Handling strategic and diplomatic challenges with confidence at G20
India is confidently navigating one challenge after another at the diplomatic front while ensuring that the G20 Presidentship is remembered for its leadership in the world plagued by the Ukraine crisis and the economic slowdown
The Modi dispensation was not under any illusion of what it meant to be the President of the G20; it is not the issue of drafting a Joint Communique at the end of the summit meeting of the leaders or for that matter looking for joint statements at the end of ministerial meetings.
The success of any meeting of this magnitude lies in weaving together common interests and at the same time ensuring differences do not stand in the way of overall objectives. And if the meetings of the Foreign and Finance Ministers in Bengaluru and New Delhi were anything to go by, consensus of all delegates is not going to come by easily, not just confined to use of words and phrases.
The foreign policy team and network of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has indeed its task cut out between now and September and it goes much beyond the complexity of protocols involved in receiving and sending off guests. The start of 2023 has also shown that tucked away in all the planning for the Summit of Leaders are the series of bilateral—for instance the Prime Ministers of Italy and Australia have already been to New Delhi; and so was the Chancellor of Germany. The Prime Minister of Japan is scheduled to be in the capital next week.
All this not to forget the Quad meeting of leaders in Australia this May and the summit of the Group of 7 in Hiroshima, also in May that is very likely to see the presence of Prime Minister Modi as a special invitee. This invitation is expected to be extended at the time of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s trip to New Delhi.
And, there is the much-anticipated state visit of Prime Minister Modi to the United States expected to take place sometime in June/ July. The bilateral visit to Washington has indeed tremendous international significance not merely because of the forthcoming G20 summit but of all the global developments that have been taking place.
There is no doubt that India is under tremendous pressure from the West over Ukraine given New Delhi’s special and evolving relationship with Moscow. Many in the West also see where India is coming from, not just in its strategic and economic imperatives but also in its efforts to stay clear of patently one-sided formulations that do little to solve the problem either at the United Nations Security Council, the General Assembly or other multilateral forums. For quite some time now Prime Minister Modi’s statement that “this is not an era for wars” has been gaining traction and in a clear signal of where India stands in the Ukraine conflict.
The leaders of Italy and Germany who were in India recently may have indirectly pressured New Delhi to change its stance on Ukraine by way of their statements but essentially came away with the feeling that bilateral relations have indeed been given a new momentum in spite of differences.
This is especially true of Italy where the two countries witnessed the rock bottom in the aftermath of the killing of two Indian fisherfolk by Italian marines that was eventually sorted out in the courts and conservatives in Rome who wanted the Indian Ambassador expelled at one point are perhaps happy that this did not happen. Italy and Germany are all too aware of the width and depth of bilateral relations that go much beyond Ukraine to include trade, space, and climate change, to mention just three.
Between now and the Summit of the G20 there is bound to be a lot of chatter on who is attending, who is not and on the significance of the absentees to the Group and the politics of international relations. But many times there is the tendency to miss the forest for the trees—for instance in all the hoopla over a non-Joint Statement at the end of the Foreign Ministers meet in New Delhi, how many really pondered over the significance of the “non-emotional” meeting between U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov? What transpired at the meeting? Who nudged the two to meet? Granted that a full readout of the meet will never be made public, to think that Blinken and Lavrov met just to exchange known worn out positions on the conflict in Ukraine would be a stretch.
As the G20 meeting inches closer there are a few geo political compulsions that the host and key members would have to wrestle with and not just in terms of the New Delhi summit being a success. Some of this has to do with the recent maneuvers of China, first with respect to its moving closer to Russia and vaguely formulating its own framework to end the conflict; and second, its positioning in global politics by bringing together Saudi Arabia and Iran, not just for the politics of oil in the Middle East.
A confident India is quite aware of the deft moves of China in the international system—seemingly trying to broker the Ukraine conflict and yet dabbling with ideas over Taiwan; moving closer to Russia and still not fully subscribed to Moscow’s interpretation of the war; and hoping that a rapprochement between Riyadh and Teheran would give it the much-needed foothold in the Middle East to be troublesome to the Quad that includes the United States, Australia, India, and Japan. In fact, an additional burden to Indian policy makers is the goings on within the AUKUS, Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States, especially in the latest announcement of Washington supplying nuclear powered submarines to Canberra.
The bottom line for any major summit to be successful is to keep in mind the legitimate demands of the international system. And at a time when regional and global tensions are simmering including in the loose talk of using nuclear weapons, the onus is all the more on responsible actors cutting across ideologies to ensure stability, peace and respect for international norms. That will be the biggest challenge for the leaders attending the G20 and Indian diplomats and policy makers will make sure that the G20 of 2023 is remembered this way.
*** The writer was a senior journalist in Washington covering North America and the United Nations. Views expressed are personal.