Today Brisbane is coming to terms with the G20 blues. And that’s because it’s all over. The streets are almost back to normal, the barricades have come down and most of the leaders have left along with the glimpse of world power and stardom they afforded this city over the last few days.
Anyone observing the watching crowds waiting and cheering for leaders such as U.S. President Barack Obama or Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could be forgiven for thinking rockstars had been in the city, rather than politicians who are notoriously unpopular in Australia.
The G20 has been heralded a “once in a generation” experience for Brisbane and indeed waiting on the streets of Brisbane over the weekend and seeing the world’s top 20 leaders pass by was nothing short of surreal. And yes perhaps it will set a benchmark for how to run a safe and secure international meeting, but what was really achieved in all this? Does the G20 really have a role to play in global economics and decision making or is it just a chance to spend a lot of taxpayer money and wave at motorcades?
This brief glance through some of the Asia-Pacific nations pertinent to Asian Correspondent looks at their agenda coming into the G20 Leaders Summit and what they came away with.
There is no doubt the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Australia is groundbreaking. It’s the first visit of an Indian PM to Australia in 28 years and his rockstar reception has been dubbed “Modi-mania”.
Hundreds of members of the Australian Indian community even caught the “Modi Express”, a 12-hour chartered train journey from Melbourne to Sydney to attend his public address at Sydney’s Olympic Park which is expected to attract over 20,000 people and draw millions of viewers from India.
Modi’s popularity in India after his recent election win is still on a high; some claim he is the first leader since Mahatma Gandhi who has managed to capture the imagination of his nation and bring them a sense of hope and Australia seems to be trying to capitalise on this. He has 7.94 million followers on Twitter, second only to Barack Obama in the politician lists, and 24 million on Facebook.
Modi was also invited to address the Australian Parliament; a rare honour afforded to visiting dignitaries showing not only that the federal government is willing to make something of this rare visit but also to leap on the Indian bandwagon and garner investment opportunities in infrastructure and energy.
Modi was also invited to unveil a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the Roma Street Parklands in Brisbane and met with cheers of “Modi Modi Modi” everywhere he went. He also attended meetings at Brisbane’s City Hall with Brisbane and Queensland politicians about matters such as uranium, education, mining investments and the Galilee Basin.
In terms of the G20 Modi voiced India’s support for new global standards on the exchange of tax information and international cooperation against black money, all in keeping with his new government’s line on transparency and corruption in India that has crippled the country’s growth and is a huge reason why he was elected. It was reported that a number of other countries such as Brazil and South Africa shared his sentiments and wanted these views listed in the final communique of the G20.
The Chinese President Xi Jinping was the other world leader to be invited to address the Australian parliament, the second Chinese leader to be invited to do so since his predecessor Hu Jintao in 2003. Xi also signed a free-trade agreement with Australia today that will see 85 percent of all Australian exports enter China tariff-free. The agreement is also expected to increase the value of trade by $18 billion and has been nine years in the making.
Like Modi, Xi has been given red carpet treatment in Australia, thanks largely to trade between the countries worth $150 billion a year. China is Australia’s number one trading partner and was widely lauded during the G20, even by Barack Obama in his address to the University of Queensland, for lifting millions of people from poverty and into the middle class.
Apart from all his lunches, dinners and private talks, protesters didn’t miss the opportunity to launch their protests against China’s live organs trade at the G20. Falun Dafa practitioners were also out in force protesting against the persecution of their spiritual practice. And Free Tibet protestors staged a “die-in” to highlight China’s human rights abuses.
At the G20 it was clear the United States and China, dubbed the G2, held centre stage with both offering commitments on fighting ebola and climate change. Key items on the agenda for Xi Jinping at the G20 were listed in his article in the Financial Review and included issues related to opening up the global economy, a focus on sustained global growth rather than short-term solutions, investment in infrastructure across the G20 nations and the improvement of global governance.
However the concerns are that China seems to be more focused on offering a better standard of living than accountability or transparency. The USA also used the summit to meet with Australia and Japan about security commitments in the region, designed no doubt to keep an eye on China. However Australia chose China over Japan to be the president of the G20 in 2016.
Australia’s role in the G20 was a key one as the host nation with the spotlight very much on Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Abbott and Australian leadership in the G20 was largely commended for the desire to keep core issues of trade and economics at the heart of the G20 agenda and for successfully securing an agreement based on practical pledges to boost global growth by two per cent.
Australian leadership was also praised for being flexible with last minute inclusions to the agenda such as ebola. However the last-minute inclusion of climate change only came at the persuasion of heavyweights such as the United States. Australia had argued it was not a clear economic issue and then endured American President Barack Obama’s address at the University of Queensland during the G20 in which he delivered a critique of the Abbott government’s policy on climate change and issued the call for more to be done to address it. Obama’s point about wanting the Great Barrier Reef to be there in the years to come for his daughters and their children to enjoy was noteworthy and the rousing applause from the audience was a further rebuff to the Abbott government. Certainly the heat is on for Abbott to respond to the U.S.-China-E.U. tide towards climate change targets, particularly with the 2015 Paris conference looming when world leaders will decide on new climate change targets.
Despite his lack of eloquence at times and his discussing domestic issues with international leaders aside, Abbott did secure a free trade agreement with China that has almost been a decade in the making. The deal also comes hard on the heels of his other agreements with Japan and South Korea, and his desire to seek more economic cooperation with India. Overall Australia’s G20 is considered a benchmark for how to host a safe and peaceful world event and notable for its inclusion of some more light hearted activities such as koala cuddling that even Russian President Vladimir Putin enjoyed.
At the G20 Japan answered the call by the American government on climate change and pledged $1.5 billion to the Green Climate Fund proposed to help poor nations cope with global warming.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also attended a trilateral meeting with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and U.S. president Barack Obama focused on strengthening defence ties, regional cooperation and security; all construed as a means to countering China’s growing role in the region. The talks also included resolves to defeat Islamic State militants, fight Ebola, oppose Russian action against Ukraine and resolve issues surrounding the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, although the odd handshake between the three leaders garnered as much news as anything they talked about.
Within the G20’s economic plan to grow economies by upwards of two percent are key country specific measures designed to promote competition, enhance international trade and boost the participation of women in the workforce. This latter issue is considered crucial to Japan, and in fact recently highlighted by Shinzo Abe’s own policies on women as highlighted in two recent posts on Asian Correspondent written by Asia Sentinel here and here.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye was one of only a handful of women amongst the suits at the G20 Leaders Summit. She made notable headlines during the summit for breaking with protocol to greet crowds waiting for her outside her hotel in downtown Brisbane.
President Park is also the daughter of former President Chung-hee and first visited Australia as a 16-year-old on one of her father’s official trips. As The Courier Mail reported Korea’s per capita income during her 1968 visit was only $160, and Australia’s 10 times as much. Today South Korea has come of age as one of the world’s top 20 economies. It signed a free-trade agreement with Australia in February although neither Australia or South Korea have yet ratified the agreement and Park Geun-hye came to the G20 hoping the Brisbane meeting would force the issue.
South Korea is also well versed in hosting the G20, having done the honours in Seoul in 2010.
For Indonesian President Joko Widodo the G20 was a new experience as it was his first venture into global diplomacy having only just become Indonesian President. There was even talk at one stage of him sitting out the G20 to focus on domestic priorities, but economic needs are pressing in Indonesia and it was therefore critical for him to attend. Key on the Indonesian agenda at the G20 was to find ways to unlock the nation’s economic potential as it has failed to fire like other neighbours India and China. To some degree therefore Indonesia represented the voice of developing states at the G20 as it is still regarded as an emerging economy. Indonesia came to the G20 keen for new infrastructure and other trade agreements and commitments by the other G20 members to increase global growth and China’s call for sustainable growth would therefore be welcomed.