By Adagbo ONOJA
“IF A Martian were to land on earth and be asked, based on effort put into spiffing itself up, which city was the Olympic host this year, there is a good chance it would guess Hangzhou. Rio de Janeiro struggled mightily with its preparations for the summer games, with mixed results. Hangzhou, by contrast, has left no stone unturned, no wall unpainted and no sewer unsealed in getting ready for the G20 Summit, an annual gathering of the leaders of the world’s 20 leading economies. Most hosts treat the G20 as a worthy, if rather dull, conference. But China has approached it with gusto, as is its wont with international events that let it showcase its modernity to the world”
With the above quotation, the London based The Economist is bound to win any competition for the most parsimonious insight on the G20 fever in China. The fever is across cultural, geo-strategic, economic and security spaces as can be seen from the quote taken along with the pix from its piece, “Olympian Exertions, (August 29th, 2016). The September 4- 5th, 2016 G20 meeting in China is bound to be like no recent other or soon to come summit simply because China is a rising power and because it is power that, ultimately, counts most in human affairs. Add to that the expectations that the G20 would respond to recent reservations about the global economic order from the Pope, global civil society and even some powerful states. Unlike the G7/8, the G20 is bound to always raise such expectations because some of the members such as Argentina and Mexico are precisely the reason for its formation. Their financial crises ignited the observed imperative to expand global economic governance beyond the G7 which no longer captured global economic dynamics by 2008 when the new club became a global forum of leaders.
There were other indicators that could not have been possible to ignore. Ever ill at ease with the West, Russia had called for a tripartite group of itself, China and India in 1998. India, Brazil and South Africa had rolled themselves into IBSA, a geopolitical formation that equally spoke to global economic governance. Investment bankers were promoting investment destinations that also, in most cases, spoke to global economic governance. There was Jim O‘Neil’s BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) initially before it became BRICSAM in practice (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and Mexico) and then finally BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Others came up with CIVETS, (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa) and yet, the N-11. The N-11 is of particular importance because of the unique criterion upon which selection was hinged: the capability of every of the countries on that list to contribute one percent of global production. The implication is that any of those countries is automatically a global power. The rallying point role of China in managing the 2008 financial crisis made a G20 kind of forum inevitable as the US appeared almost unhelpful in that crisis. Canada’s smart synthesis or anticipation of these developments and advocacy for shifting global economic governance from the G7/8 played a role too even as the debate raged on as to why it did so. One school of thought say it was to give it its own distinction from big brother USA, others take note of the work that progressive politicians, scholars and the broader civil society in Canada mounted as far as a more representative global economic governance architecture is concerned.
Unlike the G7/8 which is/was about consensus and crisis management, the G20 was about inclusiveness in managing the global economic order. By the third summit of the G20 in Pittsburg, USA in 2009, it had, to all intents and purposes, buried the G7/8. But, how far does it go? It is itself not free of some of the criticisms against the G7/8. For one, it has no such new strategy very different from the G7. It is still using the International Financial Institutions, (IFIs). Even the attempt to reform those institutions have not been successful, having been halted as it is by the US Congress. In apparent frustration, China has been putting up what, again, are alternatives to the IMF and the World Bank. But these ‘alternatives’ are Chinese institutions and the Chinese are as realists and mercantile as they come, though more tempered in that by history, culture and ideology than their Western counterparts.
The most troubling feature which critics have pointed to about G20 might be the case of under-representation at one end and over-inclusion at the other. As to be expected, Africa’s representation remains the most problematic. South Africa’s noticeable ambition and practical demonstration of being a regional financial hub right from 1994 made it the candidate when it came to selection of the representative country from Africa. But that is if Nigeria had not been on the list at first, only to be removed at last. That has kept the tongues wagging. There is some consensus that whatever reasons account for that must include the assessment of Nigeria’s elite by their counterparts across the world that there is no elite core in Nigeria with a commitment to any convictions that would have made them to be feared. Nigerian elite are not seen as particularly patriotic or to have anything to make trouble about. Instead, they are seen as rather consensual and predictable about the world order. Even the Canadians who pushed for Nigeria’s inclusion within the overall advocacy for expanded membership of the club of the rich eventually came to ‘see’ the point, even if reluctantly when reminded about the Nigerian elite’s inability to achieve stability at home to the point of being permanently listed for disintegration.
Whether this is a correct or objective assessment is a different matter but occasionally, the Nigerian elite gets a firm confirmation of how it is perceived out there such as when David Cameroun, immediate past British Prime Minister, spoke of them as ‘fantastically corrupt’ shortly before predictable tide swept him out of power. He couldn’t have been speaking of Nigeria beyond the elite since the peasants or workers are out of the equation. The tragedy, however, is the situation today whereby Ethiopia is said to stand a better chance of being admitted earlier than Nigeria in the event of any expansion of membership soon. The Nigerian elite do flash their anger about all these once a while as in when Babatunde Fashola, the Minister of Works, recently contextualised President Buhari’s foreign trips in the de-excommunication of Nigeria as well as an APC foreign policy objective of playing “a leadership role to develop a MINT (Mexico, India, Nigeria and Turkey) as a counterforce to BRICS”. (see “PMB’s Foreign Trips – My Takeaway,” ThisDay, April 18th, 2016). By what stretch of imagination would any African country today suggest the MINT, (Mexico, Indonesia, not India as the APC manifesto Fashola quoted has it, Nigeria and Turkey) as a counterpoise to the BRICS when MINT is not even up to China, not to talk of China, India, Russia and Brazil combined in BRICS. Dazed, anybody can say anything.
The G20 rolls on nevertheless. What the Nigerian controversy in the membership of the G20 provides is evidence of how power decides truth much of the time and how the great powers would still steal the show in Hangzhou, China. One explanation for that must be Professor Daniel Drezner’s principle of substitutability by which great powers almost always have their way in global politics. His theory of substitutability was not developed specifically for the analysis of power in global economic governance but it sits pretty well as well. Instructively, Reuters’ report titled “China wants a successful G20 but suspects West may derail agenda”, (World News, Tue Aug 30, 2016 5:09am EDT) point in that direction. There is no such thing as economics separate from how it is understood at the table of power and the knowledge system underpinning it.
Which means the countries whose dancing steps might be most interesting or revealing about what is going on would include the US, China, Russia, Germany and heady Turkey. Although Russia is sufficiently angry with NATO, major media outlets are reporting the possibility of a meeting between him and Obama on the sidelines of the G20 meeting. A majority of the members of the G20 are countries wishing to take their place in the global hall of power rather than cause trouble in the kitchen. Disputes over claims of protectionism against each other will be heatedly debated but not enough to blow into a row. And so on and so forth. All the leaders are conscious that the existing order has cracked badly but it is a change resistant system all the same.