G20 Under Siege


This year, Indonesia holds the presidency of the G20. During the preparations for the upcoming summit in November 2022 in Bali, how does Indonesia navigate growing controversies amongst the G20 member states concerning the Russian aggression towards Ukraine?

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The G20 officially has twenty members, but in fact the participation of many more countries is welcomed in all the G20 meetings from time to time.

The Indonesian presidency of G20 is currently facing an immense double challenge brought by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The first challenge is the deteriorating economic condition that makes the recovery more fragile. The second challenge is the eroding spirit of the G20 members’ solidarity that corrodes enthusiasm for collaboration.

The war has caused the current food shortage, energy crisis and high inflation rates in both developed and developing countries. The Indonesian presidency’s priority agenda to formulate an exit strategy to support recovery now seems to be very hard to achieve in the context of the global economic uncertainty and geopolitical tension. Meanwhile, the war continues without any sign of abating, so the recovery process is likely to take a very long time. Stronger collaboration between the G20 members is thus required to address the issue of this fragile recovery.

It is yet unfortunate that the G20 members are sharply divided in responding to the Russian invasion. The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada as well as a significant number of other G20 members demand the suspension of the Russian G20 membership. They have openly condemned the Russian aggression and imposed severe economic sanctions on Russia. Some members have even provided military equipment to support the Ukrainian military forces. Leaders of the G20 member-states have announced their plan to boycott the G20 meetings if the Russian delegate attends, or to walk out during the intervention by the Russian delegate.

In contrast, China and the rest of the G20 members uphold a strong belief that the G20 must maintain the membership of Russia in the G20 meetings. They argue that the G20 shall continue to carry out its main role as a global premier economic forum and thus focus on the priority agenda already set by the Indonesian presidency. According to this scenario, Russia shall be allowed to participate in the discussion on the economic recovery strategies to be adopted.

Since the start of the invasion on 24 February 2022, the atmosphere conducive for collaboration among G20 members has changed dramatically. The opening session of the G20 Working Group meetings were colored with the expression of harsh condemnation of Russia’s intolerable aggression toward Ukraine. Indonesia needs to show its leadership skill to ensure that the delegates address the priority agenda despite their deep concern regarding the controversial aggression. 

Indonesia’s stand in response to the war

Indonesia’s response to the Russian-Ukrainian war demonstrates a high amount of circumspection, which gives the impression of taking an ambiguous stand towards the war.  The initial response to the war was directly expressed by President Joko Widodo on 24 February 2022 through his official tweet saying: “Stop the war. War brings misery to mankind and puts the whole world at risk.”

On the following day, the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced its official statement in response to the war. The MOFA calls for an immediate termination of the unacceptable military invasion in Ukraine through peaceful diplomatic means and suggests that the respect of the goal and Charter of the UN and International law (including respect towards the territorial integrity and sovereignty) must be imposed. Indonesia also urges the UN Security Council to take concrete steps to prevent the deteriorating situation.

Indonesia’s initial response was criticized for failing to take a strong position against Russia. In both the official tweet and the MOFA statement, the statements do not name and blame Russia as the country that is responsible for the invasion. Neither did Indonesia use the labels “condemnation” and “Russia as an aggressor” as other countries commonly use to show their opposition against a particular unilateral action that violates the respect to be shown towards the UN Charter, territorial integrity and state sovereignty.

Indonesia’s stand can also be discerned in the voting on the drafts of resolution at the UN General Assembly (UNGA). Indonesia voted in favour of the UNGA Emergency Session 11/1 Resolution on 2 March 2022. The resolution demands from Russia to immediately end its invasion and withdraw all its military forces from Ukraine without any conditionality.

Indonesia also supported the Emergency Session 11/2 Resolution on the humanitarian consequences of the aggression against Ukraine. The Resolution recognizes the unprecedented high scale of humanitarian suffering brought on the Rusian invasion. At the UNGA emergency special session on 8 April 2022, Indonesia voted for abstention in voting on a resolution on Russia's suspension from the UN Human Rights Council.

Indonesia has its own underlying reason for its stand that may appear ambiguous. Its position to support the UNGA ESS resolutions is adopted to demonstrate that Indonesia joined other nations to condemn the Russian invasion, and this is very much in line with the MOFA’s official response to the war. Its abstentious position on the third draft resolution reflects Indonesia’s principle to respect the international law before making any legal judgment on whether there is serious human right crime committed by Russia in Ukraine.

Indonesia apparently wants to display a mildly moderate standpoint towards the war. Indonesia is used to playing the role of a bridge builder at the international forum. This moderate standpoint will presumably provide room for Indonesia to maintain alignment with the majority of the UN members that agree to adopt the resolutions as well as to keep its longstanding good relationship with Russia intact.

Indonesia itself has suffered from the economic impact of the war. In 2019 and 2020 Ukraine was the largest exporter of wheat seed and meslin flour to Indonesia. Indonesia imported 2.99 million tons in 2019, while in 2020 it amounted to 2.96 million tons. The import of wheat and meslin from Ukraine increased 29.94% to 3.07 million ton in 2021 and values USD 919.43 million. In 2022, Indonesia planned to import 2.8 millions tons of wheat from Ukraine to meet 25.2 % of the total wheat needed for the industry. However, the war is likely to make the import to meet the domestic needs impossible. Indonesia must now find other exporters of wheat, including Australia, Canada, Argentina, the United States and India to secure its domestic supply.

Another commodity of import has also declined. Import of cereals from Russia declined dramatically to 69% (USD 423,000), while import of cereals from Ukraine saw a decline of 90% (USD 1.4 million).

The National Statistic Bureau’s report suggests that both the trade balances between Indonesia-Ukraine and between Indonesia-Russia are deficit throughout January-March 2022. Indonesia’s export of vegetable oils to Russia declined from USD 102.4 million in January 2022 to USD 58.3 million. Export of rubber and rubber goods declined from USD 102.4 million in January 2022 to USD 2.5 million in March 2022. Indonesia did not export any commodity to Ukraine at all in March 2022. Indonesia is used to exporting vegetable oil, paperboard and footwear to Ukraine.

Navigating the divide among G20 members

The slightly favored standpoint towards the Russian invasion will also presumably strengthen Indonesia’s intention to navigate the divide among members within the G20.

The Indonesian presidency repeatedly confirms its position vis à vis the participation of Russia in the G20 meetings. The Indonesian presidency argues that the G20 is an informal forum which has neither a formal constitution nor any formal arrangement for its membership. Neither is there any regulation that authorizes the Presidency to suspend the membership of a certain country. The G20 has had an inclusive nature since its establishment. The G20 officially has twenty members, but in fact the participation of many more countries is welcomed in all the G20 meetings from time to time. The G20 hosts always maintain the laudable tradition of valuing inclusiveness in building consensus. The Indonesian presidency is accordingly committed to upholding this inclusive value highly. Indonesia has invited President Volodymyr Zelenzkyy to attend the G20 Summit along with all G20 leaders and other leaders of the invited countries. The Ukrainian President warmly welcomes the invitation.

The Indonesian presidency is aware of any risk of the G20’s failure to deliver concrete outputs that may leave the presidency without any legacy. Indonesia does not wish to see the existence of G20 come to an end under its presidency. Put succinctly, the G20 shall not become the G19, either. The worst case scenario would be that the divide between the G20 leaders would impede the adoption of a common declaration at the forthcoming summit in Bali. Yet the cost is too high for the G20 and the world if this scenario happens.

The Indonesian presidency allows the members that want to demonstrate their protest against the Russian participation by presenting their condemnation of the invasion during their intervention or even by walking out from the sessions when the Russian representative is having an intervention. In response to the walk-out initiated by US financial minister and high officials from the UK and Canada during the Second Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting (20 April 2022), the Indonesian G20 Co-Sherpa suggested that “walking out is something common at the multilateral forum. It is a reflection of views or attitudes presented by some member states to highlight their particular standpoint. It is not aimed at targeting the chair or presidency, but rather aimed at a particular state.

For Indonesia, the most important agenda to keep is that the G20 delegates will not be distracted by the war but continue their active contribution to addressing the priority issues in the G20 meetings. This scenario has apparently been working in the Working Group meetings and the recent Second Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting. This is essential for ensuring the G20 will agree on the set of concrete deliverables at the end of the negotiation process.     

Way forward

Recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic remains the biggest issue that requires collaboration from G20 members. Now the G20 also needs to address the deteriorating global economic conditions due to the Russian-Ukraine war.

The three main priority agenda items under the Indonesian presidency of G20 remain urgent to gain serious attention from all G20 members. The global health architecture needs greater attention from G20 leaders. So do the issues of digital transformation and energy transition that may not directly relate to the war but are vital to laying the foundation for the midterm and long-term better future.

The Covid-19 pandemic is not over yet, and the vaccination target remains behind schedule. Globally, 4.64 billion people received two doses (59,5%), which means still below the 70% target set for mid-2022. In Africa, the population that received two doses of vaccines has reached only 17%, while only 23% of the population received two doses of the vaccine.

All of this underlines the importance of the G20 to prove its strategic role as the only global premier economic forum that can deliver benefits for all nations in the world. Under the Indonesian presidency, the G20 has an additional mission to accomplish right now, namely to ensure that any policy to respond to the economic impact of the war shall not damage the global economy as a whole, which can lead to the unexpected catastrophic consequences. The G20 shall also be very helpful to provide the development and humanitarian assistance for Ukraine to build their future better.