Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | US President Joe Biden’s big tour

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | US President Joe Biden’s big tour

Diplomatic Affairs Editor Suhasini Haidar discusses Biden’s recent Europe tour and his meeting with Putin

In this episode of Worldview, our Diplomatic Affairs Editor Suhasini Haidar takes a look at U.S. President Joe Biden’s efforts in building American power back with several summits in Europe such as G-7, NATO, and EU meetings as well as his one on one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Six months into his tenure, U.S. President Biden took his first trip abroad- attending the G-7 summit in the UK, travelling to Brussels for talks on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s goals, met with European leaders and then finally sat down for talks with President Putin. India was a guest participant at the G-7 last weekend- but is affected by the outcomes of each of those meetings, so lets get to each one.

The G-7 summit- which brings together what are called the world’s richest democracies: US Canada UK Germany France Italy and Japan, invited 4 other democracies to the conference in Cornwall’s Carbis bay- Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea. Now G-7 countries have been meeting since the 1970s.

A lot has changed since then:

– G-7 is no longer the richest such grouping. While in 1980 they made up 51% of global GDP, today they produce about 31%

– Secondly, the rise of emerging economies like India, China and Indonesia are not acknowledged by such a group

– Thirdly, 3 members are members of the EU- common currency, and perhaps don’t need separate membership

– The G-20 is gaining prominence as a more representative multilateral grouping

Given this kind of background, the G-7 has today much more to prove. Also the first time leaders meeting after Coronavirus pandemic, and the first since the US changed Presidents.

What were the major takeaways of this year’s summit then including the outcomes listed in 6 documents.

Some of takeaways of the summit that have already been criticised:

– A pledge to donate a billion vaccines- which is being seen as a small figure, given the resources and vaccination status of these countries

– An infrastructure project called Build Back Better World (B3 World) initiative to provide a counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, but didn’t include any details of the investment- nor does it address how EU members like Italy who are part of the BRI will proceed.

– On climate change, the G-7 failed to set a date for phasing out coal, and particularly on making Electric vehicles mandatory

– A special session on open democracies that is building towards Mr. Biden’s plan for a Summit of Democracies this year

– The G-7 made a specific mention of the threat from cyberwarfare and ransomware from Russia

– Finally, the message that went out was that the G-7 was committed to taking on China-

4 negative references on HR violations in Xinjiang/Hong Kong, on Chinese actions in the South China Sea and East China Sea, a reference to Chinese non-market policies and practices, and to the need for a more transparent inquiry into the origins of the Coronavirus in China.

What was India’s stand?

– On the pandemic, PM Modi gave a message of One World One Health – need for vaccines access- where India is in a race against time. India also thanked G-7 leaders for broad support for the joint proposal with South Africa for a waiver of TRIPs/patents at the WTO

– On Open societies, PM Modi said India is a natural ally to the G-7, but came in for criticism as the statement he signed on to condemned “rising authoritarianism”, net shutdowns, manipulation of information, and rights violations — areas where his own government has often been criticised. Significantly, Indian diplomats had worked hard on diluting the language against internet shutdowns- so that India’s claim that shutdowns are caused due to national security and public order risks were not included in the criticism

– On China, India broadly skirted the issues, and officials said Chinese aggression, including at the LAC had not come up in the outreach with special guests.

– On Climate change, India too has not given commitments on phasing out coal yet, and the outcome would have been a relief . PM Modi, who couldn’t travel for the G-7 due to pandemic restrictions, may now travel to UK for the COP26 summit in November this year, India’s commitments there will be watched closely.

Mr. Biden next travelled to Brussels for meetings with the EU leadership, but more importantly with NATO leaders including US Canada Turkey and European countries, where he had a 4 pronged mission:

– To undo the damage from former President Trump’s sharp differences with NATO, and to assure them that the US is back

– To continue his mission against China- the statement by 30 NATO countries made it clear that China posed a “systemic challenge” to them,

– To discuss the way forward on the Afghanistan pullout where US troops will leave by September

– And to reassure NATO on US support on Russia, while setting the stage for his next meeting with President Putin

For India the NATO unity against China would be comforting, giving India’s own challenges with China, but the US’s stand on Afghanistan is anything but. The US pullout appears to be continuing without care of how Taliban violence is growing and what Pakistan’s role will be. In particular, a proposal by Turkish president Erdogan during the NATO talks, to build a joint mission with Pakistan and Hungary for peacekeeping in Afghanistan will cause deep worries in New Delhi. A day after those meetings, significantly, EAM Jaishankar met with US Spl representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in Doha.

Finally there was the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva. After talks that lasted more than 3 hours, the US and Russia agreed to begin talks on Strategic stability, and committed to continue the nuclear arms control treaty but their differences became apparent in separate news conferences that followed, where both Biden and Putin appeared to take swipes at each other.

What was India watching for:

– India has a close partnership with the US, and a traditional friendship with Russia, and better ties between them are welcomed, especially given the Russia-China nexus is a worry

– Better ties will also give India breathing space on its purchase of the S-400 missile systems this year from Russia, which is expected to trigger US sanctions

– The opposite- growing polarisation between the US and Western allies against China and Russia is difficult for India and the Modi government that is still trying to walk a tightrope. Remember later this year PM Modi is expected to participate both in the Quad summit in Washington, and host President Putin President Xi and others at the BRICS summit in Delhi.

Book recommendations this week:

  • Capital and Ideology by Thomas Piketty
  • Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero world by Ian Bremmer
  • Putin’s World: Russia against the West and with the Rest by Angela Stent

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