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Recap: G20 Beyond U.S.-China Dynamics: What the G18 Want and Need

Recap: G20 Beyond U.S.-China Dynamics: What the G18 Want and Need

Established in 1999 after the Asian financial crisis, the G20 aims to enhance global financial regulations and collaboration. The scope of the G20 has expanded considerably over time as leaders use the platform for conversations on critical political issues along with economic discussions.  At the recent summit in Osaka, Japan, media attention was drawn to the sideline meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping and whether they could ease the tension of the U.S.-China trade war.  Nevertheless, the other eighteen countries also had their agendas for this summit, and those agenda indicate the challenges they are facing internationally and domestically.

On June 25th, the Asia Program partnered with the Kenan Institute, the Latin America Program, the Argentina Project, and the Korea Center to hold a panel discussion on what the G18, G20 countries other than the United States and China, want and need from the summit. Moderated by Shihoko Goto, the Deputy Director for Geoeconomics at the Asia Program, the discussion brought in five experts to analyze the G20 dynamics from the perspectives of India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Latin American countries, and countries in Southeast Asia.

Goto first invited the panelists to highlight one or two issues that the countries they study would focus on at the G20. Suman Bery, a Wilson Center Public Policy Fellow, stated that this summit in Japan is a favorable opportunity for India, as it was trying to reach a joint position with Japan in response to China’s rising influence in Asia. “In an implicit way, [India would like] to take on China and the [Belt and Road Initiative] by joining Japan in issues like transparent infrastructures,” Bery said.

Indonesia, on the contrary, has less interest in G20, according to Marvin Ott, an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University. The priorities for the Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, are domestic issues, and the U.S.-China trade war does not bother Southeast Asian countries too much, since they are receiving additional foreign investments because of the uncertainty.

Earl Anthony Wayne, a former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and Argentina, noted that the Mexican foreign minister and finance minister, instead of the president, would be flying to Osaka, as the president prioritized domestic tasks.  However, the G20 would be a chance for Mexico to press other countries to invest more in Southern Mexico and Central America in order to help development and alleviate immigration problems. Wayne believed Argentinean President Mauricio Macri would be enthusiastic about the summit because he will be running for his second term this year and it will be critical for him to present himself as a leader recognized on the international stage.

As for Russia, William Pomeranz, the Deputy Director of the Kennan Institute, elaborated that Putin would love to show himself as an engaged global leader. “I think that is really Putin’s objective to show that, despite all the efforts by the Europeans and the U.S. to impose sanctions on Russia, Russia is still an important country, an engaged country, and is not an isolated country,” Pomeranz said. As a bilateral meeting between President Trump and Putin had been arranged on the sideline of the G20, Pomeranz expected that they would discuss substantial issues such as Syria, Iran, and nuclear weapons.

Saudi Arabia, which has the largest economy in the Middle East, is the only country from that region attending the G20. David Ottaway, a Middle East fellow at the Wilson Center, stated that Saudi Arabia was increasingly interested in the summit since it is the next host of the G20 in 2020. The crown prince, who would represent the country at the summit, would likely use the occasion to attempt to recover his reputation as a reasonable statesman.  But the top concern for Saudi Arabia at the G20, as Ottaway explained, would be oil prices. If the trade conflict between the United States and China continues, Saudi Arabia would likely suffer a further slump in the price of oil.

Wayne added that European countries, as well as the IMF, the OECD, and the WTO, would also be watching the talks between Trump and Xi at the G20. “They highlighted that they are worried about the rise in trade conflicts, not just the U.S. and China, but other places also, and their impact on macroeconomic growth.” Wayne also mentioned that Europeans would likely be discussing climate change, though that might not be of interest to President Trump.

Goto raised the question that, as the issues covered by the G20 may be too intertwined for consensus, the G20 may have overextended its scope, and whether the participation of Saudi Arabia, as an outliner, could bring the summit back to an economic focus.

Ottaway responded that the Saudis were mostly interested in economic issues and relatively indifferent to topics such as global health and sustainable development. For the issue of climate change, Ottaway noted, “they really support Trump on climate change. They don’t want to see any lessening of fossil fuel burning, given the fact that their entire economy depends on the price of oil.”

As the panel weighed in on trade and financial issues, Ott pointed out that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is a significant but often overlooked multilateral institution that has not only maintained peace in the region but also steadily established more and more economic and financial cooperation. Bery concluded that “the G20 started with the rich countries, represented by the G7, which have tradition cooperation with each other, and the others who were newcomers. I think, ten years on from now, we would be dealing with two states, the U.S. and China. What does that leave for everybody else? That is what we should begin to tease out of what happens in Osaka.”

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The views expressed are the author's alone, and do not represent the views of the U.S. Government or the Wilson Center. Copyright 2019, Asia Program. All rights reserved.

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Alison Chen

Program Intern
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Asia Program

The Asia Program promotes policy debate and intellectual discussions on U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific as well as political, economic, security, and social issues relating to the world’s most populous and economically dynamic region.   Read more