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G20 2023: India cements its position as ‘Voice of Global South’

Sean Young

The highly awaited Group of 20 summit, hosted in New Delhi from September 9th to September 10th, has been a resounding success. India has every reason to take pride in its accomplishments, especially when considering initial doubts about reaching a consensus on a joint communique, as some media reports indicate.

The G-20 comprises 19 countries and the European Union. The summit,  hosted in New Delhi this year, was met with not one crisis but a series of crises - ranging from the global economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ukraine war currently in its second year and geopolitical tensions within the Indo-Pacific region.

The two-day function was unsettled before it even began. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping did not attend the summit. According to media reports, even United States President Joe Biden was about to miss it after failing to turn up to the gala dinner. 

The Indian Prime Minister put his reputation on the line regarding this global showpiece event during such global turmoil. Since last year, when India assumed the G-20 presidency from Indonesia, banners have adorned the country, from airports to billboards, and advertisements have dominated media outlets, all centred around the G-20 summit. 

But what was G-20 2023 all about? In 2022, there was little to no consensus on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and there was just little to suggest that this would be different in 2023, with Putin and Xi choosing to skip the summit. Regardless, the war in Ukraine shows no signs of slowing down any time soon and is more likely to reach a stalemate. Even if there were no communique to be signed, the summit would have still been successful considering the larger goals of Indian foreign policy. 

However, the impossible was achieved. The leaders of the G-20 agreed on the Achilles Heel - the language surrounding the war in Ukraine. The communique read that all states 'must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition' along with highlighting the exasperation of supply chain disruption instigated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The leaders called for the upholding of international law. They stated that they: 'will unite in our endeavour to address the adverse impact of the war on the global economy and welcome all relevant and constructive initiatives that support a comprehensive, just, and durable peace in Ukraine that will uphold all the Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter.'

But Kyiv was not pleased with the text. In a tweet, a spokesman for the Ukrainian foreign ministry said that 'in terms of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, G20 has nothing to be proud of.' More significantly, the G20 statement regarding Ukraine did not mention Moscow as the perpetrator of this war. 

According to some experts, the language around the statement could be viewed in two ways. Milan Vaishnav, director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International, told Time Magazine that some experts may view this lukewarm statement towards Ukraine as Western fatigue. However, it could also be seen as the West giving India a 'win ', considering New Delhi is key for challenging China. G-20, leaders from India, the U.S., Saudi Arabia and the EU announced a multinational rail and port deal linking the Middle East and South Asia, which led Beijing to accuse Washington of being 'copycats'. According to Reuters, the U.S. President called it a "real big deal" as the network would bridge ports across two continents and lead to a "more stable, more prosperous and integrated Middle East."

On the communique itself, it called for reinvigorating multilateralism to implement the 2030 agenda. The communique also called for reforms for better, bigger and more effective Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) to address global challenges and maximise developmental impact, meaning international institutions must deliver significantly 'more financing to developing countries' to fight poverty and maximise global impact. 

India's foreign policy, ever since independence, has been one of non-alignment. Under the current government, New Delhi has renewed its focus on being the voice of the 'global south'; the 34-page document from this year's G-20 summit reflects just that.

The summit also successfully brought the African Union (AU) into the G-20. The AU will be part of future summits from Brazil next year. This is proof of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's mantra of 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas, and Sabka Prayas', meaning 'together with all, development for all and the trust of all' On the membership of the AU, the Indian Prime Minister said; 'It was in the spirit of Sabka Saath that India proposed permanent membership for the African Union in the G-20.'

The AU received much-deserved and long-overdue recognition at the summit. Suhasini Haidar of The Hindu argues this will tilt the balance away from the power-11 (G7, the EU,  Australia, South Korea and Russia) more toward the developing 10 (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, South Korea, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Turkey along with the African Union).

According to the Atlantic Council, India has led the summit to a brand of inclusive diplomacy, promoting the Digital Public Infrastructure plan and, more importantly, garnering consensus among wealthy nations over Ukraine. Furthermore, Xi's absence - which was supposed to discredit the G-20 as a forum for multilateral cooperation - cemented Modi as the leader of the global south. 

However, some failures cannot be ignored. First, the declaration avoided condemning Russia for the war in Ukraine despite indicating the wars human suffering and calling on all states not to use force to grab territory. Secondly, the summit should have produced concrete commitments to pressing climate change and debt issues. It mentions addressing debt vulnerabilities faced by poorer countries and reforming multilateral institutions but does not set definite goals or a timeline for these agendas. 

But amidst the shortcomings, New Delhi has a lot to be proud. The successful hosting of the highly anticipated Group of 20 (G-20) summit has cemented the Indian Prime Minister's reputation as the leader of the global south, highlighting his commitment to India's expanding role in international affairs.

Image: Getty Images

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