, preferring to do so elsewhere. As in the case of President Putin, President Xi too has met various attending non-Western leaders bilaterally, or at meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) or BRICS. The Chinese president may also, like his Russian counterpart, want to reduce the salience of G20 as a Western-led platform and build up an expanded SCO as a multipolar counterweight to it.
It is regrettable that the G20 – which has on its agenda climate financing, green energy, sustainable development goals, trade, debt issues, reforms of multilateral banks, UN reforms, food security, health, female-led development, cryptocurrency, cybercrimes, fake news, terrorism, tourism and culture, and so on, and on which there is a general consensus of views – is being held hostage by the West on the Ukraine issue, to the point of not allowing an agreed joint statement to emerge.
Ideally, on all the subjects on which there is a consensus, the G20 should be able to issue a joint statement at the leadership level. The Ukraine issue can be appropriately dealt with in the Chair’s statement. Why throw out the baby with the bathwater?
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ours.