The G20’s Balinese Dance and Biden’s Calming Words
Balinese culture, a perpetual exercise in sophisticated subtlety, makes no distinction between the secular and the supernatural – sekala and niskala.
Sekala is what our senses may discern. As in the ritualized gestures of world leaders – real and minor – at a highly polarized G20.
Niskala is what cannot be sensed directly and can only be “suggested.” And that also applies to geopolitics.
The Balinese highlight may have featured an intersection of sekala and niskala: the much ballyhooed Xi-Biden face-to-face (or face to earpiece).
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs preferred to cut to the chase, selecting the Top Two highlights.
1. Xi told Biden – rather, his earpiece – that Taiwan independence is simply out of the question.
2. Xi also hopes that NATO, EU and US will engage in “comprehensive dialogue” with Moscow.
Asian cultures – be they Balinese or Confucianist – are non-confrontational. Xi laid out three layers of common interests:
- prevent conflict and confrontation, leading to peaceful coexistence;
- benefit from each other’s development; and
- promote post-COVID global recovery, tackle climate change and face regional problems via coordination.
Significantly, the three-and-a-half-hour meeting happened at the Chinese delegation’s residence in Bali, and not at the G20 venue. And it was requested by the White House.
Biden, according to the Chinese, affirmed that the US does not seek a New Cold War; does not support “Taiwan independence”; does not support “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan”; does not seek “decoupling” from China; and does not want to contain China.
Now tell that to the Straussians/neo-cons/neoliberalcons bent on containing China. Reality spells out that Xi has few reasons to take “Biden” – rather the combo writing every script in the background – at face value. So, as it stands, we remain in niskala.
That zero-sum game
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was dealt a terrible hand: how to hold a G20 to discuss food and energy security, sustainable development and climate issues when everything under the sun is polarized by the war in Ukraine.
Widodo did his best, urging all at the G20 to “end the war,” with a subtle hint that “being responsible means creating not-zero-sum situations.”
The problem is a great deal of the G20 arrived in Bali bent on zero-sum – seeking confrontation (with Russia) and hardly any diplomatic conversation.
The US and UK delegations avowedly wanted to snub Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov every step of the way. France and Germany were a different matter: Lavrov did speak briefly with both Macron and Scholz. And told them Kyiv wants no negotiation.
Lavrov also revealed something quite significant for the Global South:
“US and the EU have given the UN Secretary General written promises that restrictions on the export of Russian grain and fertilizers will be lifted – let’s see how this is implemented.”
The traditional group photo ahead of the G20 – a staple of every summit in Asia – had to be delayed. Because – who else – “Biden” and Sunak, US and UK, refused to be in the same picture with Lavrov.
Such childish, un-diplomatic hysterics are profoundly disrespectful towards ritual Balinese graciousness, politeness and a non-confrontational ethos.
The Western spin is that “most G20 countries” wanted to condemn Russia in Ukraine. Nonsense. Diplomatic sources hinted it might be in fact a 50/50 split. Condemnation comes from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, UK, US and EU. Non-condemnation from Argentina, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkiye and, of course, Russia.
Graphically: Global South against Global North.
So the joint statement will refer to the impacts of the “war in Ukraine” on the global economy, and not “Russia’s war in Ukraine.”
The collapse of the EU economy
What was not happening in Bali enveloped the island in an extra layer of niskala. Which brings us to Ankara.
The fog thickened because on the backdrop of the G20, the US and Russia were talking in Ankara, represented by CIA director William Burns and SVR (Foreign Intel) director Sergei Naryshkin.
No one knows what exactly was being negotiated. A ceasefire is only one among possible scenarios. And yet heated rhetoric from NATO in Brussels to Kyiv suggests escalation prevailing over some sort of reconciliation.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was adamant; de facto and de jure, Ukraine can’t and does not want to negotiate. So the special military operation will continue.
NATO is training fresh units. Next possible targets are the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant and the left bank of the Dnieper – or even more pressure in the north of Lugansk. For their part, Russian military channels advance the possibility of a winter offensive on Nikolaev: only 30 km away from Russian positions.
Serious Russian military analysts know what serious Pentagon analysts must also know: Russia has used at best only 10% of its military potential so far. No regular forces; most of them are DPR and LPR militias, Wagner commandos, Kadyrov’s Chechens and volunteers.
The Americans suddenly interested in talking, and Macron and Scholz approaching Lavrov, point to the heart of the matter: The EU and the UK may not survive next winter, 2023-2024, without Gazprom.
The International Energy Agency has calculated that the overall deficit by then will approach 30 billion cubic meters. And that presupposes “ideal” circumstances this coming winter: mostly warm; China still under lockdowns; much lower gas consumption in Europe; even increased production (from Norway?).
The IEA ‘s models are working with two or three waves of price increases in the next 12 months. EU budgets are already on red alert – compensating for the losses caused by the current energy suicide. By the end of 2023, that may reach 1 trillion euros.
Any additional, unpredictable costs throughout 2023 mean that the EU economy will completely collapse: industry shutdown across the spectrum, euro in free fall, rise of inflation, debt corroding every latitude from the Club Med nations to France and Germany.
Dominatrix Ursula von der Leyen, leading the European Commission, of course should be discussing all that – in the interests of EU nations – with global players in Bali. Instead her only agenda, once again, was demonization of Russia. No niskala here; just tawdry cognitive dissonance.