Editor’s Note: Among the powerful members of the G-8 and G-20, which countries serve as advocates not just for themselves, but for their entire region? And what motivates them to do so? Lex Rieffel explains how Indonesia is able to speak for ASEAN, while China is only able to speak for itself. This commentary is part two of a four part series, originally published in The Globalist.
The question as to whether members are “representing” other countries in their geographical region has a more positive answer.
Over the past 30 years, it is possible to discern a weak trend toward more countries that are actual members of the G-7/G-8 Summit or the G-20 FM/CBG forums “representing” the interests of neighboring countries that are not members. Starting with the G-7/G-8 Summit, the trend is almost invisible. In the case of the United States, there is no obvious example of reaching out in advance of a summit meeting to collect the views of Latin American countries.
And no example comes to mind of the United States bringing to the summit a proposal originating in the Latin American countries. On issues of major importance to Latin America, such as the debt crisis of the 1980s, the normal pattern has been for the United States to decide what would be best for Latin America and then pursue that approach in the summit process.
To be fair, however, there have been frequent consultations between the United States and the rising powers in Latin America. As a result, the Latin American countries have had opportunities to convey their views on issues to be discussed at each summit, and to be briefed by the United States on the results after each summit.
The role of Canada is more interesting. Here, there is some evidence of Canada seeking to “represent” other countries, especially the small Caribbean nations — most visibly in the G-20 FM/CBG forum as described below.
Turning to Europe, the participation of the European Union in the G-7/G-8 Summit seems to have pre-empted any inclination on the part of France, Germany or the United Kingdom to “represent” other European countries.
The issue of Russia’s role may, however, be an exception to this pattern. Without strong lobbying by France and Germany in particular, Russia may not have been brought into the G-7 Summit process. This effort presumably reflected a view that none of the three European members of the G-7 could fairly “represent” Russia — and that full membership for Russia was better than leaving it out, or giving it some kind of second-class observer status.
Finally, we come to Japan. There is no reason to look for any effort by Japan to “represent” other Asian countries in the G-7/G-8 Summit process. To begin with, there was no “Asian identity” to build on.
More fundamentally, the lingering memories of World War II were an insurmountable obstacle to such a role. These memories in large part explain why Japan did not lobby to bring China into the G-7 in the 1990s, when the case for doing so on both economic and political grounds was on a par with the case for bringing in Russia that the Europeans made.
Shifting from the G-7/G-8 to the G-20 FM/CBG forum, the story gets more interesting.
Forget Europe. Here as well, the participation of the EU undercuts any argument for a European member to “represent” other European countries that are not members.
Forget Japan, for the same reasons cited in the case of the G-7-G-8 Summit process.
Forget the United States. G-20 members Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico would obviously be more sympathetic “representatives” of non-member nations than the United States. And there is some evidence that these three countries have been reaching out to their Latino partners, both to enhance their own voice and to improve bilateral relations.
Canada, by contrast, has made an effort here, as well as in the G-8 Summit, to make the smaller Latin American countries feel as though they have a stake in the process.
Forget Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China and South Korea. An effort by Turkey to strengthen its ties to other Middle Eastern countries would have undercut its efforts to join the EU. Any effort by Saudi Arabia to “represent” other Middle Eastern countries would have undercut its aspiration to be a peer of the United States and the G-7 powers. Russia can be ruled out for similar reasons. China, too, would have shied away from representing other countries in the region to avoid jeopardizing its super power status, but also because of the historical legacy of conflict with other Asian countries.
South Korea, for its part, is a second-tier country and has little in common with other second- and third-tier Asian countries.
We are now left with India, South Africa and Indonesia. From its first day of independence in 1947, India has promoted itself as a spokesman for Third World countries — not just in Asia but also in the rest of the world.
It has an advantage in this process because of its leading role in the G-24, the caucus of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors from developing countries that focuses on issues on the agendas of the IMF and World Bank. It is not clear, however, that this role has carried into the G-20 FM/CBG forum in any systematic way.
Another problem for India is its history of tension-filled relations with major neighbors (Pakistan and Bangladesh), and the small number of other countries in the South Asia region.
By contrast, South Africa and Indonesia both have a “representation” role that is quite visible. For South Africa, the diplomatic pressure to represent other Sub-Sahara African countries is intense, as there are no other countries from this region in the G-20 FM/CBG forum. Also, the spirit of African solidarity remains strong. Complicating this role, however, is the fact that South Africa is considerably more advanced institutionally and structurally than most other Sub-Sahara African countries. Therefore its own views on global issues often do not align easily with those of its regional partners. For Indonesia, the driver of its role “representing” the ASEAN Community in the G-20 FM/CBG forum is the idea of a multi-dimensional, regional community.
Indonesia’s role has been reinforced by being the ASEAN country with the largest population (by a factor of two and a half) — and more recently by having engineered a remarkable transition to a democratic political system.
ASEAN finance ministers and central bank governors meet on a regular schedule. These meetings are used by Indonesia to solicit views from its ASEAN partners on the issues to be discussed in upcoming G-20 FM/CBG meetings (including affiliated working groups) and to report on the discussions at recently concluded meetings.
The spirit of this role is captured in a recent quote from Indonesia’s Planning Minister: “Indonesia as one of ASEAN’s ten member countries must, of course, accommodate the interests of all ASEAN nations.”