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Don’t let the bibimbap distract you from the crisis, Dr Singh

columns Updated: Nov 10, 2010 20:56 IST
Gautam Chikermane
Gautam Chikermane
Hindustan Times
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As the Group of 20 (G20) summit begins at Seoul today, a warning for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: don’t let the bibimbap —a delicious South Korean dish I discovered in Seoul last month and found to be the most appetising meal I’ve ever had — distract your attention towards what the country’s President, Lee Myung-bak, has been lately pushing for. Instead, concentrate on the economic crisis that has not yet ended.

Like the bibimbap, which is made of many ingredients, largely meats and herbs that carry their unique taste within the rice-based concoction that’s delightfully spicy, the G20 comprises 19 nations and EU, with each country having its own agenda. So, while Europe and the US are combating unemployment, India and China are facing capital inflows that threaten to create asset bubbles and high inflation.

Also known as the board of directors of the global economy, the G20 leaders have their agenda clear — to fix the global economy together. But within the G20, there are varying and often contradictory interests. India wants trade and financial protectionism to end, China wants no interference in its currency, the US wants a trade balance that’s more stable, France and Germany want stronger financial regulation.

Behind all this, is South Korea, the first non-G8 country to host a G20 summit. Among other things, Lee has been attempting to broaden the scope of G20’s mandate to include development, while pressures are on this informal gathering to look at other distractions like climate change.

The challenge at the Seoul Summit would be to ensure that all individual, nation-specific agendas get bound together with the glue of stronger financial regulation, reforms to make IMF more meaningful and thereby more credible, and most important, prevent the world from falling under the protectionist weight of trade and finance restrictions, and ongoing currency wars. If they are able to manage an agreement on just these three issues, the summit will go a long way.

Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening. Soaking in their own misery, what I observe is that there is a strong centripetal force that’s getting nations to look within the boundaries of their narrow interests clashing with a centrifugal force that attempts to bind them.

The official G20 agenda will focus on four ideas — ensuring ongoing global recovery (notice the positive tone: recovery, not crisis); framework for strong, sustainable, and balance growth; strengthening the international financial regulatory system; and modernising international financial institutions. But if tweets of the Seoul Summit are any signal, Lee wants to use the summit to not only put a seal of Korean success on it, but is thoroughly distracted into weaker issues.

Promoting “sustainable development for all countries”, for instance. A noble cause that the G20 must consider. But right now, I think they’re losing their sense of perspective. The new order is a long-term aspiration, not very different from an ideal society, income equality, gender justice. But the problems the G20 needs to address today are short term — how to destroy the entrenched interests of the few such that the many don’t have to suffer.

For this bibimbap of ideas and actions to be effective, the G20 leaders are duty-bound to ensure that the centrifugal force of the collective — with people at its epicentre — is stronger than the centripetal force of individual countries or the few ultra-wealthy, entrenched, uncaring, wealth-destroying managers of global finance.

As the Group of 20 (G20) summit begins at Seoul today, a warning for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh: don’t let the bibimbap —a delicious South Korean dish I discovered in Seoul last month and found to be the most appetising meal I’ve ever had — distract your attention towards what the country’s President, Lee Myung-bak, has been lately pushing for. Instead, concentrate on the economic crisis that has not yet ended.

Like the bibimbap, which is made of many ingredients, largely meats and herbs that carry their unique taste within the rice-based concoction that’s delightfully spicy, the G20 comprises 19 nations and EU, with each country having its own agenda. So, while Europe and the US are combating unemployment, India and China are facing capital inflows that threaten to create asset bubbles and high inflation.

Also known as the board of directors of the global economy, the G20 leaders have their agenda clear — to fix the global economy together. But within the G20, there are varying and often contradictory interests. India wants trade and financial protectionism to end, China wants no interference in its currency, the US wants a trade balance that’s more stable, France and Germany want stronger financial regulation.

Behind all this, is South Korea, the first non-G8 country to host a G20 summit. Among other things, Lee has been attempting to broaden the scope of G20’s mandate to include development, while pressures are on this informal gathering to look at other distractions like climate change.

The challenge at the Seoul Summit would be to ensure that all individual, nation-specific agendas get bound together with the glue of stronger financial regulation, reforms to make IMF more meaningful and thereby more credible, and most important, prevent the world from falling under the protectionist weight of trade and finance restrictions, and ongoing currency wars. If they are able to manage an agreement on just these three issues, the summit will go a long way.

Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening. Soaking in their own misery, what I observe is that there is a strong centripetal force that’s getting nations to look within the boundaries of their narrow interests clashing with a centrifugal force that attempts to bind them.

The official G20 agenda will focus on four ideas — ensuring ongoing global recovery (notice the positive tone: recovery, not crisis); framework for strong, sustainable, and balance growth; strengthening the international financial regulatory system; and modernising international financial institutions. But if tweets of the Seoul Summit are any signal, Lee wants to use the summit to not only put a seal of Korean success on it, but is thoroughly distracted into weaker issues.

Promoting “sustainable development for all countries”, for instance. A noble cause that the G20 must consider. But right now, I think they’re losing their sense of perspective. The new order is a long-term aspiration, not very different from an ideal society, income equality, gender justice. But the problems the G20 needs to address today are short term — how to destroy the entrenched interests of the few such that the many don’t have to suffer.

For this bibimbap of ideas and actions to be effective, the G20 leaders are duty-bound to ensure that the centrifugal force of the collective — with people at its epicentre — is stronger than the centripetal force of individual countries or the few ultra-wealthy, entrenched, uncaring, wealth-destroying managers of global finance.