Asean, G20: Summits are peak diplomacy

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 6, 2023
Churchill coined the term and H G Wells dreamt what could be done
TWTB collage: Top photo by Andrew Butler | Unsplash

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The Big Story:

Like students heading back to school, diplomats and world leaders are converging at summits, international gatherings with a set theme and objective. The term “summit” for high-level international diplomacy was coined by Winston Churchill in February 1950. (Read on to find out why.)

Apart from the very first Africa Climate Summit, two important international gatherings of world leaders are underway this week. The 10 members of the 56-year-old Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) meet in Jakarta, Indonesia, along with a disparate group of partners: the United States, China, Russia, Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. US vice president Kamala Harris, Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida, Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos Jr and UK prime minister Rishi Sunak will attend.

At week’s end, world leaders will gather for the G20 Summit in New Delhi, India. US president Joe Biden will be at this annual meeting of the world’s leading developed and emerging economies. The G20 includes the European Union.

The Backstory:

International summits have become an institutionalised part of the world order. The G7, Asean, G20, United Nations, European Council and the African Union regularly hold summits. But these gatherings have a chequered history. The Munich Agreement — 85 years ago this month — came after a meeting of Britain, France, Italy and Germany, which permitted Hitler to annex the Sudetenland in western Czechoslovakia. That summit failed in its attempt to prevent war.

Then there was the 1986 Reykjavik summit between US president Ronald Reagan and his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev. It became a turning point in the Cold War, with both leaders agreeing that nuclear weapons needed to be eliminated.

This week’s summits have issues. Asean is miffed that Biden is sending his deputy while he attends the G20. The G20 is annoyed that China’s president Xi Jinping is a no-show. (Unlike Biden, Xi is skipping both Asean and the G20, so not picking favourites).

This Week, Those Books:

Cambridge historian David Reynolds’ masterful recounting of six pivotal 20th century summits that shaped the world order and a novel H G Wells wrote 110 years ago about a summit that creates a Utopia.

Click to read on


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