Leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) nations opened talks on Tuesday on the island of Bali, with a plea by host Indonesia for unity and concrete action to mend the global economy despite deep rifts over the war in Ukraine.
“We have no other option, collaboration is needed to save the world,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said in opening remarks, before the leaders of the world’s wealthiest nations began closed-door discussions.
“G20 must be the catalyst for inclusive economic recovery. We should not divide the world into parts. We must not allow the world to fall into another cold war.”
The G20, which includes countries ranging from Brazil to India, Saudi Arabia and Germany, accounts for more than 80% of the world’s gross domestic product, 75% of international trade and 60% of its population.
A positive sign on the eve of the summit was a three-hour bilateral meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in which the two leaders pledged more frequent communications despite many differences.
Monday’s meeting was the first time the two had met in person since Biden became president and the talks appeared to signal an improvement in relations between the superpowers after a downward spiral in recent months.
The Ukraine war and a global spike in inflation is overshadowing the summit, the first time the meeting is being held since Russia’s February invasion of its neighbour.
The invasion triggered calls by some Western leaders for a boycott of the summit and for the withdrawal of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invitation.
Indonesia resisted, refusing to withdraw Putin’s invitation, and also rejecting what Indonesian sources say has been pressure from G7 nations to condemn Russia at the summit this week.
Russia has said Putin was too busy to attend the summit with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov taking his place. Lavrov dismissed a news agency report on Monday that he had been taken to hospital in Bali with a heart condition and was present at the meeting.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed the summit via video link, according to a tweet by the EU’s ambassador in Indonesia.
A joint G20 communique, which would need to be agreed by all parties, appears unlikely, with Indonesia instead pushing for a leaders’ declaration, diplomatic sources say.
However, European Council President Charles Michel said there was an agreement among officials on a text communique on Monday evening, which he described as “positive”.
G20 leaders will denounce the use of, or any threat to use, nuclear weapons, according to an early draft seen by Reuters.
However, such a communique would need to be confirmed by the leaders.
The G20 ministers’ gatherings have failed to produce joint communiques due to disagreement between Russia and other members on language, including on how to describe the war in Ukraine.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Tuesday that Putin’s regime will hear the chorus of global opposition to its actions. Sunak will call on G20 for coordinated action to address economic instability and the rising cost of living in the wake of Russia’s invasion, his government said.
Biden will be “unapologetic” in his defence of Ukraine, U.S. officials have said.
“I won’t get ahead of the final negotiations but the G20 will make clear that Russia’s war is wreaking havoc for people everywhere and for the global economy as a whole,” said one official, who spoke about the U.S. view on the summit on condition of anonymity.
But Xi and Putin have grown increasingly close in recent years, and reaffirmed their partnership just days before Russia invaded Ukraine. Nevertheless China has been careful not to provide any direct material support that could trigger Western sanctions against it.
On Tuesday, Xi told French President Emmanuel Macron during a bilateral meeting that China advocated a ceasefire in Ukraine and peace talks, Chinese state media reported.
Biden and Xi “underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine” during their meeting, according to a White House statement. A statement from the Chinese foreign minister said Xi told Biden nuclear weapons cannot be used and nuclear wars cannot be fought.
Ukraine’s Zelenskiy late on Monday welcomed “weighty statements” being made ahead of the G20 including on the inadmissibility of threats to use nuclear weapons.
The West has accused Russia of making irresponsible statements on the possible use of nuclear weapons since its February invasion of Ukraine. Russia has in turn accused the West of “provocative” nuclear rhetoric.
On the sidelines of the summit, many of the leaders will hold bilateral talks, including several of them meeting Xi, who is making only his second visit overseas since the start of the pandemic.
After the meeting with Macron, Xi is scheduled to hold talks with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and later with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as China tries to reduce frictions with the United States and its allies.
“It is not decisive but an important step towards trying to reduce disagreements,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Beijing’s Renmin University.