It need not have been all that much of a surprise when the Delhi Declaration put forward by India, and which embodied the concept of a world of common humanity and shared responsibility, was adopted even by China and Russia, writes Prof. Madhav Das Nalapat
Most international observers had thought that a consensus on the Delhi Declaration would elude the G20 Summit. While they appreciated the spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam that is at the core of the Modi Presidency, they did not believe it would succeed in sealing the cracks in the global comity of nations caused by geopolitical tensions. The absence of CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping was reinforcing such a view. It was a surprise when instead, the Delhi Declaration put forward by India, and which embodied the concept of a world of a common humanity and a shared responsibility, was adopted even by China and Russia.
It need not have been that much of a surprise. It was clear that from the time he became President of the G20, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wanted to raise the global trajectory of the group as well as concentrate the attention of its members on (i) problems and solutions related to the Global South, (ii) emphasis on women-led development, (iii) energize efforts at combating the deepening of the climate crisis and (iv) give Africa its due as a full member of the G20. And so it was throughout the eventful year of crises that is 2023.
The effort by India has been to prevent the sidetracking of pressing global issues by steering away from making the 2023 Summit yet another round of verbal pyrotechnics relating to the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war. PM Modi’s intention was to ensure that a united front, to the extent geopolitical fault lines permitted, got presented against the twin challenges of development of the Global South and reversing the impact of climate change. In such a task, it was seen as helpful were an equitable Black Sea grain export deal that meets the foodgrain export requirements of both Ukraine as well as Russia get agreed upon.
Such a breakthrough would help significantly in reducing prices of food items, which are presently at a level that is causing distress to hundreds of millions located in the poorest parts of the world. Given the success of India in ensuring a consensus within the G20 on the Delhi Declaration, there is in the consensus a good augury that may indicate the possibility of first securing a Ukraine-Russia grain deal and perhaps later, even ending the Russia-Ukraine war.
THE CHINA PROBLEM
An issue of concern is the onerous debt burden imposed on several countries in the Global South , as a consequence of the interest-bearing loans as well as the use of mostly Chinese personnel in overseas projects of the PRC. It remains an anomaly that the PRC continues to grab the bulk of contracts given out for numerous projects by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
Neither institution appears to have the faintest desire to ensure that production units in countries other than China, especially those located in the Global South, be nurtured and encouraged so as to ensure future growth and therefore stability in such countries.
A desirable step in mitigating the impact of the debt crisis would be the mandating of a long moratorium on loan repayments by the countries with low per capita incomes, followed by payments spread over the next 25 years in the currencies of the countries concerned. Such a move is particularly needed in the case of Belt & Road projects, all of which are designated for repayment purposes not in RMB yuan but in US dollars, despite each such project originating in China and carried out almost entirely by PRC citizens.
While US President Joe Biden travelled all the way to Delhi in his first visit to India, CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping chose to skip a summit that revolves around women-centric development, the inclusion of the African Union in the G20, the concerns of the Global South, and the need for more effective steps by the major powers to ensure a rollback of global warming. His absence is a telling reflection of his lack of concern for such outcomes.
However, this time the PRC did not prevent a consensus. From the time of the replacement of Foreign Minister Qin Gang (who was a Xi loyalist) with Wang Yi (a CCP loyalist), it would appear that the higher rungs of the party that runs the PRC have re-asserted elements of the collective leadership that had been in place after the demise of Chairman Mao in 1976 but which was ended by Xi by 2015. Such a shift in authority from a single leader to a collective could explain the success of the 2023 G20 Summit in forming a consensus on the Delhi Declaration, a coming together that was absent in previous high-level meetings of the G20 during the year, when Xi had unfettered authority.
The emphasis on Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and the need for unity of the international community in the face of adverse circumstances that has been the mantra of Prime Minister Modi, and this seems to have worked in persuading China not to oppose but to go along with the consensus on the Delhi Declaration. Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, in going along with the consensus, acted in a manner befitting the strong ties that have endured for over six decades between Moscow and Delhi, in contrast to those between Beijing and Moscow for many long years.
The flame of Indo-Russian friendship has been kept burning by Prime Minister Narendra Modi even during 2022-23, despite intense efforts by the UK and Germany in particular to get India to accept the premise that a European crisis is much more important to the international community than a multiplicity of worse crises in less privileged parts of the world. Given that India is the largest country in the Global South and is the champion of that collective, such efforts have been diplomatically countered by pointing out that this is the era of the Indo-Pacific and no longer that of the Atlantic.
Or that the major theatre of the contest between authoritarianism and democracy is no longer Europe but Asia. Or that it is not post-USSR Russia that is the biggest challenge to a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific and to the victory of democracy over authoritarianism, but another country, this one located not in Europe but in East Asia.
The first engagement of US President Joe Biden on touchdown in Delhi on 8 September was a dinner meeting with Prime Minister Modi at the latter’s official residence. The dinner between the Heads of Government of the two biggest democracies illustrates the fact that the two have finally come together not just at the Business to Business or People to People level, but at the Government to Government level. Whether it be in advanced technology or in defence production, a pairing of US and Indian platforms and capabilities would ensure where markets are concerned that alternative options presented by the Sino-Russian alliance are higher in cost and lower in quality.
Given the bottlenecks that have ensued over the past year in the supply of critical defence equipment from the Russian Federation, even hardened “Lutyens Lok” have finally understood that in matters of critical defence-related equipment (as distinct from natural resources such as oil), geopolitical shifts mandate a moving away from Russia to countries that are close security partners of India, such as the members of the Quad. During the past decade, the multiple blocks on technology cooperation between Indian and US entities that had been a staple since the 1970s have given way to the welcome realisation in Washington that the two largest democracies have much the same security interests, and hence require government-imposed blocks to greater cooperation removed rather than reinforced.
This is a necessity that has been clear to Prime Minister Modi since the inception of the government led by him in 2014. Such an approach has now been accepted by the Biden White House as well, which has been far more willing to go the extra mile for better relations with India than President Barack Obama was, despite the honeyed phrases that Obama would toss around like confetti.
INDIA-EUROPE TIES STRENGTHEN
Although the UK and Germany in particular appeared to be obsessed with Ukraine to the detriment of matters of far greater concern to countries located in the Indo-Pacific, Rishi Sunak and Olaf Scholz did not sacrifice public goodwill in India by concentrating their efforts less towards the themes of the Summit than on efforts to get New Delhi to accept their own Euro-centric view of world events. The UK in particular seems to have become a victim of buyer’s remorse since leaving the EU, and is acting more European post-Brexit than most of the members of the EU where prioritisation of global issues is concerned.
Prime Minister Sunak needs to focus more on Global Britain rather than just on European Britain. He needs to take forward the opportunity for much closer India-UK ties that had begun to bloom under Prime Minister David Cameron, but wilted under Prime Minister Theresa May. As for France, that country has been a reliable friend of India since the Presidentship of Jacques Chirac, and Macron is continuing in that tradition, although an over-reliance on defence equipment in the relationship (as had long been was the case with Russia) needs to be avoided. There needs to be much more to France than the production of weapons platforms where India is concerned.
FRIENDS COME CALLING
A welcome participant in the G20 deliberations is Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who has been the first Al Saud to walk away from Wahhabism towards the moderate ethos that is needed for progress in the 21st century. India under Prime Minister Modi wisely refused to join the western chorus against MBS, a cacophony secretly welcomed by China and openly by the Wahhabi International, the latter seeing his efforts at modernisation of the Kingdom as an existential threat.
Other guests include President Al Sisi of Egypt and President Widodo of Indonesia, two time-tested friends of India. Just as with South Africa, a breakthrough is taking place with respect to relations with Nigeria, especially in the context of India successfully persuading the other G20 members to admit the African Union into the group in the manner that the European Union has been from the start.
FOCUS ON GLOBAL SOUTH
The time may have come in a world where fault lines are widening for the consensus approach to be sometimes replaced by coalitions of the willing. In case there are such holdouts, those opposed to a particular outcome should not hold to ransom those in support of such outcomes from making their stand clear. In the same way, at the UNGA and UNSC, those in favour of India being a Permanent Member of the latter need to insist on a vote, so that those opposed to such a necessary change expose themselves to the world. The UNSC remains diminished in value until the world’s most populous country becomes part of its Permanent Membership. The chances are rising that such a UN vote (and hopefully a consensus on the entry of India) would be held during the next five years.
The 2023 G20 Summit is an indicator of the actual degree of interest and concern on the part of the leadership of different countries, particularly in matters relating to the welfare of the planet and the needs of the Global South. Transparency is the watchword of the Digital Age that is dawning upon the world at speed, in no place faster than in India.
The 2023 Summit is dedicated to women-centric development, the welfare of the Global South and the planet, and due respect being given to the great continent of Africa. Any leader who missed coming to it diminished not the Summit but his own standing. There is a Chinese saying that it is best to look afar from the high mountains, and this is what the Modi Presidency of the G20 has done. It has looked at the world from the perspective of humanity as an entirety, and in the process, has during the Summit managed to unite a fractured global order in support of many of the tasks that need to be done in order to ensure a better future for coming generations.