Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 16:14 | SYDNEY
Monday 23 Jul 2018 | 16:14 | SYDNEY

The G-20 and Asia


Malcolm Cook

1 June 2009 14:16

Two announcements pertaining to the G-20 last week underlined two challenges for thinking about the recent elevation of both the G-20 and Asia: one of over-interpretation and one of definition.

1. Overinterpretation: The announcement of Pittsburgh as the host of the third G-20 leaders’ meeting took me a bit by surprise. The fact that the Atlantic sea board of the US will host two of the first three meetings (with the other of course held in London) serves as a reminder of the fact that the US is still by far the most powerful state in the inter-state system and that Washington’s natural gaze is eastwards towards Europe, not westwards towards Asia.

If the next G-20 summit could have been held in the capital of one of the Asian G-20 members (say Japan, China or Saudi Arabia) or at least on the US west coast, the rhetoric that the G-20 is a new form of global economic governance reflecting the shift in global economic power from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and to Australia’s time zone) would have been more in synch.

Of course, the G-20 idea originated in the Atlantic and the G-7 and the first G-20 meeting in 1999 was in Germany and was co-hosted by Germany and Canada. For supporters of the G-20 in the Pacific, like myself, we need to be careful not to over-estimate the likely future importance of the G-20 leaders meetings and what the G-20 signifies about Asia’s new prominence in the traditionally Atlanticist world of international politics.  

2. Definition: Discussions of the G-20, including Kevin Rudd’s latest speech in Singapore, exemplify how difficult it is to define Asia. Here, there is lots of talk about the 'Asian 5' of the G-20 (Japan, China, India, Indonesia and South Korea) and even the Asian 6 (including Australia). Yet, isn’t Saudi Arabia part of Asia, or for that matter Russia? I wonder if this geographical quirk doesn’t reflect a traditional Asia-Pacific view of how to define Asia that itself may be becoming less relevant and more dated.

For some of my and Mark Thirlwell’s pre-GFC ideas about the benefits of the G-20 over the G-7, please click here.

Photo by Flickr user artnoose, used under a Creative Commons license.