• | 10:45 am

G20 Summit: Diplomatic challenges over Ukraine biggest test for India’s presidency

While the absence of Putin and Xi from the summit may not carry substantial significance, their resistance to adopting a more assertive stance on the Ukraine conflict could potentially prevent a consensus regarding the declaration.

G20 Summit: Diplomatic challenges over Ukraine biggest test for India’s presidency
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

Delhi is getting a full makeover as India, the current chair of G20, gets ready to hold the 18th summit of the grouping from 9-10 September. Over 40 delegations are expected to attend, and stringent security measures have been put in place, with Delhi residents advised to stay indoors as much as possible. An impressive force of 130,000 security personnel has been deployed to ensure the event’s safety.

The host India has two main objectives. The first is to bolster the country’s international standing as New Delhi aims to solidify its position as the leading voice representing the Global South. The second objective is for the ruling party to gain maximum domestic political advantage, considering several state assembly elections this year and the 2024 general election.

Historically, no G20 summit has seen full attendance of all the heads of State/government due to various scheduling constraints. This year, the notable absentees are Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Earlier, Putin called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi to excuse himself from the event.

However, top leaders such as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman will be among the attendees.

Xi Jinping’s decision to skip the summit has raised speculation, suggesting that he is probably sending a message to India regarding its burgeoning ties with the United States and expressing reluctance to engage with Modi on unresolved border tensions lingering for over three years, with no end in sight despite many meetings at military and diplomatic levels. The recent visit to Taiwan by India’s retired army, navy, and air force chiefs might have upset China. Essentially, China sees India as the major obstacle standing in the way of a China-led ‘unipolar’ Asia.

Tensions also arose during the drafting stage of the summit’s agenda. Initially, China objected to the inclusion of the Sanskrit phrase, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (The World is One Family), opposing the use of any language other than English. Later, China argued that its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) embodies the Indian concept, calling for its inclusion. India’s opposition to the project stems from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through its territory occupied by Pakistan. Let us see how the hard-working G20 sherpas sort out this conundrum.

Finding a consensus on Ukraine poses an even greater challenge, as it will be difficult to find a language acceptable to all. At the previous G20 summit in Indonesia’s Bali, a compromise was eventually found in the declaration, which read: Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy – constraining growth, increasing inflation, disrupting supply chains, heightening energy, and food insecurity, and elevating financial stability risks. There were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions. Recognizing that the G20 is not the forum to resolve security issues, we acknowledge that security issues can have significant consequences for the global economy.

The West seeks stronger language condemning the Kremlin’s actions, while Russia and China reject even the Bali language. Though India’s diplomats are skillful drafters, they may struggle to find common ground if the two sides remain uncompromising. While the Bali summit was addressed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, India has so far stood up to the pressure from the West to invite him to address the Delhi summit.

France has publicly expressed its desire for stronger language on the Ukraine war. While the US leads the West on the issue, China is likely to take charge of the opposing side. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s widely reported statement that if China wants to “play spoiler”, that option is available to it, hints at the potential confrontation between the two sides as Beijing might see this as a provocation.

Fundamentally, the question is about the nature and purpose of the G20. It had its beginnings in the Asian financial crisis of 1997 when the G7 woke up to find out that countries outside that group needed to be involved in addressing such crises. The West’s persistent efforts to condemn Russia’s Ukraine invasion in various forums have found limited support from the Global South, a trend unlikely to change in Delhi.

Even if the clouds from Ukraine generate thunder and lightning at the summit, it is poised to mark a pivotal moment in the Global South’s quest to reduce Western dominance on the global stage.


KP Fabian is a diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service between 1964 and 2000. He is currently a distinguished fellow at the Symbiosis Law School in Pune. More

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