Today, on September 9, the Group of 20 (G20), a forum of major world economies, convened in New Delhi for their annual Leaders’ Summit. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who currently holds the G20 presidency and hosts the event, has strategically utilized the pre-summit activities to not only promote India’s global standing but also enhance his domestic influence.
Moreover, Prime Minister Modi views the G20 presidency as an opportunity to demonstrate India’s role as a bridge between countries in the Global South and the Western world. Consequently, the summit marks the culmination of India’s chairmanship over the past year.
To gain a better understanding of the G20, the significance of this year’s summit, and what we can anticipate in New Delhi, let’s delve deeper into these questions.
In 1999, the G20 came into existence as a response to the Asian Financial Crisis. This crisis prompted the Group of Seven (G7), which was already established, to initiate discussions with other significant economic powers to collectively tackle global economic issues. Initially, the group had 22 members in 1997, temporarily expanded to 33 in early 1999, and eventually settled into its current composition of 19 countries and the European Union in September of the same year. Today, these member nations collectively represent approximately 80 percent of the world’s economic output.
Amid the 2008 financial crisis, the G20 took on a pivotal role by fostering essential collaboration among the central banks and finance ministers of its member nations. Since that time, the G20 has encountered challenges in achieving overarching policy goals like trade liberalization, but it has demonstrated greater effectiveness in enacting smaller-scale changes, such as fortifying domestic financial systems and combating the financing of terrorism.
The G20 has been notably intriguing this year. Firstly, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has executed an exceptionally effective year-long marketing campaign for India’s G20 presidency. Instead of treating the customary and often uneventful rotating presidency as routine, Modi and his political party, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have utilized this position to highlight India’s emergence as a global power under Modi’s leadership.
They orchestrated over 200 meetings across 56 cities, adorned the nation with posters featuring the G20 alongside large portraits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and launched widespread educational initiatives about India’s presidency, including essay competitions and courses offering G20-related certificates in schools. A U.S. official recently remarked that he wished the United States had taken the initiative to generate such enthusiasm during its tenure as chair.
India has had longstanding connections with developing nations and has more recently been actively bolstering its partnerships with Western nations like France, Australia, and the United States. As a result, India has utilized the G20 as a platform to assert itself as a representative voice for the Global South, capable of serving as a bridge to convey the needs of developing countries to Western leaders.
Consequently, the G20 agenda has been influenced by issues that are of particular interest to emerging economies. These agenda items encompass topics related to development, such as climate financing, food security, and reforms within multilateral development banks, to significantly increase sustainable lending to benefit poorer developing nations. Furthermore, India, with apparent support from Germany, is proposing to grant full G20 membership to all 55 African Union states.
The level of success for the ongoing summit remains uncertain. Will there be consensus on the issues that India has been advocating for, such as enhancing global trade by strengthening and mapping supply chains, advancing the green development pact that encompasses climate finance, accessible digital public infrastructure, and the expansion of renewable energy sources, as well as improving sustainable agriculture and food security?
The G20 faces a significant challenge, further complicated by the conflict in Ukraine. Russia’s recent suspension of its involvement in the Black Sea Grain Initiative has heightened concerns about food security and raised anxieties among developing countries within the G20. During the G20 finance ministers’ summit earlier this year, paragraphs were proposed, acknowledging that the Ukraine conflict was leading to “significant human suffering” and “aggravating existing vulnerabilities in the global economy.” However, China and Russia opposed these paragraphs, resulting in a lack of consensus, and only a Chair’s summary of the meeting was ultimately issued.
It is becoming increasingly doubtful that India will be able to diplomatically persuade G20 members to reach a consensus or issue a joint statement during the summit. Russian President Vladimir Putin has already informed Prime Minister Modi that he will not attend the summit due to Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attending in his place. Prime Minister Modi is not expected to take a vocal stance on the war. India continues to import affordable Russian oil and coal and relies on Russian military equipment. Furthermore, India is concerned about the growing alliance between China and Russia. Therefore, India is aiming to avoid using the term “war” when referring to the conflict in any official G20 declaration.
In the meantime, France has openly stated that it will not endorse any joint statement unless it strongly condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine like the 2022 Bali statement. The United States is keenly observing India’s stance, hoping to see signs that India will not treat its relationship with Russia as business as usual. President Biden still intends to participate in the summit, and considering that his administration made efforts to publicly honor Prime Minister Modi during his visit to Washington this summer, there is an expectation of some reciprocal gestures from India.
Adding further complexity, China has conveyed that President Xi Jinping, a regular participant in G20 events, will not be in attendance at this year’s summit. Instead, Chinese Premier Li Qiang will represent the country. Initially, there was anticipation of a diplomatic engagement between Modi and Xi during the summit. They had a brief encounter on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit in August, which sparked hopes that, given the necessity to ease tensions related to their ongoing border dispute, they would have another one-on-one meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit.
Therefore, the G20 Leaders’ Summit presents both a challenge and a chance for India. India must adeptly manage its current alliances to foster cooperation and some level of agreement on a diplomatic and developmental agenda that reflects India’s stated role as a mediator between the Global North and the Global South.
If Prime Minister Modi can successfully achieve this, it will undoubtedly solidify India’s proclaimed position. However, if not, India’s assertions may lack credibility in the future. It’s worth noting that reaching a consensus is typically easier when there are no crises, and achieving it during times of conflict demands skillful leadership.