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The Hard-Won Benefits of Soft Diplomacy

Culture matters for diplomacy, and Indonesian President Joko Widodo embodies the “soft” and sophisticated elements of Indonesia’s dominant Javanese values, which emphasize consultation and consensus. The rest of the world would benefit by learning a lesson or two from the success of the recent G20 summit in Bali.

SINGAPORE – The world seems like a calmer place after the G20 meeting in Bali in mid-November. The question is why.

We know that US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a three-hour in-person meeting that went well, despite their many policy differences and their countries’ growing antagonism. It was also helpful that Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t show up, and that Russia’s war in Ukraine didn’t overshadow the Sino-American discussions. In fact, the G20 issued a statement declaring that, “Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Xi also had a relatively successful meeting in Bali. The two leaders smiled and shook hands, which was a significant improvement from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in September, when they could barely make eye contact.