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Reader ripostes: The G20 and the Papuan flag

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COMMENTS

12 September 2012 12:24

Below, Edwin Crump on Papua's Morning Star flag. But first, Michael Gaskin writes:

Stephen Grenville has raised a really interesting point. Certainly one of the problems facing the G20 since its establishment in 1999 has been the loss of intimacy that characterises the former iterations of Gs. The Library Group, comprising of Finance Ministers of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, West Germany and Japan met in the library of the White House to discuss responses and share lessons arising from the oil crisis. The location of the meeting is important as it gives an insight into the intimate context within which the meeting took place. This was a meeting conducive to the creation of personal relationships that would make continuing cooperation more likely.

The group grew and the library label was dropped, but the membership remained small. Leaders saw the value of these ongoing relationships and elevated the G-meetings to their level. Over the next couple of years, the group grew to include Italy and Canada but stayed stable for the following 20-odd years (Russia joined the leaders' group to form the G8 in the late 1990s, but the finance group remained the G7). This had the advantage of building and maintaining those personal relationships, but neglected to take note of the changing world around it. Eventually, a bit of Asian Financial Crisis-enforced self-reflection resulted in a conversation on how best to expand the G-system.

As Stephen points out, what we have is a group that probably pushes the limits of who can comfortably fit around a table – and that neglects the associated IFI and invited members each year. While a better solution than the short-lived G22 and G33, there's still a large question mark over whether the close personal relationships that were such a feature of the smaller Gs can be built in a much more crowded room. There are certainly arguments to be had around membership, but as with other significant changes, that may be best undertaken during the next major crisis (OK, the next non-Euro crisis – the Europeans are already overrepresented!).

In the absence of that reform, nimbleness is one of the key advantages of the G-system. One hope is that the troika system comprised of the immediate past Chair, current Chair and the next Chair can assist in developing those relationships. 2012 and 2013 will provide an interesting test. Can Mexico and Russia, who do not have a history of strong cooperation (and I'm not just talking Trotsky here), with two years' common membership on the troika, work together to deliver strong results? Perhaps there's an opportunity for Australia to play mediator here when it joins the troika in 2013.

Edwin Crump writes:

It may appear strange to observers reading David McRae's article the power the Morning Star flag can exert, both in terms of the attraction of it for the population of Papua and the fear it appears to produce in Jakarta. Flags, however, are powerful semiotic devices whose representation of various collectivities challenges governments. Allow me to indulge myself by quoting from my current research:

'In order for a nation-state to maintain the ability to exert power, a factor in this is the maintenance of a homogenous population combined with central control. Regionalism, symbolised through flag use threatens this control, in addition to central government's conception and idealisation of the nation, as demonstrated by the use of the Scanian flag. The use of the flag of Skåne in the 60s and 70s was seen as a challenge to the central government; an assertion of distinctiveness and regionalism linked to the area's unique history. Flags represent the reterritorialisation of local social space as a consequence of the economic deterritorialisation evident in globalisation.'

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