Indo-Pacific summits mark a global churn

May 16, 2023 07:51 PM IST

This month will see a series of global summits. New kinds of ties, geopolitical competition, and plans to address global problems are likely to take shape

This month will witness several leaders’ summits that capture the changing nature of India’s international engagement in the Indo-Pacific and, by extension, the broader international order. Taken together, they represent a coalescing of certain trends that have been manifest for some time. The politics of trade and economic interdependence, China’s global role, the relative emphasis of India’s international partnerships, and the world’s major political fault lines have all undergone structural shifts. But these developments have yet to sink in with certain commentators: Indians clinging to false equivalences, Americans who regularly understate relations with New Delhi, and individuals or institutions in places such as Brussels, Singapore, and New York who seek a reversion to a bygone economic and political order.

The next Quad summit is in Australia and the grouping is proving to be a mechanism to advance bilateral efforts between member-countries (AP) PREMIUM
The next Quad summit is in Australia and the grouping is proving to be a mechanism to advance bilateral efforts between member-countries (AP)

At the G7 meeting in Hiroshima this week, the leaders of the world’s largest developed economies will gather, as they have on an annual basis since the 1970s. The G7 agenda is likely to be dominated by the ongoing war in Ukraine, where the grouping has stood firmly behind Kyiv, including over sanctions on Russia. But the G7 — barring the United States (US) and Canada — are in for a period of relative economic decline. The non-US G7 members have seen their collective Gross Domestic Product drop from 52% of the G20 in 1992 to 23% today. As a collective, G7 unity matters more today, but their weight matters less.

India will be attending the summit as a guest, as it has annually since 2019, at a time when it is deepening cooperation with all G7 members. This includes with the United States and Japan in Quad, with the European Union through the Trade and Technology Council (TTC), and with the United Kingdom and Canada in advanced trade negotiations. Leveraging these mechanisms for accelerating India’s development and economic security objectives — at a critical demographic and macroeconomic juncture for India — remains paramount.

Simultaneously, the G7 summit presents an opportunity for India to raise issues of national and international concern that might otherwise receive short shrift from the developed world, including in the context of the Ukraine war and India’s G20 presidency. These issues encompass energy and food security, supply chains resilience, climate finance and sustainable development, international institutional reform, and debt sustainability. Such concerns are especially important given that higher US interest rates, innovations in digital currencies and payments, unsustainable trade imbalances, and international sanctions are likely to roil the global economy over the coming few years.

Beyond Hiroshima, both Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden are expected to visit Papua New Guinea for meetings with the leaders of South Pacific countries. The South Pacific is often overlooked due to the small size and populations of its constituent islands, but the region constitutes one sixth of the world’s surface. It has also become a geopolitical hotspot, as a focus of China’s competition for influence with Taiwan, the US, France, Australia, and Japan. The region is also a focal point for the climate crisis, sustainable lending practices, and fishing and mineral resources.

For India, a summit in Port Moresby would be a natural continuation — after a pandemic-related hiatus — of the outreach that began in 2014-2017 through the Forum on India-Pacific Island Cooperation (FIPIC). In those years, the Indian PM met with 14 South Pacific leaders in Fiji and hosted them all in Jaipur. It will be an opportunity to showcase India’s development and assistance programmes, as have been evident in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and present Indian proposals for solutions to certain common challenges afflicting the Global South. Meanwhile, Biden’s visit will surprisingly be the first ever by a sitting US president to a South Pacific country that is not a US territory, and marks a long overdue focus by Washington on an important region.

Finally, this month will witness the Quad summit in Australia, the third in-person meeting of the group’s leaders. There are a few international groupings that the US president attends on an annual basis: The G7, G20, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, East Asia Summit, and United Nations climate conferences. Quad is the newest addition to this shortlist.

When it was first elevated to a presidential-level meeting in 2021, Quad set up three working groups, but its activities have now proliferated to over 25 initiatives. Some have already demonstrated outcomes, such as the Quad fellowships, while others represent close cooperation, as on maritime issues, cybersecurity, and international lending and certain working groups are still very tentative. On other issues, such as supply chains and critical technologies, Quad is proving a mechanism to advance bilateral efforts between members (such as the national security advisor-led technology dialogue, iCET, involving the US and India) or bring in a larger set of countries, as on the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and on maritime domain awareness (IP-MDA). These and other efforts will see some progress in time for the summit in Sydney.

Taken together, this month’s summitry in the Indo-Pacific highlights some major stirrings to the international order. Many established international commentators might struggle to appreciate these trends. But new kinds of economic relationships, new theatres and forms of geopolitical competition, and new mechanisms for addressing these challenges are taking shape in plain sight.

Dhruva Jaishankar is executive director, ORF AmericaThe views expressed are personal.

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