On 7-8 July, the leaders of the G20 will gather in Hamburg for the 12th G20 summit. Together the group represents two-thirds of the world’s population, and 85 percent of the global economy. Founded in 1999, the G20 acts as a more inclusive body than the G7/8, bringing together as it does a larger range of countries recognised as powerful drivers of the world economy. Since 2008, summits between G20 leaders themselves have become an annual event. The summits are hosted by the country which holds the presidency of that year. After Turkey in 2015, China 2016, and Germany 2017, Argentina will be the next host in 2018. This year’s summit is expected to be met with a wide range of environmental and human rights protests, as well as demonstrations from anti-capitalist movements. Here, PRIMO fellows discuss the interests and roles of Turkey, China, and Russia in the G20, and question how inclusive the G20 really is.
The contributions do not reflect any official opinion of the institutions within PRIMO. Responsibility for the information and views expressed therein lies with the authors.
Turkey and the G20
Turkey attaches great importance to the G20, as it sees it as one of the main international fora where the country, alongside other emerging powers, is allowed to play an important role in global governance.
Turkey presided over the G20 in 2015, and hosted the G20 Leader’s Summit on November 15-16 in the southern city of Antalya. During its term presidency, Ankara highlighted the theme of “Collective Action for Inclusive and Robust Growth.” In this context, three priorities were spelt out: inclusiveness, implementation, and investment (the so-called the “3Is”). “Inclusiveness” referred especially to three groups: young people, women, and small and medium enterprises (SMEs). In this sense, one of the Turkish presidency’s flagship initiatives was the Women-20 (W20) engagement group, a forum to address women’s issues and increase their participation in the global economy. This was seen as something of a paradox by many in Turkey, given the country’s current backsliding on women’s rights, and human rights in general. For instance, the year the W20 was launched, the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) published a report claiming that, under the Justice and Development Party’s rule, Turkey has experienced a rise in gender-based violence in all its forms; a decrease in women’s labour-force participation; and continuously lowering political participation, including in peace processes in the Kurdish, Cypriot, and Syrian conflicts.
Despite inconsistencies between Turkey’s inclusiveness campaign and actual domestic policies, the “3Is” approach was hailed in domestic and international fora, and widely advertised by Turkish Airlines — Turkey’s national airline, and probably its main public diplomacy asset. Interviewed in the framework of my research, some Turkish high-ranking officials highlighted the importance of the G20 chairmanship for Ankara’s international image, in part because it granted Turkey international recognition for its key role in the refugee crisis. A senior diplomat referred to the “3Is” approach as a clear example of Turkey’s foreign policy ambitions to become “the voice of the least developed countries.”
Furthermore, under Ankara’s leadership, the G20 leaders agreed for the first time on a strong statement against terrorism, in a year that proved very challenging for Turkey: on 10 October 2015, roughly a month before the G20 Summit in Antalya, two bombs exploded outside Ankara Central railway station, killing 109 civilians and becoming the deadliest terror attack in modern Turkish history.
China and the G20
By Insa Ewert
This year’s G20 summit takes place in turbulent times with many observers noting shifts in the global order. Indeed, China has been taking advantage of the situation and is presenting itself as a defender of global free trade and the climate change agenda in the wake of American retreat. The G20 Summit presents a suitable platform to further this agenda. This engagement does not reflect short-term opportunism but rather fits a long-term approach. Among the group of so-called rising powers, China has always been among the most active in the G20, making moves to establish the format as a long-term mechanism for global governance on economic issues.
As such, China has developed specific interests in the G20, most visible in last year’s agenda, which focused on innovation as a driving force in the global and digital economies. The 2016 Summit, which took place in Hangzhou, was also seen as an opportunity to demonstrate China’s ambition at the global leadership level and its importance on the global stage. The upcoming summit is also seen as an opportunity to formalise the EU-China alliance on tackling climate change in the wake of the US’ withdrawal from the Paris agreement with an official statement. A previously planned statement had been withdrawn at the latest EU-China Summit in Brussels over disagreements on trade issues, in particular regarding China’s bid for Market Economy Status.
Thus, while China actively promotes the main topics on this year’s agenda including enhancing global free trade, climate change, and development cooperation, in particular enhancing investment partnerships with African countries, the devil is in the detail. Ahead of the summit, Chinese representatives have emphasised that free trade should be the basis of fair trade, but disputes must be dealt with according to the situations of the individual countries.
Thus, substantial progress over sensitive trade issues should not be expected within this multilateral framework. Instead, the G20 Summit presents an opportunity for global leaders to come together and discuss issues in bilateral side meetings. For instance, China will use the opportunity to coordinate BRICS interests ahead of the BRICS Summit later this year in Xiamen. For instance, Xi Jinping will be in Berlin ahead of the summit. Equally, the US government has announced that President Trump plans to meet with Xi Jinping over the DPRK’s nuclear program and overcapacity in the steel market. Germany and other European countries have similar grievances regarding Chinese steel imports as well as regarding rising Chinese investments in sectors of the economy perceived as sensitive.
While the final statement of the G20 leaders will remain very general due to disagreements among the variety of countries represented, progress can be made within smaller coalitions of “like-minded” countries. China will likely play a role in many of these, demonstrating its importance in a global context.
Russia and the G20
By Ali Lantukh
For the Kremlin, G20 club membership provides an important function — it validates and reinforces Russian leadership at the global level. Since its undignified exit from the G8 over the Ukraine crisis, the G20 gains a greater significance in this reputational equation. Ahead of the Hamburg Summit, the Russian G20 sherpa Svetlana Lukash has noted that this week’s agenda chimes with the Russian government’s priorities — with digitalisation, one of the German presidency’s key topics, being particularly significant.
However, the Summit’s formal content seems less consequential than the format, and the informal opportunities this provides. Multilateral institutions have generally been a lower priority among the dealings of the Russian political class. One Russian academic notes that the G7 “largely belongs to the past,” and that the G20 is “useful” but “unable to fill the geostrategic vacuum” seen in global leadership. A recent article from Kazushige Kobayashi notes the fundamental difference between the Russian government’s perspective on global governance, and the “liberal approach” of global community building and multilateralism. Rather, Moscow holds on to a “state-centric worldview” which “emphasises international competition, great power management, classical sovereignty, and centralised authority.”
Indeed, take a glance at the Russian press ahead of the Summit and it becomes clear that state media is most interested in Vladimir Putin’s datebook entries for 7-8th July — the state-centric approach personified. The Hamburg get-together provides a stage for Putin to showcase his statesmanship in encounters with other world leaders — in informal discussions (on Syria, Ukraine, and so on) and in the way they are portrayed. Slated meetings with Erdogan, Xi, Juncker, and, of course, Mr. Trump, are particularly highlighted in press coverage, with the latter being previewed as the “central event” for Putin, and even crucial for “international stability.” Relatedly, experts from the Valdai Club view the Summit as “fundamental” for the informal insights it will provide on how international relations may shake down in the new age of Trump, Macron et al — and, by implication, the potential Russian role therein.
The G20 and Inclusivity: The Congress of Hamburg?
By Miklos Lazar
One can have many expectations regarding the upcoming G20 Summit — some good, and some bad. On the one hand, we expect the gathering leaders to advance matters of commerce and global development, and address the challenges of the globalisation process, with future generations in mind. On the other hand, we ought to be concerned if a forward-looking approach to global governance is even possible with what is essentially an age-old tool for diplomacy: major powers coming together to decide the future for everybody else.
After all, intrinsically, the G20 summits are congresses for powerful nations selected as prestigious club members, based on a set of obscure and semi-obsolete development and economics related ideas such as trade turnover and GDP. Even so, there is no objective process for the selection of new invitees. For instance, based on economic size, it would have been apt for Poland to swap places with Argentina for some time now, but the former is not even invited as a guest.
In my reading, GDP and trade are merely proxies for a different set of considerations, namely participant states’ capacity to independently organise industry and trade. These states also tend to aggregate and effectively shape their neighbours’ interests. Either way, there is no question that the G20 is concerned with capabilities for delivering on multilateral agenda.
In this respect, order and compromise are just as central to the G20 today as, say, to the Congress of Vienna in 1814. The G20 may commit its resources to public goods, emerging norms, social standards, and environmental ideals, but this does not exactly remove the concerns of the other 175+ countries which are meant to choose between trading favours with current members, or straightforward exclusion.
Yes, the UN and its bodies are not necessarily better when it comes to governance, but at least they were born from and shaped by the very lessons learnt from centuries of European rivalry and jealous in-fighting: the exclusive meetings of the powerful merely provide temporary stability at a typically high price for everybody else. This cannot be sustainable unless they also practice some self-restraint.
Doubtless, we live in times when it is tempting to resort to the leadership of the largest nations to provide quick solutions to the problems of the international community, which is visibly wavering. However, two centuries ago the Congress of Vienna was in a very similar position. Needless to say, the gentlemen assembled in 1814 worked in the name of stability, prosperity, and peace. They tackled crises, resolved frozen conflicts, settled disputes, and provided comprehensive solutions to otherwise bilaterally or multilaterally unresolvable issues. However, they could not help seeking more power through various backroom deals either. They mutilated and removed countries from the map of Europe, and otherwise traded favours over the political and economic fortunes of lesser nations.
Now, it is clear that the Doha Development Round hasn’t been a success story so far. It is also clear that the world is changing fast and that our current institutions seem to be incapable of responding to emergent global threats and challenges. However, there is a fine line between addressing crises responsibly and efficiently, and the possible demise of the truly inclusive, global, multilateral institutions we’ve built together since 1945. The states that meet in Hamburg ought to remember all this as they engage in diplomacy over the coming weekend, so that their leadership might be trusted, and be of benefit to all.
 Interview with Turkish senior diplomat on March 7, 2017.