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G20 Presidency: Only a matter of Status?

by Anshu Kumar - 20 December, 2022, 12:00 241 Views 0 Comment

Introduction
Emerging in 1999 as a bulwark against the then financial crisis, the G20 group has now emerged as a ‘solution provider’ to multiple crises that mankind faces today— climate, trade, agriculture, health, corruption and others.[1]

Drawing inspiration from India’s ancient text— the Maha Upanishad— India set the theme for the G20 2023 as “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” representing ‘One Earth, One Family and One Future’.[2]  India is ardent to promote the issues of climate change, technological transformation, sustainability, multilateralism, and energy transition.[3]

A Realist Perception
The vantage point of Realists brings us to see India naked in an Arctic cold. Rajesh Rajagopalan, a professor of International Politics, affirms that India’s position rests on unlocking new levels in the game of international stature rather than getting substantial material gains in the realm of self-help.[4] He further adds, “the pursuit of status […] is a luxury that only those states that are sufficiently secure should pursue”[5].
The claims made cannot be annulled completely. India cannot show the identity card of ‘the G20 presidency’ to enter the secure fortress of order and tranquillity if China launches a massive attack in the near future. However, there is more to look at from other facets of this G20 presidency. There is a need to de-hyphenate the G20 presidency from the crude security threats that India faces.

Seeking legitimacy in international society

A significant portion of the United States’ image as a global power in the world was complemented by the ‘impeccable’ nature of America’s soft power. The ideals of liberalism, a free society, a free market, open discourse and a prosperous economy lured West European nations during the Cold war.
The U.S.A.’s soft power overwhelmed almost every significant international organisation. On the other hand, despite a huge military, the USSR could not spellbind people with its communist ideology.

However, the U.S.A. was using its economic and military might to augment its juggernaut of soft power warfare—providing a military umbrella, reconstruction & development aids, food

[1] “About G20”. https://www.g20.org/en/about-g20/#overview. Accessed on 11th December 2022.

[2] “Logo & Theme”. https://www.g20.org/en/g20-india-2023/logo-theme/. Accessed on 11th December 2022.

[3] Sreenivasan, T.P. “The G-20 can be the UN Security Council alternative”. The Hindu, Editorial, 10 December 2022.

[4] Rajagopalan, Rajesh. “G20 only brings status. India should focus on security instead, keep eye on China”. ThePrint, 28 November 2022, https://theprint.in/opinion/g20-leadership-only-brings-status-india-should-focus-on-security-instead-keep-eye-on-china/1238270/.

[5] Ibid.

aid, or other incentives. Lagging by more than half[1], in terms of economy, vis-à-vis the US and with a totalitarian ideology, the USSR could not take hold of its façade in Europe or elsewhere in the world. Eventually, the US emerged as a ‘legitimate’ global superpower with a coherent neoliberal ideology and economic prowess to set the discourse of the international arena.

China is no more behind in this game of discourse setting and earning the image of a ‘legitimate global power’. China, accounting for approximately seventy per cent of the US economy[2], has emerged as the largest lender of loans (as of 2017) even outmatching the World Bank and the IMF[3].

China’s vaccine diplomacy[4] by providing vaccines, medical kits and other covid paraphernalia (however defective medical kits and vaccines be), Belt and Road Initiative and opening the Confucius institutes in various countries is a soft power game played by China. Nevertheless, the soft power crusade of China is braced by its elephantine economy. The silence of the OIC on the Uyghur genocide[5] is merely a single example of how powerful China’s economic clout is.

India’s quandary
The Lowy Institute of Australia ranked India 6th and China 1st among Asian powers when it comes to diplomatic influence. Moreover, India and China are ranked fourth and second place, respectively, in terms of cultural influence.[6]

India seems to be perplexed when it comes to a coherent strategy of soft power warfare. Albeit the magic of Yoga has been accepted globally, the dream of becoming a ‘Vishwaguru’ and a lack of a substantial and detailed framework go ill together.

India’s G20 Sherpa, Amitabh Kant, stressed the need to work on various challenges “together through hope, harmony and healing and our first concern should be towards […] the Global South”.[7] A diplomatic view could be that India is cloaking itself in a veil of idealism and lofty words to duck the pressure of the Ukraine crisis. However, lip service and ‘idealistic’ promotion of the interests of the Global South are hurting the possibility of furthering a

[1] Rajagopalan, Rajesh. “China’s military power is catching up with its economic might. New era is indeed one of war”. ThePrint, 5 December 2022, https://theprint.in/opinion/chinas-military-power-is-catching-up-with-its-economic-might-new-era-is-indeed-one-of-war/1248889/.

[2] Rajagopalan, R. “China’s militray power is catching up with its economic might”.

[3] Horn, Sebastian, et al. “China’s overseas lending”. Journal of International Economics, Volume 133, November 2021, 103539, ISSN 0022-1996, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jinteco.2021.103539.

[4] Lee, Seow Ting. “Vaccine diplomacy: nation branding and China’s COVID-19 soft power play.” Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, 1–15. 6 Jul. 2021, https://doi.org/10.1057/s41254-021-00224-4.

[5] Mishra, Abhinandan. “OIC hypocrisy comes to fore amid Uyghur genocide”. TSG Sunday Guardian Live, 11 June 2022, https://www.sundayguardianlive.com/world/oic-hypocrisy-comes-fore-amid-uyghur-genocide.

[6] Bajpai, Kanti. “Why does China consistently beat India on soft power?”. The Indian Express, 23 June 2021, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/why-does-china-consistently-beat-india-on-soft-power-7371094/.

[7] Magazine, Aanchal. “G20 Sherpa meet: A Presidency with a show of culture and clear-cut agenda”. The Indian Express, 11 November 2022.

coherent soft power enterprise and unambiguous foreign policy goals.

While Xi Jinping is busy promoting China’s ‘goodwill’ in the middle east, India cannot afford to lose the opportunity to portray herself as a ‘legitimate power’ in the region by going back to ‘Nehruvian idealism’[1]. ‘Good will’ leads to trust and reliability and trust leads to the convergence of interests, followed by the inflow of economic wherewithals.

India needs to have a clear-cut framework for pushing the weight of its ‘impeccable’ soft power across the region and elsewhere. It needs to look at the unfathomable treasure of its culture and Vedic wisdom buried in its backyard.

Final Words
Though calling G20 an alternative to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC)[2] would be an exaggeration, the question is: Can India use its G20 presidency to further its soft power? Can India raise the issue of grave dangers posed by terrorism breeding in her neighbourhood? Can India hold China responsible for consistently blocking the attempt to blacklist ‘high-demand’ terrorists in the UNSC?

If the US and its allies can raise the Ukraine issue in the QUAD (a clique formed especially for security concerns in the Indo-Pacific) under India’s nose and if the West can pressurise India to discuss the Ukraine crisis even in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), why India is sitting back, in various clubs and groupings, to further its interests with a force?

However, a caveat is that to augment her interests in various forums, India needs substantial economic and military fuel. There is a need to have a benchmark to gauge the real progress of various issues, raised in the groupings, on the ground.

Many presidencies await India in the future, but the real need is a substantial framework to secure the foreign policy goals without going rudderless in this vast ocean of idealism and diplomacy.

[1] Rajagopalan, Rajesh. “Nehru’s 1962 mistake was that he didn’t understand force-diplomacy relationship”. ThePrint, 7 November 2022, https://theprint.in/opinion/nehrus-1962-mistake-was-that-he-didnt-understand-force-diplomacy-relationship/1201219/.

[2] Sreenivasan, T.P. “The G-20 can be the UN Security Council alternative”.

Anshu Kumar
Author is a student at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is currently pursuing his Master of Arts in Politics with a Specialisation in International Studies. His interest areas lie in Indian foreign policy, Realism, strategic studies, Indo-Pacific, the rise of China in geopolitics, India’s relations with great powers, and geoeconomics.
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