In the annals of G20, the 2023 summit will be remembered for the singularly successful diplomatic coup by India. Months before the summit held in New Delhi on 9-10 September 2023, industriously adorned for the occasion, pundits in the West and the rest of the world including many in India had overconfidently predicted that having failed to produce an agreed document at the foreign ministers and other meetings due to irreconcilable differences over the language concerning the Ukraine conflict, the summit was going to end without a declaration.
Since receiving the G20 presidency gavel at the Bali summit in November 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had tasked the ministry of external affairs (MEA) to do its utmost to square the circle. Over 200 meetings were held at 50 locations to find a way out, but without success. The two sides, the West led by the US, and Russia plus China, even refused to get photographed together. The MEA later changed tack and started one-on-one meetings. Young officers fluent in Russian or Chinese played a crucial role during the meetings to bridge the gap.
A comparison of the final language of the declaration with that of the Bali declaration clearly shows Russia conceded much less to the West. Unlike in Bali, Russia is not branded as an aggressor. Notably, references to the UN Charter and the inadmissibility of territorial conquest by force or the threat of nuclear weapons are acceptable to Moscow as long as it is not blamed by name.
The G20 declaration emphasizes the adverse impact of food scarcity on the Global South and calls for the revival of the Black Sea Grain deal that Russia abandoned in July 2023. Russia demands that the West lift sanctions on food and fertilizer exports, as stipulated in its memorandum with the UN Secretary General signed in July 2022 before agreeing to revive the deal.
The crucial question is whether the US and the EU will promptly take follow-up action.
It is important to understand the context of India’s diplomatic success. After Russia walked out of the grain deal in July 2023 during talks in Istanbul, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced that he would continue the export of grain through the Black Sea, despite Turkey’s disagreement. In response, Russia bombed and damaged the port of Odessa. Later, Ukraine attempted to export grain from Danube River ports near Romania, which were also bombed by Russia just before the G20 summit.
Ukraine hoped that a Russian missile might stray into Romania, a NATO member, and ignite a war with the alliance. When a part of a Russian missile did fall into Romania, Ukraine argued that Russia had violated the territory of a NATO member-state and that the famous Article 5 should apply. Romania initially denied that any missile parts had fallen in its territory. When another missile part fell, Romania accused Russia and spoke to Brussels. However, there was no warning issued to Russia as neither NATO nor the US, under President Joe Biden, wants a direct war with Russia just before the presidential election due next year. Meanwhile, Ukraine has charged Russia with destroying 270,000 tons of grain.
Given these circumstances, lifting sanctions on Russia would benefit Ukraine, which holds substantial grain reserves. However, for political reasons, Ukraine had to call for a “stronger” New Delhi Declaration.
India’s success can be attributed to two major reasons: First, the Western assessmentthat Modi is likely to be re-elected in 2024. Second, the G7, which created the G20 in the late 1990s after the Asian financial crisis, doesn’t want to see it lose its relevance.
German ambassador to India, Philipp Ackermann, underscored the importance of a declaration, acknowledging that the failure to issue a declaration would have been a “kind of death” for the G20. The growing influence of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) and the BRICS also compelled the West to strengthen the G20. BRICS was recently expanded by accepting six new members. Any weakening of the G20 might strengthen the China-dominated SCO and BRICS, both wanting to reduce Western dominance.
Another win for India was the inclusion of the 55-member Africa Union as a member equal in status to the EU. The AU applied for membership in 2022, and no G20 member opposed it.
Among the decisions taken on the sidelines of the G20, the economic corridor connecting India to Europe through the Gulf is also a significant win for India. Agreed to by the US, the EU, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Jordan, the project is obviously a rival to China’s Belt and Road initiative. China faced another setback when Italy decided to withdraw from the BRI and join the India-Middle East-Europe corridor. This comes as India’s plans for a North-South Corridor from Chabahar in Iran have been stalled with China’s increasing clout in Iran through its investment in the energy sector, along with its success in arranging a rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh.
India’s diplomatic triumph at the 2023 G20 summit not only showcased its prowess in navigating complex international negotiations but also demonstrated its commitment to fostering global cooperation. By facilitating dialogue and finding common ground amid geopolitical tensions, India played a pivotal role in preserving the relevance of the G20. As the baton is passed to Brazil for the next G20 presidency, the world watches with anticipation on how this diplomatic success will shape the future of Global South in international diplomacy.
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