New Delhi will be hosting the leaders of the group of 20, or G20, economies over the next two days against the backdrop of worsening geopolitical rivalries within the grouping. These tensions are only likely to manifest themselves in the joint statement or declaration that will emerge following the conclusion of the summit.
But the summit, which India is presiding over, also offers the country a platform to assert its role as a credible voice for emerging economies, something that it put to good use by advocating for the Africa Union to be included in the grouping as a permanent member.
“India has always focused on the issues of the developing world and the global South, stressing on the neglected crises many vulnerable nations face – including food and fuel shortages, economic instability, and a growing digital divide due to rapid technological advancements. It has consistently brought these concerns to the forefront from the perspective of the developing world,” Harsh V. Pant, a professor of international relations at the King’s India Institute, King’s College London, said.
“In a sharply divided and fragmented world where many multilateral organizations are failing to function efficiently, the G20 stands as a beacon that can potentially lessen the gap between the Northern and the Southern hemispheres, and between the developing and the advanced nations. I believe India’s approach to its presidency mirrors this ambition to be a facilitator guiding this critical transition,” Pant added.
Emphasizing India’s significant role in addressing the issues faced by nations in the Global South, Anil Trigunayat, the country’s former envoy to Jordan, Libya, and Malta, said, “India assumed the G20 presidency in December 2022, a time marked by substantial global hurdles. The health, living conditions and food security were severely hit by the pandemic, while the Russia-Ukraine conflict altered major power dynamics.”
The diplomat said the escalating war, now nearing its 20th month, is posing relentless hurdles for both developing economies in the Global South and the developed nations in Europe. During the healthcare crisis, India showcased solidarity by distributing medications, test kits, vaccines, and offering medical aid to nearly 150 nations, including the US.
“This outreach fostered India’s soft power, showcasing its commitment to sharing its progress with the world,” Trigunayat said. India upheld this perspective throughout its G20 leadership, embodied in the 2022 theme “One Earth One World One Future, or Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,” he added.
As India initiated its G20 presidency, Modi had convened the Voice of Global South virtual summit, with representatives from 120 nations facing shared economic, social, and political issues in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Trigunayat said the insights garnered from this gathering were integrated into various G20 dialogues throughout the year, facilitating numerous consequential discussions.
Meanwhile, the absence of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin only points to the deep-seated issues of trust and cooperation among world leaders. This gap hints at the intricate web of geopolitical strains exacerbated by the Ukraine conflict and prevailing trade bottlenecks, primarily involving China and the West, especially the US.
To be sure, China will be represented by Prime Minister Li Qiang and Russia by its foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. “The absence of Xi Jinping reflects China’s apprehensions towards facing discussions on issues it might find uncomfortable, potentially involving confrontational dialogues with a variety of nations seeking coordination that does not align with its interests,” Pant said.
Pant pointed to several points of contention between India and China, including New Delhi’s decision to host G20 meetings in Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh, and differing perspectives on the Ukraine crisis, energy policies, and strategies concerning critical minerals, underlying China’s reluctance.
Sharing the possible reasons for Xi Jinping’s absence, Srikanth Kondapalli, dean of the School of International Studies and a professor of China Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University cited criticisms the Chinese President faced from senior party leaders regarding that country’s worsening economic woes.
There were also emerging concerns over Jinping’s health as he was seen walking with great difficulty at the BRICS meeting in South Africa last month, Kondapalli said. Russia and China are already facing flak over their stance on Ukraine.
“At the 2022 Bali G20 summit, a majority of the nations opposed Russia and China’s perspective on the Ukraine conflict, with Beijing objecting to calling the Russian invasion of Ukraine as ‘war’,” Kondapalli said.
Putin had last month dialled up Modi to convey his inability to attend the G20 summit. “Now, in the absence of Putin, XI would have been a target for the leaders from the other economies,” Kondapalli said.
“Their representation through Li Qiang and Sergey Lavrov is a measured step to maintain a presence while avoiding direct confrontation,” Kondapalli added.
“The G20 leaders’ summit represents the final stage of a year-long dialogue on numerous pressing issues,” Pant said. “While China’s absence could be a signal of its discontent with India or the topics up for discussion, Jinping’s decision not to attend reflects poorly on Beijing itself.”
World leaders, meanwhile, started descending on New Delhi on Friday. Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was the first to arrive. The other leaders who have already arrived include Italy Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, European Commission President of Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel; OECD Secretary General Mathias Cormann; Mexico’s minister of economy Raquel Buenrostro Sánchez, and Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth.
US President Joe Biden is expected to land in New Delhi later Friday on his first visit as US president. The last US president to visit India was Donald Trump in February 2020. Biden’s trip comes after US first lady Jill Biden tested positive for Covid-19, while the president himself tested negative several times, including prior to his departure on Thursday, the White House said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host the US president for a private dinner at his residence when both leaders meet for bilateral talks. Both leaders are likely to discuss a range of bilateral issues, including visas, defence, consulates, nuclear energy, and the divisions over the Russia-Ukraine war.
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