Sunday should have formally brought the curtains down on the Indian presidency of Group of 20 (G20 — most powerful countries in the world in economic terms).
In a way it did, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi handed over the president’s gavel to Brazil’s president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the incoming chair of G20, with a smile radiating satisfaction and content.
But the Indian prime minister has a penchant for springing surprises, doing the unexpected. And true to form, he did just that on Sunday — proposing a second summit, albeit virtual, before the official end of India’s G20 presidency on 30 November, 2023.
In his closing statement on Sunday, Modi said he extended full support to Brazil’s G20 presidency. And then added: “As you all know, India’s G20 presidency ends in November; there is still two and a half months to go. In these two days, there have been many issues raised, suggestions made and proposals put forth. It is our responsibility that we examine the suggestions to speed up their implementation."
“I therefore propose that we hold a virtual session of the G20 at the end of November,” Modi said.
The Indian G20 presidency will therefore be unique — for holding two summits. In the recent past, Saudi Arabia, who held the G20 presidency in 2020, also had two summits. Both were virtual with the first held in March 2020 (against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic to discuss emergency economic measures) and the second customary one in November.
The New Delhi G20 Summit could also be remembered for the issuance of the New Delhi declaration or the joint statement on Day 1 and not at the conclusion of the summit as is customary. That was because negotiators struggled with the communique — to reconcile positions of Western countries who were seeking strong language on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine on one hand, and those of Moscow and Beijing on the other.
Russia and China were bitterly opposed to any reference to the Ukraine conflict, pointing out that the G20 was an economic forum and not a political one. The divergent positions were reconciled after diplomats burnt the midnight oil overnight Saturday. And the joint statement was put out on Saturday itself so that there were no second thoughts over it later, to hold up the release.
In the end, apparently all sides were happy with the contentious Ukraine conflict paragraphs.
The section was titled: “For the planet, peace and prosperity” and recognized the consequences of wars and conflicts on the world. It then referred to each G20 country standing by its national position and backing the UN resolutions on the war. The declaration stated that while abiding by the UN charter, “all states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state” — certainly a more generic statement than one contained in the 2022 Bali G20 Summit joint statement.
The Indian 20 joint statement referred to the unacceptability of the threat or use of nuclear weapons — which was a reference to Russian threats to use nuclear weapons. It also spoke of the impact of the war on “global food and energy security, supply chains, macro-financial stability, inflation and growth”, though there is no responsibility attributed to any country for this. It referred to difficulties for the policy environment of countries, “especially developing and least developed countries which are still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic disruption which has derailed progress towards the SDGs.”
The joint statement went on to demand the full implementation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative — that Russia has walked out of. It also expressed concern over the impact of the war on civilian security and for having an adverse impact on “an effective humanitarian response”.
It also endorsed “the peaceful resolution of conflicts,” and described the “efforts to address crises as well as diplomacy and dialogue” as “critical”. Given the accommodation on all sides, is there perhaps an opening for diplomacy to end the conflict?
Perhaps in hindsight, it was prudent of Russian President Vladimir Putin to absent himself from the New Delhi summit. One wonders if the consensus reached over the joint statement in his absence could have been as easily achieved if he was present. For Chinese President Xi Jinping too — who did not attend the New Delhi G20 summit — the situation could have been awkward. Certainly the announcement of a India-Middle East-Europe Corridor with the leaders of the US, France, Germany, Japan, European Union and hosts India — leaving out China — on the sidelines of the G20 Summit on Saturday, would have been embarrassing for Xi.
As for hosts India, there were plenty of takeaways in the joint text to boast about. As president of the G20 in 2023, India had set six priorities — namely accelerated and inclusive growth, climate finance, digital public infrastructure, reform of multilateral development institutions for the 21st century, women led development and accelerating progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. And on each of these, there were far reaching agreements, fulfilling Modi’s promise in Bali last year that India’s G20 presidency was “inclusive, ambitious, decisive and action-oriented.”
That there was unanimous agreement to admit the African Union as a member of the G20 can also be seen as a win for India, which had named itself the “voice” of the Global South.
But the most satisfying for India must have surely been the moment when as chair of the G20, Prime Minister Modi was able to announce a consensus New Delhi declaration, showcasing India’s skills at multilateral diplomacy — being able to unite the Global North and Global South on one hand and the fractious West and East on the other.
No wonder, no one seemed to mind that US President Joe Biden (and his delegation) on Sunday gave the third and final G20 session a miss and flew out to Vietnam before the summit officially closed.
Elizabeth Roche is a professor of International Relations at the O.P Jindal Global University, India. The views expressed are her own.
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