Indonesia’s president steps on to world stage as G20 host

Getting from Jakarta to Kyiv is not a simple journey. Traveling while Ukraine is a war zone is even more complex.

Yet Joko Widodo, Indonesian President and host of the G20 summit next week, not only embarked with his wife on an 11-hour overnight train journey to the Ukrainian capital from Poland amid a war to recover personally an invitation to his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy – he also attended the G7 summit in Germany and a trip to Russia to invite Vladimir Putin to Bali as part of a five-day diplomatic campaign this summer.

In office since 2014, “Jokowi”, as he is known in his country, had rarely been seen on the world stage. But his determination to stage a successful G20 on the tropical vacation island has propelled the former small-town furniture maker, known for his outsider-style politics, away from his usual reluctance.

Weeks after the Europe trip, Widodo became the first leader to visit China since the Beijing Winter Olympics, this time to invite President Xi Jinping to the summit. The trip also included stops in Japan and South Korea.

The flurry of diplomatic activity heralded a new era of global involvement for the world’s fourth most populous country.

“Indonesia will come out of this process a much shrewder player in foreign policy,” said Kevin O’Rourke, a Jakarta-based analyst on domestic politics and economics and director of consultancy Reformasi Information Services.

As Putin decided this week to send his foreign minister in his place, Widodo’s non-confrontational footwork achieved what pundits said few other leaders could have in a time of war and tension. unprecedented geopolitics. Seventeen leaders are expected in the room next week in Bali, having told Widodo they would be there even if the Russian president was present.

It marked a turnaround from the first weeks after Putin’s invasion, when some Western officials suggested banning Russia from the G20 or boycotting the forum if Moscow sent a delegation.

Widodo’s decision not to exclude Putin but also extend an invitation to Zelenskyy helped convince Western leaders. In June, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she opposed “the paralysis of the entire G20” as a result of the war.

“The G20 is too important, also for developing and emerging countries, for us to let this body be broken by Putin,” she said.

But Widodo’s concern with not taking sides also poses obstacles. “For Indonesia it will be a nightmare because they don’t want to hurt anyone,” said Christoph Heusgen, chairman of the Munich Security Conference. “There’s a lot of pressure on the role of the host in terms of managing all the different expectations.”

“And for Indonesia, as a country that has always been proud to be part of the non-aligned group, it is going to be difficult,” added Heusgen, foreign and security policy adviser to former German Chancellor Angela Merkel from 2005 to 17 and who participated in several G20 summits.

In an interview with the Financial Times this week, Widodo, who is in his second and final term as president, also expressed frustration at the G20 being treated as a political arena instead of an economic arena. and development.

“The idea that they can somehow separate geopolitics from geoeconomics seems a bit naïve,” said one Western policymaker.

Others were more direct. “Indonesians are really pissed off at us,” said a senior official from a Western G20 delegation. “They think they stood with us at the UN on Russia, but we don’t allow other parties to [Widodo’s] agenda to go through the G20 because of the focus on Russia.

“We need to focus on the boring stuff,” the Western official said, “and not let everything be hijacked by Ukraine.”

Indonesia highlighted issues such as food security and the establishment of a pandemic preparedness fund as priorities for the summit.

While Widodo’s meticulousness in not taking sides has served to bring most member countries to the G20, it also carries risks – and may even prove detrimental to Indonesia.

“The narrative will be ‘we tried.’ national of Singapore.

Widodo’s headaches echo the challenges faced by previous G20 hosts.

At the November 2014 summit in Brisbane, the first after Russia’s invasion of Crimea in February, Putin sulked at home a day earlier after being harangued by Western leaders in bilateral meetings and roughed up by outsiders. others.

Five years later in Osaka, then-US President Donald Trump provided a litany of awkward moments, including inserting his daughter Ivanka into meetings with bewildered leaders. Trump also praised Putin for his toughness on reporters and insulted Germany and its Japanese hosts for relying on the United States for defense and security.

Indonesia still hopes the summit can bring economic benefits and boost its recovery. Domestically, Bali’s rebirth is already seen as a victory.

Ultimately, however, the summit’s success will lie in geopolitics. Widodo’s forceful foreign policy set the stage for a historic reunion and earned Indonesia much-sought global prestige.

But the chances of a joint communiqué at the end of the summit are far from assured. The same goes for any outcome of a discussion between US President Joe Biden and Xi, their first face-to-face meeting as leaders, before the summit.

“I think they would like conclusions to come out . . . It’s not in their hands,” Heusgen said. “It’s in the hands of the Americans, the Chinese and the Russians.”

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