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The Hindu
The Hindu
Suhasini Haidar

Explained | Is the G-20 a success for global cooperation?

The story so far: The G-20, comprising 19 countries and the European Union, that was founded in 1999, is finally in Delhi, with all eyes on the New Delhi declaration issued at the end of the summit. While India took presidency of the G-20 with what seemed to be insurmountable odds, a global economic crisis spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine conflict in its second year with more entrenched positions between the Western alliance and the Russia-China combine, as well as growing geopolitical tensions in the Indo-Pacific, its biggest challenge has been ensuring a moment of truce that would allow for a joint communique to be agreed upon at the summit.

What are the takeaways from the summit?

The big takeaway is the New Delhi Declaration that forged a consensus between the G-20 nations, bitterly divided between the G7-EU and Russia-China, on the issue of Ukraine. The final language is a shift from the ‘Bali Paragraphs’, with language critical of Russia erased, on a firm proposal from G-20 hosts of past and future years — Indonesia, India, Brazil and South Africa. The final 83-paragraph declaration, with eight paragraphs on “geopolitical issues”, on which consensus was reached included language on everything from climate action, financing, and fossil fuel phaseout, to debt restructuring, the biofuel alliance, health, digital infrastructure, regulating crypto currency and other issues.

Bringing the African Union into the G-20 fold will be credited to India, and future summits in Brazil and South Africa are likely to take India’s Global South initiative forward. It will be interesting to see if other hosts also follow India’s example in holding G20 meetings throughout its term in multiple cities.

On the sidelines of the summit, all eyes are on the possibility of reviving the Black Sea Grain Initiative for Russia and Ukraine, which found a mention in the G-20 declaration, as also the multi-billion mega infrastructure project from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to Europe, quarter backed by the U.S. and India.

What does the G-20 mean for India?

In the days leading up to the G-20 summit in India, international commentators referred to this as “India’s moment” on the international stage. The term is interesting, as since 2008, the G-20 has been held in different countries by rotation, without it being seen as a transformational moment for the host country. One of the reasons for this is the unprecedented effort New Delhi has put into hosting the G-20, which it postponed twice, in 2021 and 2022, in order to ensure its preparations were in place. The G-20 in Delhi has also made its mark in terms of the Indian initiative to bring on board the “Voice of the Global South”, ensuring that more than 125 countries of the developing world raised their concerns at a “feeder conference” in January 2023, that were included in the declaration.

“No document in the world would have such a strong voice for the Global South and the developing countries as the New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration,” said Indian G-20 ‘Sherpa’ Amitabh Kant, the term for the leader’s representative, at a press conference ahead of the summit.

Inducting the African Union at the summit, a proposal by the grouping of 55 African countries, endorsed by Mr. Modi, is also a feather in India’s cap. The move helps tilt the balance within the G-20 away from the Power-11 of geopolitical powers, the G-7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S.), U.S. allies Australia and South Korea, the European Union and the Russia and China combine to the Developing-10 (Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Korea, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey and the African Union), who make up the rest of the members.

Finally, the moment is significant for India because of the government’s push to popularise and “democratise” the G-20 within India, inviting about 1,00,000 delegates from over 125 countries to about 200 meetings in more than 60 Indian cities to partake in the event, according to G-20 Chief Coordinator Harsh Shringla. The political message of what the government calls the “People’s G-20” is also not lost, coming just ahead of general elections in India in 2024, with many commentators remarking on the use of the lotus in the G-20 symbol, resembling that of the ruling party.

Who’s here and who isn’t?

India’s G-20 has attracted heads of state from 17 of the 20 original members, and in a first, the African Union Chairperson President of Comoros Azali Assoumani flew in, to take over the AU seat at the G-20 table in Delhi’s Bharat Mandapam venue on Saturday. U.S. President Joseph Biden, who met Mr. Modi for dinner on Friday, and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince and PM Mohammed Bin Salman who will receive a state visit on Monday, have been singled out for special attention as well. Some came despite the odds — with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wearing an eye patch as he sustained an eye injury this week, and Brazilian President Lula, who is due for a hip surgery later this month. Mr. Modi has scheduled bilateral meetings with at least 15 of the more than 25 leaders present, although meetings with Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Indonesian President Joko Widodo are among those not scheduled so far. Of those not attending is Mexican President Obrador, who does not travel abroad as much deputing his Economy Minister. The most notable exceptions, however, are from Russia and China. India has also invited nine countries as special guests to its G-20 — these include the leaders of Singapore, the Netherlands and the UAE, which as major economies are nearly always on the list. Spain is also a permanent invitee, but Spanish President Sanchez cancelled at the last minute after coming down with COVID-19.

Is the absence of Russian and Chinese Presidents a miss?

While President Vladimir Putin, dealing with the Ukraine conflict, made it clear some time ago that he would not attend, as he hasn’t since 2021, and even called Prime Minister Modi to explain his absence last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been more inscrutable about his non-attendance at the summit in Delhi. Many ascribe Mr. Xi’s decision not to come, although he has attended every other G-20 Summit since 2013 in person or virtually, to the spiralling state of India-China bilateral relations, with the military standoff at the Line of Actual Control continuing. In addition, some suggest that Mr. Xi is sending a message of disapproval for the G-20 itself, for its continued inclusion of Ukraine, a “geopolitical issue” in what was set up originally as a group purely for international economic cooperation.

While not having two important members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) P-5 at the summit is disappointing for New Delhi, the absence of the leaders has made for a less fractious summit, and eventually the outcome document language was seen as a win for both Russia and China as well.

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