Six rounds of talks were held over 17 days before talks from the G20 countries finally came to a rest after 7pm on Monday.
Officials tasked with drafting a joint statement that leaders could agree on at the Bali summit, which begins the next day, were locked in talks from 8 a.m. to midnight over the weekend.
“It was as if all the pressure had left the room,” said an official in the Indian delegation, as Russia and China bent over backwards to allow Moscow to denounce Moscow’s war against Ukraine.
In what is billed as the first global summit of the Second Cold War, Western leaders have come to Bali under pressure to demonstrate that their opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war has global resonance. Much of the global south was convinced by the Kremlin’s rhetoric justifying the invasion and blaming Western sanctions for the resulting food and energy crises.
Many worry that developing countries with strong ties to Russia, such as India and Saudi Arabia, will simply reject any language condemning the conflict, meaning the US, EU and their allies will have to settle for weak or no results at all.
But they left Bali not only with a joint statement openly criticizing the economic consequences of the war, but also with evidence that the leading countries of the developing world are ready to isolate Russia. It also raised hopes that Beijing was open to modifying its support for Moscow.
Negotiators, officials and diplomats who spoke to the Financial Times praised Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the summit host, and the Indian delegation for tirelessly seeking consensus between Moscow and the western camp. Their success was in approaching the war in Ukraine from the perspective of a developing country: its economic impact.
“Indonesians were smart. They started with something everyone could agree on, which was food security, and then built on that,” said one Western representative.
“Widodo was determined to get this declaration. . . He felt Indonesia’s diplomatic capital was being exploited to the max and used every trick in the book,” said a person close to Widodo.
On the eve of the summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his American counterpart Joe Biden shook hands when other leaders arrived on the island of Bali. Their first face-to-face meeting as leaders comes after relations have sharply soured over China’s handling of Taiwan, Beijing’s support for Moscow, its crackdown on Hong Kong and Washington’s growing trade restrictions.
Three hours later, the two leaders expressed their mutual desire to arrest this negative trajectory.
Many delegation officials told the FT that the positive votes from that meeting set the tone for subsequent talks at the G20. This gave diplomats confidence that there was a window for agreement in the interests of the union and at Moscow’s expense.
“It was a really remarkable job,” said a second western delegation official. “Additional attention was paid to the G20. . . many targeted it to create pressure [on Russia]. And we agreed.”
Putin’s decision to skip the summit reflected his concern that his four BRICS partners – Brazil, India, China and South Africa – would be isolated and rejected despite their presence. Instead, diplomats said, the group, plus Indonesia, were important swing votes that decided a joint statement containing language critical of the war was better than no statement at all.
Countries such as Mexico, Argentina and Saudi Arabia are determined not to allow a rift between the G7 and others, but they did not openly attack Russia, nor did they offer gestures of solidarity, said those involved in the talks.
“It was the first [G20] a summit where developing nations shape the outcome,” the Indian official said. “The G20 is valuable for everyone. The developing and the developing. So what’s the point of ruining it?”
India, the next annual host of the G20, and Brazil, which will follow India, have been particularly adamant that a joint statement be reached, fearing, diplomats say, a precedent for fragmentation and failure.
Despite China’s late, failed attempt to water down the joint statement’s condemnation of the war, Western officials saw the Xi-Biden meeting and the general attitude to the Bali summit as a possible opening to better cooperation as it seeks to unseat Beijing. Far from Moscow.
French President Emmanuel Macron said: “I am convinced that China can play a more mediating role in the coming months to avoid a more intense land war.” “I was able to discuss this with Xi Jinping, and I was able to discuss the idea of my visiting Beijing in early 2023 to strengthen the dialogue on this particular issue.”
Western diplomats also cheered Xi’s comments that his administration was “resolutely opposed to the effort.”[s] politicizing food and energy issues or using them as tools and weapons”. This was seen as a rebuke to Putin’s disruption of Russia’s energy and Ukraine’s agricultural exports.
The two representatives said China ultimately did not want to group with Russia alone, a fear that prompted Beijing to accept the statement.
But it was clear that there was still work to be done to bridge the deep rifts. In a telling example of the mistrust that has rocked relations between Western capitals and Beijing, Xi was filmed having a private conversation with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he moderated an earlier discussion. “Everything we discussed was leaked. . . this is not appropriate,” Xi shook his head.
Chinese analysts and government policy advisers said Xi was trying to strike a difficult balance at the G20 by easing tensions with the United States and other western countries without significantly changing his continued support for Russia’s invasion. Beijing said the war was caused by NATO’s eastward expansion over the past decades.
In addition to his meetings with Biden and Macron, Xi held talks with the leaders of US allies Australia, South Korea, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands within the framework of the G20 and will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida after leaving the summit.
“In terms of Xi Jinping’s personal interests, it really makes sense that they consider a stable relationship with the United States to be China’s core interests,” said Susan Shirk, a China expert at the University of California, San Diego.
Officials acknowledge that the joint statement does not include specific steps to end the war in Ukraine or increase pressure on Russia. As G20 leaders sat down to a lavish official dinner on Tuesday, Moscow’s decision to launch a missile strike against Ukraine made it clear that Putin has no intention of compromising.
“I do not appreciate the results of the G20 summits,” said a senior EU official.
“But think of it this way: imagine what it would look like if we left here without any deal. Everyone has shown that they are ready to work.”
Additional reporting by Leila Abboud in Paris, Tom Mitchell in Singapore and Demetri Sevastopoulos in Washington