India’s G20 presidency is already a big success
India has shown the world that the G20 can be a dream team for re-invigorated multilateralism and a values-based approach to growth and development
As India goes into the last lap of its G20 presidency to breast the tape at the September 9-10 summit, there is no doubt that a new record will be set. The rotational presidency may have come India’s way as a matter of course, but for New Delhi, the timing could not have been more perfect. It coincided with the rise of India on the global stage as a voice of the Global South and a proactive contributor to the global good, whether in providing vaccines or refocusing the G20 agenda on key developmental issues. It came when the Indian economy has emerged as the world’s fifth largest and the fastest growing among major nations. It came on the heels of several global initiatives by India such as the International Day of Yoga, the International Solar Alliance, Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, Infrastructure for Resilient Island States and One Sun One World One Grid.
It is little wonder that India’s motto for the G20 is One Earth One Family One Future. In a fractured world, this is a salve to heal the deep divisions created by the war in Ukraine and the ongoing major power contestation between the West and China. It is surprising that China objected to the Sanskrit phrase Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family) which draws upon the ancient Indian ethos of viewing humanity as one, for a better future for all. China too has a Confucian saying Si Hai Zhi Nei Jie Xiong Di Ye (all the people within the four seas are brothers), hence it is strange for the Communist Party of China to reject something that is part of its own heritage and representative of a broader democratic Asian sentiment. Perhaps, it does not gel with notions of hierarchy, domination and unipolarity in Asia.
For China to reject a phrase in Sanskrit is extraordinary. After all, the Chinese monk Xuan Zang (Hiuen Tsang) travelled to India in the 7th century AD, as did many other Chinese pilgrims before him, to acquire and translate into Chinese the sacred Sanskrit scriptures containing Hindu-Buddhist philosophy. These have long informed Chinese Buddhist literature and civilisational consciousness.
It is equally odd for any delegation to reject the Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE) initiative proposed by Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi. In doing so, China appeared to be rejecting the importance of sustainable production and consumption, conservation of the earth’s resources and the environment, and focus on the climate crisis.
There has been much speculation about the impact of the absence of Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit. It is not uncommon for leaders to skip global events in light of other priorities. For Putin, the ongoing war in Ukraine is perhaps all-consuming, and Xi might be preoccupied with the economic downturn in China and other domestic issues. After all, three leaders did not attend the Bali Summit last year and the Rome Summit was skipped by six leaders, with ministerial representatives taking their place.
In any case, positions taken by different delegations on key issues at the G20 table are never ad hoc in nature, but guided by abiding national considerations. What Premier Li Qiang would say at the G20 Summit cannot be any different from what President Xi would have said.
There was much speculation if the brief interactions between PM Modi and the Chinese President at the G20 Summit in Bali last year and the Brics Summit in Johannesburg this year were precursors to possible disengagement at the remaining friction points in eastern Ladakh. The boundary dispute is a complex historical issue that does not lend itself to overnight solutions. The presence of Xi at the summit could not have guaranteed any drawdown in China’s unilateralism in the border areas. Nor does his absence necessarily point to further aggravation or the ruling out of a future thaw. High-level visits and protracted disputes often co-exist. Jawaharlal Nehru and Zhou Enlai exchanged visits in the 1950s against the backdrop of China’s relentless incursions into Indian territory. PM Rajiv Gandhi visited China in 1988 following the People’s Liberation Army’s encroachment in the Sumdorong Chu valley in Arunachal Pradesh, which had led to a prolonged confrontation that was resolved only by 1995. Xi’s bilateral visit to India in 2014 had coincided with a stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops in Chumar.
India’s G20 presidency is already a huge success. The involvement of 1.4 billion people in India’s presidency is unprecedented as is India’s global outreach and advocacy of key developmental issues. The branding of India as a vibrant democracy and rising economy during the past year has no parallel. PM Modi’s vision has enabled the G20 this year to become a medium for expressing the aspirations of peoples around the world, in the true traditions of India’s civilisational ethos and the UN Charter. India has shown the world that the G20 can be a dream team for re-invigorated multilateralism and a values-based approach to growth and development. Now is the time for all stakeholders to grasp this opportunity.
Sujan Chinoy is director general of the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, and the Think20 Chair for India’s G20 presidency. The views expressed are personal