Lessons from G7, Quad: Summitry remains key
Indian diplomacy faces two challenges: Ukraine and China. India’s participation in summit diplomacy will help it acquire some leverage to tackle both.
This seems to be the time for summitry and high-level diplomacy. Since the world order is largely a mess, this is most welcome. Present summitry entails plurilateral meetings among a select group of countries. India is fortunate to retain a significant presence in all these meetings.
The G7 summit took place in Hiroshima last week where India was a special invitee. The Quad summit also happened in Hiroshima on the sidelines of the G7 meeting. Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi was involved in both. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, of which India holds the rotating presidency, will hold its summit meeting in Delhi in July. This will be followed by the BRICS summit in South Africa in August. Finally, India will host the G20 summit in September.
With so many summits taking place sequentially, some observations are in order. First, Ukraine will dominate the agenda. The war in Ukraine has upended the existing world order and has adversely affected not just the main actors involved, but also the rest of the world. Second, China will loom large over these meetings. It is no secret that China has become assertive and even aggressive in protecting what it believes are its core interests. The trouble is these core interests overlap other countries’ fundamental interests. Third, in meetings such as the Delhi G20 summit, it may be safely assumed that China and Russia will form a bloc, with the G7 countries constituting an opposing bloc. India, therefore, has its job cut out to find common ground. Last, it is a sign of the times that none of this high-level summitry will occur in the United Nations (UN), perhaps an indication that the UN is past its shelf life.
One highlight at Hiroshima was the first in-person meeting between PM Modi and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. PM Modi said India would do everything to end the war in Ukraine, a demand of the Global South. Zelensky wanted India to buy into Ukraine’s peace plan, which calls on Russia to vacate all occupied territory. Is it possible that Zelensky conveyed a message to PM Modi that could be relayed to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin? India has the attributes to be the perfect go-between. Besides, ending the war in Ukraine is in India’s strategic interest.
The G7 chair Japan spelt out two objectives for the Hiroshima meeting: One, to uphold the international order based on rule of law and two, to make an outreach to the Global South. For the G7, upholding the international order based on rule of law is code for addressing not just Ukraine but also the thorny Taiwan issue, since countries such as Japan believe security is indivisible. On the war in Ukraine, G7 leaders expressed support for Ukraine for as long as it takes, in the face of Russia’s invasion. Moscow was condemned in the strongest possible terms.
But it is about China that the G7 statement was harsh and unprecedented. Serious concern was expressed about the situation in the East and South China seas and opposition made known to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion. Peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues was emphasised. Concern was voiced regarding human rights in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong, certain to roil Beijing. But, in a first, the G7 leaders also called on China to act in accordance with its obligations under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations and not to carry out “interference activities” aimed at undermining the integrity of democratic institutions and practising economic coercion. Furthermore, the G7 leaders called on China to press Russia to withdraw its troops unconditionally from Ukraine. The hyphenation of Russia and China in this fashion immediately prompted Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov to accuse the G7 of a “double containment” strategy of Russia and China. But his protests notwithstanding, the strong stance was significant especially against the backdrop of Beijing’s recent attempts to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States, and some noises about autonomy from some European leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron.
The G7 leaders reached out to the Global South by committing to mobilise the private and public resources needed to meet the sustainable development goals, reduce poverty and address debt vulnerabilities in low- and middle-income countries. In the working sessions, India voiced concerns on behalf of the Global South on issues such as the climate crisis, food security and public health.
Owing to President Joe Biden’s domestic preoccupation, the Quad summit was held on the sidelines of the G7 meeting. Quad leaders issued a “vision statement” to support a free and open Indo-Pacific that is inclusive and resilient. They also spelt out a positive and practical agenda, including SDGs, the climate crisis, health security partnership, resilient infrastructure, and maritime domain awareness. While China was not named specifically, the references to the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas, maintenance of freedom of navigation and confronting challenges to the maritime rules-based order in the East and South China Seas, left no one in doubt in this regard. Significantly, India will host the next Quad leaders’ summit in 2024.
Indian diplomacy at present faces two challenges: One, limiting the negative fall-out from the war in Ukraine and two, enhancing strategic partnerships with like-minded powers to counter the growing threat from China. India’s participation in summit diplomacy will help it acquire some leverage to tackle both.
Mohan Kumar is a former Indian ambassador
The views expressed are personal