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Cooperation Vs Competition
I’ve just landed in India after spending a few days with world leaders in Germany. And boy does that feel surreal. India vocally is on its own journey to find its place in the sun, while the rest of the planet is figuring out what lies ahead for us all.
What a difference a year makes! Especially to a gathering some dub ‘the Davos of defence.’ The Munich Security Conference (MSC) is where heads of state, rub shoulders with those leading global intelligence services, CEOs of defence companies, diplomats and generals with all sorts of stars.
This year at the Munich Security Conference (MSC), the conversations revolved around what global cooperation means. Who is a reliable partners for the west, east/north and south; who is the competition (cue conversations about India/China and Russia)? What could next trigger nationalism in countries? And critically -what are the next threats to global security and our climatic future?
2023’s Munich felt a little more urgent compared to last year when the world’s perspective seemed more like the EU/US versions of what it needed to be. Last year’s conversations were more banal and generic -focussed on cyber security, the potential threats posed by Russia and China, and John Kerry’s impassioned pleas to gathered leaders and CEOs to realise climate change was the world’s biggest security threat. Ukraine was a concern, only for Ukrainians at the 2022 conference in all honesty, despite Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, giving it a miss. A few days after the Conference ended, the world changed!
This year the focus as expected was of course next steps for Ukraine, the Putin problem and the risks of poly-crisis creating new dangers to our security - ones that come from derailing economies and their focus on climate change and adaptation. But critically, this year the folks everyone is most worried about were at the table - The People’s Republic of China turned up and they wanted to talk and be heard.
Also obviously visible (perhaps a little too obviously) were the women at the MSC. It was like the organisers wanted to ensure, the fiasco of last year wasn’t repeated.
What happened, you ask? Just the leak of what’s now an infamous picture of the 2022 CEO roundtable MSC lunch. Infamous because it was all white, all male and not one of the CEOs had blinked twice about who was not in the room. That image broke the internet! A picture speaks a thousand words after all!
But to MSC’s core followers it seemed like much ado about nothing. They insisted that picture overshadowed the fact that 45% of all panellists at the 2022 conference were female. That female CEOs invited to the lunch just didn’t show (we’ll never know the truth). They were even quick to point out it was reflective of the business world, rather than the world of security.
2023’s conference was markedly different in this respect as well. Social media was awash with female leaders at MSC. And it was kicked off with what may have been the most global opening lunch conversation at the Bayerischer Hof hotel. This is the MSC’s historical venue, and I had the honour of hosting that lunch and conversation on behalf of the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt. This year the east and south got to speak their truth, while being predominantly represented by women. All while while the west/global north listened. Joining me were:
Francia Elena Márquez – Vice President of the Republic of Columbia brought the perspective of security and climate justice from the eyes of indigenous peoples of a nation, those most marginalised. The 1st Afro-Columbian, 2nd female and 13th and current Vice President of Colombia, she knows the pain of the communities impacted by violence and environmental disaster better than most. This formidable leader of the Afro-Colombian community is an human rights and environmental activist and lawyer who most recently organised a 10 day, 350km march of the women of La Toma and stopped illegal gold mining on their ancestral land.
Simon Stiell –is the new Executive Secretary of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat - UNFCCC. He took over the job last year from the powerhouse who is Patricia Espinosa - the woman who made climate change a priority for governments around the world! What’s Simon’s new gig? Continuing in Patricia’s footsteps to wrangle countries to commit to saving the planet. His are the team that puts the famous COP negotiations together and COP27 in Egypt was his first outing. In Munich he stuck to his message - of a new era to begin to do things differently. The self-proclaimed “accountability chief” of COP knows the ultimate cost - he was after all the senior minister in the Government of Grenada holding the portfolios of Minister for Climate Resilience and the Environment for five years.
Hina Rabbani Khar – is the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. She is an economist and also the country’s most high profile female politician. She has been a senior and high-ranking member of the Central Executive Committee of Pakistan since 2008, was the country’s first female foreign minister, and has served in the Finance Ministry as well. Her perspective was clear - The Pakistan floods in 2022 have clearly shown the loss caused by climate disasters, and that mitigation is the need of the hour. But she was insistent the west and donor countries’ concept of aid is outdated and needs a re-think.
The heartening thing to see in Munich this year was an openness to listening to a perspective that tends to be viewed with intense suspicion across the world.
That perspective is of the People’s Republic of China. With Chip wars raging, stand offs in the South China Sea about Taiwan, the ownership of developing country debt burdens and a determined lack of commitment to the environment - Europe hasn’t exactly been a warm welcoming host for the CCP for a while now. But, cue Ambassador Fu Ying, who has the midas touch of diplomacy. (She’s even written a book titled “My Etiquette Journey,” which offers a rare glimpse into the Chinese diplomatic world.)
It’s a book worth reading for insights into the rather opaque world of the CCP. Especially considering just how key Ambassador Fu Ying is to China’s foreign policy. She has worn many hats for the country - and is currently Chairwoman of the Center for International Strategy and Security at Tsinghua University and Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of China’s 13th National People’s Congress. She is a well known face amongst the world’s diplomatic elite, having been Ambassador to multiple nations in a prolific career in which she was also Vice Minister of foreign Affairs.
Even at her most diplomatic, Ambassador Fu Ying did reiterate (repeatedly) that China perhaps was less experienced at managing complex financial and foreign relations, but that the country was open to learning - which could only happen via dialogue. I agree -Not being at the table, helps no one.
But in Munich, diplomacy takes many forms. From a lunch that focussed on cooperation, to on-stage posturing by heads of state (my interview with India’s foreign minister last year was liberally quoted by the German chancellor - a byline would’ve been appreciated!); to bi-laterals that perhaps didn’t go the way the governments involved wanted. By the end of the 3 day gathering the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality had returned, with a reminder that the world is still confused about the future and enduring multiple crises. But at least a few takeaways from Munich were clear:
The US has officially classified Russian atrocities in Ukraine as crimes against humanity. This is a very big deal.
Russia is not welcome (and didn’t show again) in this gathering. China has been welcomed back into the dialogue.
China’s standing its ground on Taiwan (so expect tensions to stay high in the South China Sea), but it has committed to finding peace for Ukraine (though on its own terms).
And most importantly, Europe has committed to more weapons for Ukraine. How that manifests will be the thing to watch for in 2023.
Next weekend, I’ll update you on all that feels new and fresh, old and haggard from the country of my birth. India has some stellar women leading the charge for a better world!
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Owning up to mistakes:
Correction: In the last brief I called Danish women, Dutch. My apologies to the Danes and the Dutch!
Clarity: It might have also been a tad unclear when I referenced Janet Yellen in the write up about the BoJ’s lack of female leadership - I definitely meant when Janet WAS the Fed Chair.