TEN years after the French Revolution began in 1789, Abbe Sieyes, an influential contributor to its intellectual contours, is believed to have been asked about his achievements during the decade. Sieyes, who had successfully navigated Robespierre’s Reign of Terror, responded with just two words: “I survived”. India’s G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant, External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar and the diplomats who had worked on the G20 Delhi Declaration may have had a Sieyes-like sentiment when the group finally agreed to its ‘clean text’ in the early hours of September 9.
India’s AU move was aimed at reinforcing its desire to emerge as a voice of the Global South as well as a bridge between it and the advanced world.
Exultation would have come later, and it would have been justified. This is because after the rigidity shown by the US and its allies on one side — and Russia backed by China on the other — over the Ukraine war, coming up with a consensus document was in itself a diplomatic success. And, credit should be given where credit is due — to the Sherpa and the diplomats who manned the diplomatic frontlines and to the EAM who would have worked behind the scenes with his counterparts.
The eight paragraphs which deal with the Ukraine war provide for the minimum requirements of the US and its allies as well as Russia and China. The Russians had obviously made it known that they would not accept any criticism of their action against Ukraine, while the US could not entirely abandon the Bali Declaration, which had called out Russian aggression. The key to a ‘clean text’, therefore, lay with the US avoiding naming Russia and Russia allowing non-abrasive references to the Bali text. On its part, India, as Kant made it known, reached out to Brazil and South Africa to work, along with its own diplomats, to soften up the two contending sides. It is now apparent that the US position had softened a few days before the summit. This was indicated by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s warning to China not to act as a ‘spoiler’ (a signal to not expect the US to do more) and by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s visit to Ukraine on September 6. Obviously, he went there to assure the Ukrainian leadership that the US stand had not really changed. The State Department declared that Blinken’s trip “demonstrate(d) the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and democracy, especially in the face of Russia’s aggression.”
The flexibility shown by the US and its allies, Russia and China are vividly shown in two formulations in the first sentence of paragraph eight of the declaration. These are “war in Ukraine” and “recalling the discussion in Bali”. The paragraph thereafter mentions that the leaders recalled their national positions, as expressed in the UNSC and UNGA resolutions, without expanding on these resolutions. These formulations demonstrate how creative diplomacy helped paper over chasms and save a multilateral event.
Such diplomacy is only possible if member states of a multilateral group have an inherent interest in its continuance. This is so with the G20. At present, it serves both US and Chinese interests. China remained low-key throughout the summit and afterwards stressed that the declaration had recognised its position that the G20 “is not the platform to resolve geopolitical and security issues”.
The declaration allowed the Modi government to emphasise to the people that he had succeeded in raising India’s global standing through the G20 presidency and by staging a grand summit. It is also true that all countries praised India’s efforts. However, the Delhi Declaration will not make any impact on the Ukraine war, which will grind on. How far the initiatives taken by India, urging the world to look towards human-centric development, are realised remains to be seen.
India did well to successfully champion the inclusion of the African Union (AU) as a G20 member. It was also a good tactical move to invite the current AU head, Comoros President Azali Assoumani, to take his seat along with other members in the inaugural session itself. Modi gave Assoumani his customary hug. That not only made for good optics but also sent out a message to African countries that India cared for their global position. India’s role in the decolonisation of Africa earned it much goodwill from the 1950s to the 1980s. Its programme of economic and technical assistance also went a long way in earning goodwill. However, for many years now, China has made great inroads in Africa, using its financial clout. India has to find imaginative ways to counter China.
India’s AU move was also aimed at reinforcing its desire to emerge as both a voice of the Global South as well as a bridge between it and the advanced world. It has been assuring the Global South that the latter’s concerns are also its concerns. Indeed, by stressing the theme of ‘one earth, one family, one future’, it is signalling that the future of the planet can be secured only through the reconciliation of interests of all countries. This is fine as an ideal. However, there are two significant issues here. One, on some geopolitical and economic matters — from its desire to become a permanent member of the UNSC to migration to some areas of intellectual property — its interests and those of the Global South are not on all fours. Two, countries such as South Africa and Brazil, apart from China, will not look at India’s leadership of the Global South with equanimity. Hence, this is an area where it will be prudent for India not to overplay its hand.
The unveiling of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor on the sidelines of the G20 summit was a significant move. It has great potential, but only the future will reveal how it is actualised. At the same time, it will be contrary to India’s long-term interests to allow China to integrate Eurasia — as it is currently doing — and shut India out. Indian interests demand that it should be active both in Eurasia and the region covered by the proposed corridor.
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