This is a time when not everybody sees eye-to-eye in this world. Russia is fighting Ukraine. The United States is uncomfortable with China. And President Xi is not attending the grand finale of the G20 Bharat Summit 2023 in New Delhi. But the scenario was not very different ten months ago when India stepped in as the President of the G20, comprising the 20 most promising economies globally, including the 7 most developed ones, the G7. As India takes on an increasingly prominent role in the world, serving as the President of the G20 group of leading economies for the current year, it faces the challenge of walking a diplomatic tightrope, managing a diverse group of 20 leading economies, including the G7.
India itself is not entirely aligned with some members. For instance, China and Turkey boycotted a G20 bureaucrats' meeting when it was held in Kashmir. These two countries, along with Malaysia, consistently supported Pakistan whenever the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) attempted to blacklist what is arguably the most obvious sponsor of terrorism in the world.
India's Leadership on the World Stage: G20 Presidency and Beyond
However, in diplomacy, one cannot openly express frustration. So, what does this diplomatic tightrope entail, and how can India effectively convey its message on the global stage? Recall Prime Minister Modi's message to the G20, with a particular focus on two aspects. He mentions the "COVID pandemic" and notes that "global supply chains are in ruins," although he does not explicitly mention China. Furthermore, consider the agenda India has set for the G20 during its year of presidency, encapsulated in the theme "One Earth, One Family," drawing from the Sanskrit adage "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” this is ‘Bhartiyata’ without saying it is Sanatan. The reference to "Future" here pertains to children.
This issue of children, in turn, leads us to the concept of family. Why focus on family? Because there is a growing concern in the developing world that the basic societal unit, the family, is under attack due to laws influenced by Western-funded NGOs. This is why India has brought "Education" and "Social Issues" to the table.
However, this approach is intricate. If the West is adopting woke ideologies, India cannot openly oppose them. Thus, India addresses concerns shared by the woke movement, particularly emphasising climate change, in various international forums, including the G20.
Balancing Act: India's Role in a Divided World as G20 President
At the core political level, India envisions itself as a potential broker for peace in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. It is worth noting that being a mediator is a role India has never played in the past. This role was previously associated with Norway's interest in India-Pakistan peace talks. Additionally, India did not propose mediating between Israel and Palestine in the Middle East conflict. Nonetheless, both Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy trust Prime Minister Modi to intervene and bring an end to their conflict.
However, it's essential to understand that this conflict is not solely military; it has significant economic dimensions due to US sanctions on Russia. Consequently, India seeks to convene the finance ministers of G20 nations to find solutions to the economic blockade affecting Russia and Ukraine, two critical grain-producing nations. This initiative gains significance because, at this point in history, finance officials from even advanced economies are seeking insights from India on how it has effectively managed its economy amid global recession and stagflation elsewhere. This period also coincides with global efforts to reduce American economic dominance, a process referred to as de-dollarisation.
India's Diplomatic Triumphs: Mediating Conflict and Shaping Global Policies
Nonetheless, there are the World Bank and IMF. Accepting money from these agencies is akin to accepting terms imposed by the United States. Thus, India brings "Multilateral Development Banks" to the table as alternatives.
Having said that, regardless of whether the issue is military or economic, it's worth recalling a famous rebuke to the West by South Africa's Nelson Mandela. India's Minister of External Affairs, S. Jaishankar, speaks the same language. This suggests that the G20 cannot afford to become bogged down by the Russia-Ukraine conflict merely because the West is obsessed with it.
There are two approaches to consider. First, if India can maintain friendly relations with mutually hostile countries, why can't the rest of the world learn from this rather than taking sides in every conflict? Second, why can't the world also learn from India's humanitarian assistance to the whole world during the pandemic, including the supply of generic medicines to impoverished nations and relief and rescue operations during natural disasters?
The G20 Summit in India: Seizing the Opportunity as China's Influence Declines
If the military aspect of geopolitics can be overlooked, it can work favourably for India. People hold strong military powers in awe. Therefore, it's crucial not to forget that India is a member of the Quad, which serves as a counterbalance against China, uniting the formidable might of the United States, Japan, and Australia. Simultaneously, India's "Neighbourhood First" and "Look East" policies have fostered closer ties with ASEAN countries, diverting international investments away from China.
At this juncture, as China's international influence wanes, it was expected that President Xi Jinping would skip the Delhi G20 summit, and indeed, he did. However, what China may consider a snub to India, India may perceive as an opportunity. In the absence of President Xi, Prime Minister Modi may push the Indian agenda more assertively.
Overall, India is securing the best deal it can with the United States, despite not agreeing on all issues with the Americans. The world, except for China and its allies, is looking up to India. There could not have been a better time for a G20 summit in India.
Disclaimer: The author of this opinion piece is an independent journalist. The views and ideas expressed in this op-ed article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the perspectives or opinions held by TICE.