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The Bali Summit and the Shadow of the Absent Man

The Bali Summit and the Shadow of the Absent Man

Monday, 14 November, 2022 - 10:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The picturesque scenes on the island of Bali do not hide the black clouds gathering over the summit of the Group of Twenty, which starts its activities on Tuesday.


In the past months, humanity has sent successive signals, revealing the extent of its fear for its security, economy, food, environment and future. The world is in fact going through the most difficult crisis since World War II, despite tensions it faced during the era of the two camps and beyond.


No effort is needed to prove the gravity of today’s challenges. It’s enough to look at the screens, read the headlines and listen to the statements of decision-makers. For the first time in decades, distress files packed the desks of officials and the daily life of normal citizens. Frequent talk about the possibility of resorting to nuclear weapons. An open war in Ukraine, where Western weapons are ravaging the Russian army and causing setbacks. An unprecedented scene that portends “serious consequences” on the Ukrainian stage and beyond. A severe Chinese-American rift over the future of Taiwan and signs of a heated dispute over the top position in the world. A growing concern over grain supplies, along with European preparations for a harsh winter due to the lack of Russian gas or the reluctance to import it.


The world has been receiving increasing warnings of inflation, recession and violent quivers within gigantic economies and institutions. Perhaps the most dangerous message came from the climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh. Solidarity or collective suicide. It was clearly stated by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Those present knew that he was not exaggerating, and his cry was supported by roving disasters and figures. Evidently, he can repeat the same phrase in Bali.


The absence of Vladimir Putin was not surprising. The winds of the war he unleashed in Ukraine are moving against his wishes. A series of successive setbacks have harmed the prestige of the Russian army, and distorted the image of the man who was known for his skill in launching well-calculated and successful strikes.


His decision to annex the Ukrainian provinces deprived him of his maneuvering ability. The Ukrainian army taking back Kherson has further complicated the situation for the master of the Kremlin. He will not come to see the joy in the eyes of Westerners. He cannot tolerate the smiles. It is impossible for him to negotiate under the weight of setbacks. The West does not seem ready to give it a portion of the Ukrainian map. He decided not to attend to avoid escalation or isolation.


The shadow of the absent man is strongly present in Bali. Journalists and officials are speculating about the next round of revenge on the Ukrainian arena. The world has concluded from the Russian absence that the conditions for stopping the war are not yet available.


In the meantime, China chose, as usual, to act according to its dictionary and its timing. It confirmed that a summit will be held today in Bali between President Xi Jinping and his American counterpart. The image of the Chinese president is different from the current picture of the Russian president. Xi emerged from the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) not only for a third term, but also with a prominent seat in his country’s history, alongside Mao Zedong.


He faced the US provocations in Taiwan with firmness, not recklessness.


Firing the first bullet about Taiwan is larger than the world can bear, and China is a nation of wisdom. Anticipation is the best adviser. Fortunately for the world, Xi did not deal with Taiwan as Putin did with Ukraine. It is clear that the leader of the “world factory” is aware that the economy is interconnected in the “global village”. He also realizes that China and America are sailing in the same boat, and that the solution does not lie in setting that boat on fire.


The mere convening of the China-US summit after the Russian war in Ukraine is an important event. It's proof that the “unlimited friendship” between China and Russia does not mean that Beijing fully adopts Moscow’s policies.


It is true that Xi sympathizes with the coup launched by Putin to consolidate a multipolar world; however, he did not turn his sympathy into a field alliance in this confrontation.


The Chinese president has no interest in a clear Western victory in the Ukrainian conflict, but he chose not to get involved, at least for now, and the evidence is Russia’s use of Iranian, not Chinese, drones.


The G20 summit will kick-off on Tuesday in light of the effects of two open catastrophes, namely, the Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine. The magnitude of the dangers facing the sick planet imposes a different management of its affairs.


The sight of those gathered around the summit table confirms that the world has changed since the onset of the G20 on the eve of this century.


China is different, so are India, Saudi Arabia, Türkiye, and Brazil. The Asian roar is not just a population weight and arsenals. It is also gigantic economies, technology and calls for a rightful place in the management of the world.


The Arab presence at the G20 summit is limited to Saudi Arabia. A clear and significant change occurred in the weight and role of the Saudi player. The image of Saudi Arabia is no longer that of a country that possesses huge oil wealth. The Kingdom has something to offer to its region and the world. It’s a model of renaissance launched by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that proved in a few years the ability of the Arabs to achieve remarkable progress, and to take advantage of technology to improve the lives of the citizens and build a vibrant, diversified and competitive economy.


The Saudi renaissance facilitates the engagement in the battle of progress, without fear of isolation or anxiety over identity, as it stemmed from a thoughtful understanding of the dreams and aspirations of Saudi youth.


It’s a renaissance that involves internal, regional and international responsibility. The best evidence is turning the fight against climate warming into a daily effort, as expressed by the Green Saudi Initiative.


The Saudi Crown Prince understood the winds of change that were blowing the international scene. He conducted visits to countries that have an increasing presence on the global stage. He built equal relations and fruitful partnerships, without abandoning the established traditional ties, which were troubled from time to time.


It’s the meeting of the world in Bali. The shadow of the absent man will be present. The interpretations of the US-Chinese date will multiply. But what’s most important is that the US administration listens to the messages conveyed by the changing world.


The countries of the world cannot be forced to wear a uniform. These states have their own properties derived from their history, culture and heritage, and the world can only be managed on the basis of diversity, mutual respect and the right to be different.


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