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Home > 2023 > Dissecting the New Delhi G20 Summit | P. S. Jayaramu

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 38 September 16, 2023

Dissecting the New Delhi G20 Summit | P. S. Jayaramu

Saturday 16 September 2023


12th September, 2023

The much talked about G20 summit was over recently. The media, specially the electronic media contributed consciously to the hype about the summit, some even using phrases like ‘Modiplocy’. From the time India took up the Presidency of the group last year at the Bali summit, the Indian leadership took its job seriously. It is a record of sorts that over 200 meetings on a diverse range of issues and fields took place in different parts of the country, before the sherpas took up the contentious issues for animated discussions before producing the consensus document, which has come to be called the New Delhi Declaration, much to the consternation among many observers whether a consensus declaration would be announced at all. It goes to the credit of Prime Minister Modi and Foreign Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and the painstaking efforts of the sherpas and the South Block officials that the New Delhi Declaration was possible. Before getting down to the task of disecting the declaration, it may be pertinent to take a brief look at the road traversed by the G20 over the years.

A brief history of G20:

The unique group comprising of developed and developing nations was started in 1999 as a response to the world economic crisis . The group met at the level of Fiinance Ministers and Governors of Central Banks since 2008. The special feature of the deliberative body was to invite international and intergovernmental organisations to attend the summits , some even permanently. In 2009, the Group declared itself as the primary forum for international economic and financial cooperation. Gradually, the Group took up key issues relating to development. So much so, in 2016, the G20 expressed its commitment to the 2030 UN agenda of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cantered around the three themes of promotion of sustainable and balanced growth, protection of the planet from degradation and furthering cooperation with low-income and developing countries. Over the years, the members agreed on a plan of action and issued the ‘document of principles’ for the member countries to help realise the UN agenda. The 2019 summit was hosted by Japan, that of 2020 convened virtually by Saudi Arabia due to the Covid 19 pandemic. The 2021summit was held in Rome and the previous 2022 summit was organised by Indonesia in Bali, under the shadow of the war in Ukraine. The baton was handed over to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Bali where he made the often quoted statement ‘ this is not the age of war’. Modi also expressed his hope that the G20 would take upon itself the task of promoting human-centric development which would align with the concerns and aspirations of the Global South, including addressing issues relating to climate change, climate finance, debt restructuring of the poorer nations through the Common Framework for debt. The 2022 summit saw a determined United States and Europe strongly criticising Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Following the rotational principle, the task of hosting the 2023 summit fell on New Delhi. So much in brief about the history of G20.

The New Delhi Summit :

During his inaugural address to the G20 summit, Prime Minister Modi talked eliquentky about the theme of ‘One Eartearth, One Family, One Earth’ by referring to the ancient Indian belief in ‘Vasudaiva Kutumbakam’. He expressed his concern over the ‘global trust deficit’ and said “this is a time for all of us to walk together on issues relating to the turbulent global economy, the North-South divide, the distance between East and West and collectively work with a ‘human-centric approach to find solutions to major issues like terrorism, food and energy crisis,health, water and cyber security, not just for the present it also for future generations.” Carrying forward India’s desire of making the African Union a permanent member of the Group, he announced the decision to that effect in his inaugural address itself and invited the Chairperson of tbe AU to join the other leaders at the high table. By doing so, Modi in a way carried forward the historic Indian goal of bringing Africa to the mainstream of the international community, an objective cherished and put forward by India from the days of the Bandung conference. As this far only South Africa was a member of the G20, bringing in AU into the G20 marked a symbol of inclusion, aimed at strengthening the voice of the Global South in dealing with the developed North. G20 would hence forth be G21. Modi’s references to the Global South is also a continuity of the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s pioneering role in getting the New International Economic Order resounion passed at the UNGeneral Assembly in 1974 and her vigorous pursuit of North-South dialogue and the initiation of South-South dialogue to overcome the inequities within the South. The dialogues faced tough challenges with the onset of Liberalisation Privatisation and Globalisation (LPG )

Scrutinising the New Delhi Declaration:

On Ukraine :

The most significant part of the Delhi Declaration was the consensus on the Ukrainian issue. By not referring to Russia by name, which was a concession to Russia, for which the Russian leadership praised the joint communique, the Declaration referred to the need for all countries to “abide by the UN charter and refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state”. A generic statement indeed, though the communique took note of the negative impact of the war on the economy of countries as well as food and energy security. The Declaration also referred to the Group’s opposition to the threat or use of nuclear weapons, (a reference to Russia). As revealed by Mr. Amitabh Kant, the chief negotiator from the Indian side, the wordings were finalised after hard negotiations only by the early morning of the first day of the summit with all nations agreeing to it. The western powers, specially the United States, which was keen on a reference to Russia were, as revealed by one of its spokespersons, guided by the overriding objective of making a success of the Delhi summit. The Chinese leadership too has reportedly expressed its happiness with the wording of the statement with reference to the Ukrainian issue. That Ukraine was not happy with the statement was revealed by the spokesperson of its foreign office who criptically said: there is nothing to be proud of! Reaching a consensus about the joint communique was in itself a big success to the persuasive skills of the Indian leadership and its diplomacy.

The other significant feature of the summit were the visible bonhomie among the leaders and the announcement by Prime Minister Modi about the creation of an International Biofuel Alliance and the proposed launching of of a G20 satellite mission for environment and climate observations. The Declaration also contains useful references to the need for enduring equitable growth, getting sustainable development goals (SDGs) back on track, enduring food security, battling the climate crisis while agreeing upon climate financing ratios with a larger share of responsibilities by the developed North, preparing for health emergencies, reforming multilateral development banks (MDBs), dealing with the debt crisis, spreading digital public infrastructure (DPIs), generating jobs, bridging the gender gap and giving a clear voice to the Global South in negotiations to bring about positive and equitable transformation within the G20 group and beyond. Declaratory statements apart, all these are ticklish issues which call for sincere cooperation by the member nations. The French President struck a realistic note when he said the climate deal arrived at in New Delhi was insufficient. If we add to this West’s refusal to admit its contribution to global pollution, the picture that emerges is not so very optimistic.

The New Delhi summit also announced tbe ambitious project of working for an India Middle East and European Economic Corridor to counter China. But, as pointed out by some leaders, this in principle decision needs to be backed up by the requisite financial allocations largely by the oil-rich countries and the European nations and not take to the easy route of approaching the World Bank for loans.

By way of conclusion, it can be asserted that while the G20 summit and the New Delhi Declaration that emerged are no doubt a significant milestone in the history of the Group, it takes sustained cooperation and concerted efforts by the developed and developing nations within the group to bring to fruition the lofty goals.

(Author: P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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