Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | G20 Ministerial Meetings | Does India have a rocky road a...

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | G20 Ministerial Meetings | Does India have a rocky road ahead?

In this episode of Worldview, we discuss the recent G20 Ministerial meetings and how hard has the road to the G20 summit become for India

“The G20 has capacity to build consensus and deliver concrete results. We should not allow issues that we cannot resolve together to come in the way of those we can. As you meet in the land of Gandhi and the Buddha, I pray that you will draw inspiration from India’s civilizational ethos – to focus not on what divides us, but on what unites us,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his video message at the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting.

“If we had a perfect meeting of minds on all issues and captured it fully, then obviously, it would have been a collective statement, but there were issues and I think the issues, I would say, very frankly, concerned the Ukraine conflict on which there were divergences,” External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said at a media briefing

– That was what PM Modi said before and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar after the Foreign Ministers’ meeting this week, that ended without a joint statement

– Now, Foreign Ministers at the G20 don’t normally seek to negotiate a joint statement. But last week, the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting that was held in Bengaluru also ended without a joint statement, for only the second time in history- the last time being last year, in Bali last year.

– It is now clear that the differences over the war in Ukraine are a serious threat to consensus in the G20 process.

– The one big positive- that there were no walkouts like last year, all the leaders sat in a room together- and Blinken and Lavrov even met each other and spoke as a result of the meeting in Delhi.

– What also came out clearly is that for the first time, China is standing with Russia in opposing the joint text at the G20, even though both countries signed on to the same text in 2022.

– As a result India as the Chair issued a summary and outcomes document instead – a 10-page document that included 24 paragraphs on the situation in the world, concerns over food and energy security, climate change, humanitarian relief after the earthquakes in Turkiye and Syria, gender equality and other issues.

-If you look closer at Page 1, there at the footnote- it says clearly that all countries except Russia and China agreed to the paragraphs on Ukraine- which are basically reproduced from the Bali 2022 document.

You may well ask- if they signed on to the document in November 2022, then why not in February and March 2023?

In Delhi, Russian FM Sergey Lavrov addressed a press conference in Delhi, outlining his reasons:

1. That the situation has changed in Ukraine since November 2022- indicating the surge in US and EU military aid to Ukraine, which Russia says is now a proxy war

2. If Ukraine is being discussed at this primarily economic body, then Russia wants a discussion on what it calls the terrorist attack- a set of explosions that demobilised the NordStream 1 and 2 energy pipelines in the Caspian Sea last year

3. Russia says Ukraine’s President Zelensky has now renounced his support to the Minsk Peace agreements made in 2014 and 2015, so Russia is entitled to renounce the Bali document as the situation changes

4. Russian FM Lavrov also pointed out that G20 summits in the past had not held such harsh scrutiny of the US and NATOs invasions in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, in Delhi for the first time for the conference, met with EAM Jaishankar separately, gave no public reasoning for China’s stand, but pitched China’s own peace proposal for Ukraine.

Why does the G20 matter? What is its history?

– The Group of Twenty (G20) is the premier forum for international economic cooperation. It plays an important role in shaping and strengthening global architecture and governance on all major international economic issues

– It held its first meeting of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors in 1999, on the backs of the Asian financial crisis, which needed global responses- however the G-7 appeared elitist, and the 38-member OECD was too bulky to be effective. India hosted that in 2002.

– In 2008, after the US Banking and Financial crisis, the G20 was elevated to a Leadership Level meeting by US President George Bush. India helped shape the global response.

– The G20 is also mandated to look at issues from a more Global South perspective, with its founders making the point that it marked the shift from “denizens of Davos” to people who work in “Detroit and Düsseldorf”, referring to manufacturing hubs of the time- “perfect mix” of the old world and new, of the first world and the developing world; of the traditional, ageing global elites, and the more populous, bustling and growing economies.

– The G20 members include 19 countries and the EU. Spain is a permanent invitee and so are international agencies including the UN, IMF, OECD etc.

– Today, G-20 members account for 60% of the global population, 75% of global trade and more than 80% of world GDP.

– It is also more egalitarian, and has no fixed headquarters- rotating from Presidency to Presidency.

What do the Ministerial meeting outcomes mean for Indian diplomacy now ?

1. The failure to bring consensus at the two Meetings in Delhi and Bengaluru have made the task of India’s diplomats and G20 officials much harder, and more imperative

2. In June, there will be another round of ministerials, leading upto the G20 Summit in September, where the government will need to do some heavy lifting in other capitals, including Beijing and Moscow to ensure a text that is acceptable to all

3. Naming Russia and China in the text is a precedent, as normally G20 texts have only reflected differences by saying some objected, many felt, most believed etc.

4. Given that the Bali Document is no longer a baseline for negotiations, India will possibly need to go back to the drawing board, and negotiate a new document as it seeks a successful G20 in September.

5. In doing that, the Modi government may have to put some of its own favourite issues on the back burner: including UNSC reform, the WTO vaccine waiver proposal, pushing the west on Climate justice demands and pushing China on resolving debt issues with smallers countries etc

I asked US Secretary of State Antony Blinken what he thought the future of the G20 would mean without a consensus document- he was optimistic-“I don’t want to spoil the show….honestly, I don’t think that makes a big difference. Effective multilateralism in action”

Fortunately, there is much international travel in the months ahead where PM EAM FM and other officials can pitch for a common consensus:

– In April- Japan hosts the Foreign Minister’s meeting of G-7 countries in Nagano. India is a special invitee this year, and even if EAM Jaishankar is not invited to it, India could enlist Japan’s assistance in pushing for more compromising positions

– In May- India will host the SCO Foreign Minister’s Meeting in Goa- both Russia and China are members. Also PM Modi will travel to Hiroshima for the G-7 Outreach with leaders, as a special invitee, and to Sydney for the Quad Summit with Australia, US and Japan

– In June- PM Modi will host the SCO Summit in Delhi with Presidents Putin and Xi as invitees, and then possibly travel to the US for a State visit with President Biden

– In August- PM will also travel to Brazil for the BRICS Summit – remember all BRICS members are members of G20.

Eventually, diplomacy takes on a new meaning for the host of any multilateral summit- and as the host of the G20 this year, India will need to make concessions, knock on doors, work the telephones and burn the midnight oil if it wants to seek a succesful consensus at the conclusion of its Presidency. Naming and blaming those who wreck that consensus is good for the optics, but doesn’t replace the substance of a joint communique, which takes hard work.

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