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The Delhi G-20 Summit: A Critical Analysis

by Amb JK Tripathi - 28 October, 2023, 12:00 543 Views 0 Comment

Amidst a lot of doubt and speculations, before it began, the 18th G-20 Summit under the Indian presidency finally concluded successfully on 10 September when Prime Minister Modi formally handed the symbolic gavel to Louis Ignacio Lula da Silva, the President of Brazil who assumed the presidency of G-20 for next one year.

Right since the beginning of India’s tenure as its president after the last Summit held in Bali last year, early signs revealed that it was going to be tough for India to sail through the year as the Group’s conference of foreign ministers failed to issue a joint communique because the “divergences that could not be reconciled” according to Dr. S. Jaishankar, the Indian Minister of External Affairs. This failure to adopt a consensus document was due to the firm adherence of their stand by the two warring sides of the Ukraine crisis.

But India very cleverly started its tenure by focussing on the roadblocks faced in the development of the Global South instead of prioritising the issue of the ongoing crisis in Europe. We began our tenure by organising the virtual meeting “The Voice of Global South” to highlight the problems being faced by the developing and under-developed nations. Adopting a different approach, more than 200 meetings of various working groups under the three verticals were organised in over 60 cities which included economists, technocrats, government officials, academicians, youth, entrepreneurs etc. Under the “Jan Bhaagidari” (public participation) concept to propagate the theme of “Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam” (One Family, One Earth, One Nature). Though this step created a big hype and raised expectations from India’s tenure, the invariable mention of the Ukraine crisis despite the G-20’s mandate is to address economic issues still made our job hard. It was really a Herculean task for any president of G-20 to navigate through the troubled political waters infested with deep mutual distrust, the return of the cold war, indiscreet exploitation of natural resources of African countries resulting in their economic disparity and the widening North-South divide. Till a week before the summit, experts were not sure if a joint declaration could at all be issued, the absence of which meant the failure of the Summit itself. However, persistent negotiations by the Indian team paid off and the Summit ended with a consensus “Leaders’ Final Declaration” emerging on the very first day of the event.

Now that the Summit is over, one can analyse its achievements failures, challenges and the future course of direction. The most prominent of the achievements was the “Declaration” itself as mentioned above. The political crisis in Europe, the resultant shortages of energy and food as its bi-product, climate change and inconsistency of the global supply chain had made the task of any host, particularly India with its non-biased stance, more challenging. But, by pursuing both sides to omit some phrases objectionable to them, we were able to satisfy both sides. Besides the declaration, which has enhanced India’s image as an emerging global power and an astute negotiator, India was able to project itself as a country with a diverse culture, rich heritage, a variety of crafts and cuisine and a giant in digital payment infrastructure. India’s soft power was, thus, an eye-opener for more than 1,000 foreign delegates who attended various working group meetings.

Another notable achievement of the Summit was its democratisation. With the inclusion of the African Union into the G-20 at the initiative of India, African countries will have another, and perhaps more powerful, platform to raise their concerns with the developed Global North. Though it doesn’t mean that their concerns will always be addressed, their voice will certainly be heard more seriously. This is a big step towards working for an equitable society that we strive for.

Some more indirect achievements of the Summit of particular interest to India are the agreement to establish IMEC (India-Middle East-Europe Corridor) which will connect India to the Atlantic and beyond to USA by a multi-modal corridor passing through UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel etc…. While this will save time and cost for the concerned countries, politically it will bring Saudi Arabia closer to Israel thus writing new political equations. India is likely to emerge as a transport hub between the East and the West when the BIMSTEC infrastructure is fully developed. Strategically speaking, it will cause great discomfiture to Chinese BRI, currently suffering from a slowdown.

The second achievement on the sidelines of the Summit was the announcement of the establishment of the Global Biofuel Alliance, founded by Brazil, India and the USA which has already received keen interest from many countries. The project, aimed to substantially augment the use of ethanol in hybrid auto engines and develop the related technology, may again prove to be a game changer. According to the Ministry of External Affairs, the Alliance intends to expedite the global uptake of biofuels by facilitating technology advancements, intensifying the utilization of sustainable biofuels, and shaping robust standard setting and certification through the participation of a wide spectrum of stakeholders.

Besides these achievements, there have been a few drawbacks. Though the mandate of G-20 is strictly economic, the Ukraine crisis found its mention in almost every working group meeting irrespective of its core subject, be it women empowerment, corruption, energy, start-ups or sustainable development goals. The only loser in the Summit was Ukraine which could not get any substantial assurance despite the promises made by some NATO members to vehemently take up its cause in the Summit. Another issue was the long-standing commitment of the developed nations to raise US$ 100 billion to help developing world access to green technology-which still remains unfulfilled.

The Delhi Summit has amply depicted that the biggest challenge G-20 has is to find a permanent solution to the on-going conflict between Russia and the NATO-backed Ukraine. The Delhi Summit has been able to convince the parties for the consensus declaration but it is only a stop-gap arrangement as the end of the war is still not in sight and resultantly the chasm between the two blocks is widening to an irreparable stage. Another challenge before the G-20 is to make the developing countries fulfil their promise for the clean energy fund. In the quagmire of Cold War 2.0, the SDGs and restructuring of global financial order, important objectives of G-20, have taken a backseat. This needs to be rectified before it is too late for mankind.

Another challenge that G-20 might face in future is the manageability in view of its growing size. It has been observed that very often; the organisations with bigger membership tend to become unmanageable due to their sheer size as it becomes difficult to obtain a consensus. In future, more countries are likely to join the G-20. The rules of the game for the group, therefore, will have to be changed from consensus to majority.

All said and done, the Delhi summit of G-20 in general, and India in particular, have a reason to celebrate but, as Robert Frost’s poem suggests, “Miles to go before I sleep”.

Amb JK Tripathi
Author is a career diplomat with 33 years of experience, Amb. J. K. Tripathi frequently appears on various TV channels for discussions on International relations and Foreign policy of India. He regularly writes on these issues in various periodicals and online portals. Besides English and Hindi, he has knowledge of Urdu and Spanish also.
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