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G20 Summit: As Joko Widodo Steps Onto The World Stage; A Clue For India’s PM Modi

Yet here we are, as the G20 continues and Widodo’s presidency is being talked about for the diplomacy he has shown over the last few months.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with United States President Joe Biden, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the 17th G20 Summit, in Bali on Tuesday. (ANI Photo)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with United States President Joe Biden, Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the 17th G20 Summit, in Bali on Tuesday. (ANI Photo)

New Delhi: Even as the G20 Summit is underway in Bali, Indonesia, there’s already talk of India taking over the Presidency of the group by December 1, 2022. To understand how this helps the country, if at all, one can look at how Indonesia’s current position as host helps it.

Discussion has specifically been about the President, Joko Widodo who analysts say not only brings the country to the world platform but equally so, if not more, himself.

Interestingly, he has also projected himself and thus his country as one which can be part of world diplomacy. But criticism against him was not that long ago. In 2015, Netherlands, Australia and Brazil recalled their ambassadors after Indonesia executed multiple people including citizens of the three countries. It was Widodo who had refused to grant clemency to those convicted of drug offences.

But his government faced more scrutiny, when in 2017 United Nations member countries had made 75 recommendations on human rights concerns in Indonesia.

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These included Ireland and Sweden advising the Indonesian government to address anti-LGBT discriminatory laws, while the United States and Germany sought the revocation of the blasphemy law.

In fact, as recently as March 2022 UN human rights expressed serious concerns about what was termed as “the deteriorating human rights situation in the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua”. It spoke of abuses against indigenous Papuans, including child killings, disappearances, torture and mass displacement of people.

Yet here we are, as the G20 continues and Widodo’s presidency is being talked about for the diplomacy he has shown over the last few months. These include going both to Ukraine and Russia to invite the two leaders for the G20 Summit, or then going over to Beijing, to China’s President Xi Jinping.

Like India, Widodo has maintained neutrality when it comes to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. His visit to both countries came after his attendance to G7 in Germany. Widodo reportedly embarked with his wife on an 11-hour overnight train journey to Ukraine’s capital from Poland to personally invite Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He then went on to meet Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

An unlikely peacemaker, Widodo wanted to take the opportunity to bring peace, saying,“My mission is to build peace, because the war must be stopped and (its effects) on the food supply chain must be lifted”, adding he would invite Putin to open a dialogue and “carry out a cease-fire and stop the war.”

In his meeting with Putin, Widodo had brought focus to the impact of war on food supply, something he correctly said, impacted not just Indonesia but world communities, “because Russia and Ukraine are among the world’s bread baskets.”

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It is a crisis which has multifold reasons, which include conflict, climate shocks and the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine driving rising prices of food, fuel and fertilizer, according to the World Food Programme.  

It says that driven by the ripple effects of the Ukraine conflict, the number of people who are acutely food insecure or at high risk have soared to a record high of 345 million people in 82 countries which is where the WFP is operational and thus data available. This brings it to an increase of almost 200 million people compared to pre-pandemic levels.   

So, while Widodo’s talk with Putin brings in any real solutions that will have to be seen, he made a mark in the grand scheme of things – showing that he can take the lead whilst western nations dominated by the US and European countries place sanctions on Russia.

Summit subject and projecting leadership

The G20 presidency also gives the country the responsibility of setting the agenda of the year’s Summit. India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi unveiled the logo, theme and website of India’s G-20 Presidency on November 6. The logo – a lotus – he said represents “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or “One Earth-One Family-One Future”.

He also remarked that India’s G20 presidency was coming at a time of crisis and chaos. He underlined that the world was dealing with the aftereffects of a disruptive once-in-a-century global pandemic, conflicts and lots of economic uncertainty – giving us a further look at what discussions will focus on.

Formally, it is the Sherpa – in India’s case Union Minister for Commerce & Industry, Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution and Textile Piyush Goyal – who becomes the personal representative of a head of state or head of government.

The G20 process, led by the Sherpas of member countries, who are personal emissaries of the Leaders, oversee negotiations over the course of the year, discussing agenda items for the Summit and coordinating the substantive work of the G20.

But how successful are these summits? Last year, the G20 was hosted by Italy, with the Summit taking place in Rome on October 30-31. The theme was ‘People, Planet, Prosperity’ which focused on four broad areas or recovery from the pandemic and global health governance, secondly economic recovery, then climate change and lastly sustainable development and food security.

The Rome Declaration was criticized for not coming up with concrete promises especially on climate change. Furthermore, the group’s reaction to the devastating Covid-19 pandemic was deemed as lacking.

So does the G20 in effect just become a place for photo ops? And one where leaders like US president Joe Biden can have discussions and iron out months of verbal duel with leaders such as China’s Xi Jinping. Where also, people like Widodo emerge from regional leadership into the world map?  

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In the case of India, it will host the G20 leaders’ summit in New Delhi on September 9 and 10 in 2023 under its Presidency. It will also conduct over 200 G20-related meetings in 32 different sectors across the country during its presidency of the grouping that will begin on December 1, 2022, and continue till November 30, 2023.

The dates happen to be months before the General elections of 2024. The country’s prime minister is sure to be projected as a diplomatic marvel, bringing pride for India, helping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) add a point in its strength projections.