Shortcuts / 28 October 2021

The what’s what of summits

With a meeting of G20 nations this week and COP26 taking place next week, there’s lots of talk about summits of late. So we’ve handpicked a few of the big meetings of world leaders that Australia is involved with each year to give context around each. We start with the one happening this weekend, the G20, and then get you across some other ones in our region that at certain times of the year, get a lot of attention.

Let’s start with the basics – what are summits?
They’re meetings of world leaders, and they happen quite regularly.

And aren’t there some big ones happening soon?
There sure are… The first one is the G20, which PM Scott Morrison is jetting off to this week.

That rings a bell, but what’s the G20 again?
G20 is the group, and the G20 summit is the annual meeting. It’s attended by leaders from the countries with the largest and fastest-growing economies, with members accounting for 85% of the world’s economic activity, and two-thirds of its population. That includes Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union.

Whew. So it’s a big meeting…
Sure is… And organisers can also choose to invite non-member countries along as guests. Spain, for example, nearly always gets a gig.

And who’s organising it?
The group has no permanent staff of its own, so every year in December, a G20 country from a rotating region takes on the presidency. That country is then responsible for organising the next summit, as well as the smaller meetings that hang off it for the coming year. This year, it’s in Rome.

When did Australia last host the G20?
That was back in 2014, under Prime Minister Tony Abbott and it was held in Brisbane. You might remember the infamous interview where he pledged to shirtfront Vladmir Putin over the downing of that MH17 flight…

That’s right… So how did the G20 come about?
The G20 was formed in 1999, and was initially just a meeting of finance ministers. The Asian financial crisis in 1997 saw the existing Group of Eight – the G8 club of the world’s richest economies decide that they needed to expand to include fast-growing economies like China, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia. The idea was that they needed a bigger group to improve communication between advanced and emerging economies.

So how did world leaders come into the picture?
Well of course, the Global Financial Crisis hit in 2008, and since then it’s been an annual meeting of world leaders, not just those finance ministers. And speaking of pictures, the official G20 group photo is always quite the thing. Watching the body language between leaders is the best type of theatre for political junkies…

You mentioned the G8 just before – that’s still a thing, right?
Yeah that’s another big annual meeting, although it’s now the G7.

So which country got knocked off the list?
That was Russia. It was the G8 until 2014 when it was booted out over its annexation of Crimea. So now it’s just Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States.

Oz isn’t a part of it?
We’re not a permanent member, but we do get invited. You might remember PM Scott Morrison headed along to this year’s meeting in the UK.

Gotcha. So what’s the deal with the G7?
It started in the 1970s as a forum to talk about the global economy, but since has been about tackling all sorts of issues from trade and security, to climate change and of late, and of course, responding to a global pandemic.

Okay, enough about the G’s… What about the summits closer to home?
Well let’s start with APEC, or the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. So prizes for guessing what part of the world its members come from…

C’mon, tell me who’s part of the APEC party…
If you insist… APEC has 21 members from Australia and New Zealand, China, all the way up to Russia, across the US and a lot of countries in between.

How did it come about?
It was set up in 1989 during a pretty hectic time – it was the end of the Cold War and the Soviet block was opening up. That was also when the World Trade Organisation and the European Union were established. And what APEC is all about is facilitating trade.

Is that an annual summit too?
Not quite – hundreds of APEC events are hosted over the year, and that all culminates in the APEC leaders’ meeting. It’s the one where the leaders all wear funny shirts.

So I’m thinking Oz is a part of APEC?
You’d be right – Australia is a founding member. We last hosted it in 2007, and a certain incident that took place has become quite infamous.

Was it the Drizabones the leaders wore for the group photo?
No, but that really was quite the sight… What happened was the centre of Sydney was locked down, but a team from The Chaser was able to drive through security with fake passes and one of the guys was dressed as Osama Bin Laden.

That must have been an embarrassing security breach…
It really was, especially given the political climate at the time around the War on Terror.

Any other regional summits?
There’s also the East Asia Summit. It’s an offshoot of the ASEAN, which is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that’s made up of 18 member countries. That includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. And Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the US join the East Asia Summit each year.

So what’s that about?
It’s all about the political, security and economic challenges facing the Indo-Pacific. And there are some pretty hot topics as of late, not least China’s claims in the South China Sea…..

So how is ASEAN involved in the East Asia Summit?
They chair the summit, and fun fact – the chair position rotates between ASEAN Member States annually in alphabetical order. Brunei has the gig this year, and ASEAN nations are meeting this week.

Any other regional meetings I should know about?
There’s the Quad, or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which is a very small strategic group that supports ASEAN.

And who’s involved in that?
Quad members include Australia, India, Japan and the US.

What’s its purpose?
As the name suggests, it’s a dialogue, so a place for discussion and not a formal alliance. But it’s a counterpoint for the rise of China in the Indo Pacific.

How did it come about?
It was loosely formed in 2007 at the suggestion of the then-PM of Japan Shinzo Abe, but was put on ice after China got really cranky about it calling it a clique. It was resurrected in 2017 with the aim to support a “free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific Region”.

But relations with China haven’t exactly improved since then…
Nope, and growing tensions this year culminated in the first in-person meeting of Quad leaders. You might remember PM Scott Morrison was in the US just a month or so ago for that get-together.

Another summit…
You betcha. And what came out of that meeting was a lot of shared language about the Quad’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. There was quite a bit said about “standing up for the values that we believe in” – that these democratic nations would stand together to “resist any suggestion or any pressure that would come on any of us to be anything different to what we are.” Those are PM Scott Morrison’s words.

So regional security is a thing right now…
It sure is, and while we’re on the topic we’ll mention another get-together of world leaders, but it’s a bit different from the others..

Go on then…
Five Eyes is an intelligence-sharing arrangement that includes the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There are no summits there, but there’s a lot going on.

How was that arrangement formed?
It evolved during the Cold War as a mechanism for monitoring the Soviet Union and sharing classified intelligence.

And China has been the recent centre of attention…
It sure has been. A lot of what they do is in secret, but what was very publically canvassed were plans for those nations to roll out their 5G mobile networks. China’s Huawei was in the running to participate in the rollout in those nations – they are a big provider of equipment for those sorts of things.

What was the issue there?
There were concerns about China getting access to data and communications transmitted via that technology and whether it could land in the hands of the Chinese Government.

That’s right – that was a big story a couple of years ago…
It was – as was the UK’s decision to allow Huawei to participate in the rollout and after pressure from other Five Eyes nations, it’s decision to overturn that. That was another irritant to China in a long list of irritants.

And it doesn’t look like it will be resolved anytime soon…
Nope, China and its rise is going to be front and centre of all those forums we mentioned for some years to come. So strap yourselves in…

Squiz recommends:

The best of APEC’s fashion diplomacy – SBS

Why your meetings stink and what to do about itHarvard Business Review

Squiz Shortcuts - A weekly explainer on a big news topic.

Get the Squiz Today newsletter

It's a quick read and doesn't take itself too seriously. Get on it.