China calls for true multilateralism at G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting
Globalization in danger; ‘harmful and immoral’ to hijack multilateral platform to create more divisions: experts
Published: Mar 02, 2023 10:03 PM Updated: Mar 02, 2023 11:23 PM
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (on screen) addresses the G20 Foreign Ministers' Meeting (FMM) in New Delhi on March 2, 2023.Photo: VCG

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (on screen) addresses the G20 Foreign Ministers' Meeting (FMM) in New Delhi on March 2, 2023.Photo: VCG

At a time when the Ukraine crisis overshadows the world's multilateral cooperation platforms, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang called on G20 member countries on Thursday to uphold the UN-centered international system and reject power politics and bloc confrontation, underscoring China's role in safeguarding multilateralism. 

The G20 is the premier forum for international economic cooperation. Faced with a volatile international situation and rising global challenges, the G20 must rise to the occasion, enhance cooperation, and contribute its share to global development and prosperity, Qin said at the G20 (FMM) Session I on Thursday. 

This year's G20 FMM came amid escalating tensions over the Ukraine crisis, especially as the US-led West tries every way to hijack the multilateral mechanism to "condemn Russia" and force its geopolitical agenda onto a platform originally designed to tackle economic challenges. Some media suggested that this antagonism has left "India in the unenviable position of trying to reconcile clearly irreconcilable differences," saying the "East-West showdown over Ukraine looms at the G20 meeting." 

Against the backdrop of the current global situation, strengthening multilateralism is more important than ever before. The G20 should play a key and special role, and all parties should show their political will, seek the greatest consensus, and take concrete actions to promote inclusive cooperation to make the economy more resilient and address global challenges, Qin said.

It's also Qin's first visit to India since he became China's new foreign minister in December 2022. Some observers believed that Qin's India trip could open up new possibilities for the bilateral relationship, which has faced numerous challenges over the past few years due to border disputes. Some media called it a "fence-mending" visit. 

However, some Chinese experts hold a more cautious view on the interaction between the Chinese and Indian foreign ministers, saying that such high-level dialogue could be seen as a positive signal in helping restore mutual trust, but it's unlikely that bilateral relations will significantly improve from just one visit. 

Multilateralism in crisis 

In a video address, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the meeting, attended by 40 delegations that included top diplomats such as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, that "the last few years of financial crises, climate change, pandemic, terrorism and war have clearly shown that global governance has failed in both its mandates." 

Warning that "multilateralism" is in a state of "crisis," Modi also said that "we should not allow issues that we cannot resolve together to come in the way of those we can." 

India - which holds the G20 presidency this year - has come under growing pressure to strike a balancing act. "Modi has tried to pressure those attendees, as global governance has been in a very dangerous position, considering the turbulent world and growing challenges that we face today," Zhu Jiejin, a professor of global governance studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

In response to those challenges, the Chinese Foreign Ministry has put forward a four-point proposal at the meeting, including upholding the UN-centered international system and international order, handling global affairs through discussion and rejecting power politics and bloc confrontation, rejecting unilateralism, protectionism and attempts to decouple, and making global development more inclusive, resilient and beneficial for all. 

The original intention of creating G20, a multilateral platform, was to coordinate the macroeconomic policies and development goals of different countries, allowing it to serve as a platform for cooperation and exchanges. However, this platform has been taken over by political topics like the Russia-Ukraine crisis, which will undoubtedly have a negative impact on global cooperation and also increasingly prevent the G20 itself from playing a constructive role, some experts warned. 

"It is important for G20 to stay focused on its original mandate of ensuring macroeconomic stability and focusing on the impending debt crisis, especially for developing countries. As for the Ukraine crisis, in the face of both Russia and the US remaining entrenched in escalating rather than mitigating or terminating violence, the onus lies now with middle powers," Swaran Singh, professor of international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) and currently visiting professor at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver), told the Global Times on Thursday. 

Singh also noted that a worse-case scenario of no consensus statement from the FMM will only further damage the G20 group's potential to remain the world's most powerful and most representative forum for global governance, which will also further undermine multilateralism, bringing dangerous global implications.

The G20 FMM on Thursday was unable to come out with a joint communiqué due to sharp differences over the Ukraine conflict, according to media reports.

Bilateral ties in focus 

Ahead of the meeting, Blinken said he has "no plans" to meet with the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers, sending out a negative signal for this major gathering, especially after the US has been ramping up efforts to contain Russia and provoke China at the same time by accusing China of considering providing lethal support, including weapons and ammunition to aid Moscow. The US official also said on Thursday that "this meeting has again been marred" by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. 

"Unfortunately, the US, along with some European countries, has never stopped fueling the fire and coercing more countries into the conflict, even by making use of a platform like G20, which is not only harmful but also immoral," Lü Xiang, research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

Under the guise of being anti-war, the US, along with some countries, is actually staging anti-Russia moves. Under such circumstances, it's hard to imagine that the G20 FMM would reach any consensus and bring any concrete outcome, he said. 

On the sidelines of the G20 FMM, Qin met foreign counterparts including Lavrov, Australia's Penny Wong and Germany's  Annalena Baerbock. The meeting between Qin and India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar also attracted a great deal of attention in the Indian media. 

While some observers hold a positive attitude toward a possible improvement in China-India relations, which has seen a major downward spiral in the past few years, some Chinese experts believed that this single interaction will not be able to bring relations back to how they used to be. 

"The high-level dialogue will surely help rebuild mutual trust, paving the way for resuming the bilateral ties step by step," Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times. "But we can't count on one interaction to solve all problems," he said.