G20 Foreign Minister’s Meet may have stalemated, but Brand India Marches on - Hindustan Times
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G20 Foreign Minister’s Meet may have stalemated, but Brand India Marches on

ByHindustan Times
Mar 15, 2023 02:58 PM IST

This article has been authored by Col. Rajeev Agarwal (Retired), Assistant Director, MP-IDSA.

This is the year of India’s G20 presidency, coming at a crucial time when the major world powers stand divided, split across two poles, supporting the Russia-Ukraine conflict from opposing sides. The Ukraine war which broke out on 24th February 2022, is now into its second year with no immediate hope of a ceasefire or a peaceful solution. Amidst this, as a part of its G20 presidency, India hosted the foreign ministers of G20 counties in Delhi on 01-02 March 2023. The G20 is the premier forum for international economic cooperation and for shaping and strengthening global architecture and governance on all major international economic issues. Accordingly, this meeting was mandated to discuss critical issues on the weakening global economy and related issues like food and energy security, climate and environment conservation, cooperation on sustainable development goals, global health etc. However, the meet was hijacked by the Ukraine war with foreign ministers aligned to opposing sides i.e. Russia and the West (led by the US and EU) trading charges and stalemating the meet. In the end, all that India could do was to issue a ‘Chair Summary and Outcome Document’ highlighting the divide, instead of a joint statement.

The G20 is the premier forum for international economic cooperation and for shaping and strengthening global architecture and governance on all major international economic issues. (PTI)(HT_PRINT) PREMIUM
The G20 is the premier forum for international economic cooperation and for shaping and strengthening global architecture and governance on all major international economic issues. (PTI)(HT_PRINT)

This ‘outcome document’, consisting of 24 paragraphs was agreed upon by all members except Paras 3 and 4, which had references to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and was opposed by Russia and China. Interestingly, these same two paras were agreed upon and signed as ‘Bali Declaration’ by all G20 leaders (including Russia and China) during the previous G20 Summit at Bali, Indonesia, just a few months back, in November 2022! Addressing the issues discussed, Dr. S. Jaishankar, India’s External Affairs Minister said, "There were differences on Ukraine issue which we could not reconcile." He added that the meeting was however productive and successful as the concerns of ‘Global South were highlighted and accepted by the G20 members, an issue that India has been trying to get the world to focus on. Echoing PM Modi’s address earlier in the day to the foreign ministers, he admitted that multilateralism is in crisis today in terms of preventing future wars and terrorism.

Earlier, the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meet held at Bengaluru on 24-25 February 2023 too failed to come up with a joint statement, once again due to opposition by China and Russia, on the same paras as with the Foreign Ministers meet. The Chair Summary and Outcome Document released by India, reflected just that.

Both these meetings, vitally important towards the buildup of G20 summit later in the year, reflect the deep divisions in the world’s richest economies. A consensus on issues discussed at G20 meetings is considered important for the host country. It will indeed be a challenge for India as it steers through its presidency in next few months to build consensus as it tries to focus the world on important and existential issues facing the planet.

Coming to the current meetings, 95 percent of the agenda was agreed upon by all the foreign ministers at their G20 meeting, including important issues affecting the developing countries in ‘Global South’ like health, global economic recovery after Covid-19 pandemic, environment and climate conservation etc. Even at the G20 Finance Ministers meeting earlier, there was broad agreement on focusing on commitment to enhancing international policy cooperation and steering the global economy towards securing strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth. There was also a clear recognition of the debt vulnerabilities in many Emerging Market and Developing Economies (EMDEs), something that India has been advocating for the world to into, as the leader of ‘Global South’.

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine is not India’s making. In fact, the world is banking upon India as a major influence in ending the conflict, owing to its close ties with Russia and the non-partisan stand by India in the conflict. During the Foreign Ministers Meeting, it is to India’s credit that it called out Russia and China for the ongoing Ukraine conflict in the outcome document, a clear reflection of its ‘non-aligned’ stance.

Yes, both the meetings of G20 (Finance Ministers and Foreign Ministers) failed to agree on all issues and therefore could not issue a joint statement. But this is not new. Earlier G20 presidencies too have faced such situations. In fact, it goes to India’s credit that despite stark differences over various issues including the Ukraine war, it could get all the G20 foreign ministers to focus on all important issues listed on the agenda despite the distractions of Ukraine war. Also, it was here in Delhi that the foreign ministers of the US and Russia met physically for the first time since the war broke out in Ukraine in February 2022.

G20 presidency is a year-long event and India has set the pace well. However, the current buoyant ‘India’ story goes well beyond the G20 presidency this year. During the past few years, there has been a clear recognition of India’s leadership role in the world. The holding of G20 presidency and the SCO presidency during the same year, just gives extra fillip and visibility to it.

Since the Ukraine war broke out in February 2022, Delhi has become virtually the ‘global capital’, with a number of top global leadership lining up to seek India’s support in influencing a swift end to the conflict. The fact that India did not bow down to Western pressure either to condemn Russia or to stop trade (especially crude oil) was initially seen as hostile by the West, but later reluctantly accepted as an ‘instrument of India’s national interest’, a huge credit to India’s proactive and firm diplomacy. India’s growing economy and political stability too have a big role to play in it.

During the virtual launch of Air India-Airbus deal on 14th February 2023, the French President praised PM Modi, stating “India, under your leadership clearly can be the one to mobilise the whole world and help us to address the tremendous issues (Ukraine war) we have in front of us”. Earlier, on 11th February 2023, the US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged Delhi’s importance and stated that the US will welcome any efforts by India to stop the war between Russia and Ukraine. More recently, two European leaders were in Delhi. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in Delhi on 25-26 February on a state visit. Italy’s PM Ms. Giorgia Meloni too was on a state visit on 02 March 2023 where it was decided to elevate India‑Italy partnership to the level of strategic partnership. She was also the Chief Guest at the annual Raisina Dialogue, India’s most prestigious geopolitical event of the year. Just a month earlier, Egyptian President Fatah Al Sisi was on a state visit and was the Chief Guest at the Republic Day Celebrations in Delhi on 26 January 2023. Here too, the two countries decided to elevate the partnership to a ‘strategic partnership’. There are reports that PM Modi is likely to undertake a state visit to the US in summer this year, on invitation by President Biden. Such kind of high profile and intense diplomatic engagements cannot be considered normal and can be only attributed to growing image of brand India.

Economically too, India is in good space. It is currently the fifth largest economy and is soon poised to become the third largest global economy in the world. IMF and World Bank along with major rating agencies have already projected India as the fastest growing global economy for next few years, if not more. Innovation and manufacturing have emerged as key focus areas and India was listed as the home to the world’s largest number of Unicorns (startups valued at US $ one billion or more) in year 2022, surpassing US and China. Its aggressive push to encourage digital payments through UPI and e-wallets has breached records. In 2021, India accounted for the largest number of worldwide real-time transactions at 48 billion. India is setting examples in pursuit of green energy and its solar power installed capacity has already reached around 61.97 GW as on 30th November, 2022. The recent discovery of 5.9 million tons of Lithium in Jammu & Kashmir region makes it the seventh largest lithium deposits in the world, and its successful exploration could become another important contributor towards India’s rapid and sustained economic growth.

India’s G20 and SCO presidencies are important markers in its global march but India’s growing global influence and power transcends these forums. It is no coincidence that India forms part of many important recent multilaterals like the Quad or I2U2 or even the recently announced India, UAE and France trilateral. India’s candidature for permanent seat at the UN Security Council is no longer a demand from India only but is a notable inclusion in almost every diplomatic statement referring to UN Security Council reforms. President of the 77th Session of United Nations General Assembly, Csaba Korosi too raised it during the recent visit to India on 29-30th January 2023. India’s prompt action as ‘first responder’ in the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria too has won it global appreciation. This year being celebrated as the ‘Year of Millets’ by the UN too is based on India’s initiative, following up on its call for celebrating international Yoga day on 21st June every year since 2016.

At many global events, it has now become a regular feature for world leaders to reach out to India’s PM for a handshake or a greeting, a far cry from the past when India was not even invited at the ‘high table’. India’s invitation to OIC Summit in 2019 as Guest of Honor, despite it being an exclusive forum of Muslim countries, is yet another example of how India is being seen in the region and the world. India has thus well and truly arrived on the world stage and brand ‘India’ is well set to grow larger, stronger and popular in the coming years.

This article has been authored by Col. Rajeev Agarwal (Retired), Assistant Director, MP-IDSA.

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