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Bali locks down and prays as Widodo bids to broker peace for Ukraine

Sydney Morning Herald - November 11, 2022

Chris Barrett – In Bali late last month Hindu religious leaders led thousands in a coordinated, simultaneous mass prayer.

Their objective, as Russia's war on Ukraine rages on and tensions have risen between the United States and China, was to ensure a successful G20 summit on the Indonesian island next week.

"We believe that Bali has a peaceful aura," said senior minister Luhut Pandjaitan, the top lieutenant of Indonesian President Joko Widodo, joining the prayer.

"Because world leaders will gather in a peaceful atmosphere hopefully Ukraine and Russia can achieve peace."

Indonesia will host the centrepiece of a trio of major leaders' events in south-east Asia in the next seven days. The first is being held in Cambodia, where ASEAN prime ministers and presidents on Friday agreed in principle to admit East Timor as its 11th member of the regional bloc, and the summit season will culminate with APEC in Thailand.

In Bali, the government has seemingly left nothing to chance.

Nusa Dua, the precinct of five-star resorts in Bali's south, has been locked down to accommodate the 17 heads of state and governments and more than 20,000 delegates, with 18,000 troops and police standing guard.

Two units of fighter jets and military helicopters have also been deployed to the holiday island and 14 warships positioned off its east coast.

In the area where the summit will be held 2300 CCTV cameras have been installed, complete with face recognition "just like in the movies", according to Luhut.

It is the far more tenuous global security landscape, however, that is likely to dominate the agenda, even without Russian President Vladimir Putin showing his face in person.

Widodo has been at pains to remind participants that the Group of 20 is a forum established to confront the most pressing worldwide economic issues of the day, rather than an arena for toing and froing over geopolitics and war.

Indonesia presides the summit this year and its slogan is "Recover together, recover stronger", with a three-pronged focus on global health and recovery from the pandemic, green energy and digital transformation.

But from the moment Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine in February, Widodo's ambitions for the summit, and his hopes of using it to showcase his country as an emerging leading nation, risked being overshadowed and even derailed by the conflict.

Then prime minister Scott Morrison laid out just how difficult it would be to hold it all together when he said in March that sitting around a table in Bali with Putin would be "a step too far".His successor Anthony Albanese has been more accommodating, not wanting to jeopardise Indonesia's big moment as his government prioritises relationships in south-east Asia, none more so than with Jakarta.

For Widodo, though, it has been a delicate balancing act. Not deviating from Indonesia's traditional neutrality, he wore criticism for not calling out Russia by name for its aggression and for refusing to tear up Putin's invitation to the G20.

Positioning himself as a broker, he travelled to Moscow in July to see Putin, who he calls "brother", and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv in July, encouraging both to make it to Bali.

As it turns out, neither will be there but if Putin appears by video link on the big screen – there are plans for him to be involved virtually in at least one of the leaders' sessions – he is certain to cause quite the stir.

The Indonesian government has not said which event Putin may attend. The first session next Tuesday is on food and energy security – two subjects of increasing alarm as a result of the Russian invasion – and is likely to draw out the most forceful condemnation of the war.

Outside the main conference room at the Apurva Kempinski Hotel, the main venue for the summit, the great power rivalry between the US and China will also be a feature, with the first in-person meeting between US President Joe Biden and Beijing's Xi Jinping, as well as a possible first get-together between Albanese and Xi.

All in all, it shapes as a weighty program to fit turbulent times. But amid a growing chance of a global recession, there is still hope in Indonesia, however quixotic, that other pressing concerns won't be forgotten.

"We should differentiate geopolitics issues from the substances discussed at the G20 meetings," said Asra Virgianita, an international relations scholar at University of Indonesia. "We hope the geopolitics won't ruin the discussions."

– with Karuni Rompies

Source: https://www.smh.com.au/world/asia/bali-locks-down-and-prays-as-widodo-bids-to-broker-peace-for-ukraine-20221111-p5bxeo.html