Leaders of the world’s largest economies are grappling with significant challenges as they gather for the Group of 20 meeting hosted by India. While the G20 summit aims to address the needs of developing nations in the “Global South,” the global consequences of Russia’s war on Ukraine loom large and complicate efforts to reach meaningful agreements.
Balancing Priorities Amidst the Ukraine Crisis
Prime Minister Modi has pledged to keep the focus on the concerns of the Global South, but many of these issues are intrinsically linked to the ongoing war in Ukraine. According to Nazia Hussain, an associate research fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, New Delhi aims to address emerging issues arising from the war, such as supply chain security, energy security, and food supply, while also mitigating their consequences without delving into the geopolitical and security aspects of the conflict.
Even before the summit began, challenges emerged. Russia and China, Moscow’s primary supporter in the Ukraine war, have obstructed attempts to craft a final communique, objecting to the wording on Ukraine. This mirrors a dispute that occurred a year ago at the G20 summit in Bali when both nations agreed to condemn the war but are now resisting similar language.
The European Union has also expressed reservations about the compromise language proposed by India, deeming it insufficient for their approval. This deadlock raises the possibility of the summit concluding without a communique reflecting the countries’ commitments, an unprecedented outcome.
Notably, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has not been invited to participate in this year’s event, a departure from the previous year when he addressed the Bali summit via video. However, President Joe Biden’s agenda remains focused on mitigating the economic and social impacts of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to advocate for Ukraine’s inclusion in the discussions.
G20’s Evolution and Current Geopolitical Dynamics
Originally established in 1999 to address global economic challenges, the G20 has increasingly encountered political issues, complicating its effectiveness. Geopolitical tensions, including Russia’s actions in Ukraine and China’s assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region, have introduced greater political complexity to the group.
Ian Lesser, Vice President of the German Marshall Fund and Director of its Brussels office suggests that the presence of China and Russia in the room now significantly alters the dynamics compared to a decade ago. Major global issues, such as the war in Ukraine, Indo-Pacific tensions, and climate policy, are challenging to address but have risen to the forefront of the global agenda.
China and Russia’s Absence
Both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are notably absent from the G20 meeting, instead sending lower-level officials. While their reasons for not attending remain undisclosed, both nations appear to be focusing more on the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and expanding their membership.
Despite ongoing border disputes, India maintains diplomatic relations with China, while historic ties exist with Russia. India seeks to leverage its influence to bridge the gap between Western nations sanctioning Russia over Ukraine and the Global South.
India, as the G20 host, has focused on critical issues for developing nations, including alternative fuels, resource efficiency, digital public infrastructure, and food security. Half of the G20 countries fall within the Global South category, and India aims to include the African Union as a bloc member.
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has voiced support for adding the African Union as a permanent member and emphasized shared priorities, including reforming multilateral development banks and addressing climate and health issues.
While the absence of Xi and Putin may pose challenges, it presents an opportunity for Modi to centre attention on India’s G20 priorities, making progress on issues important to the Global South.
The G20 summit in India unfolds against a backdrop of geopolitical tensions and the Ukraine crisis. Leaders grapple with the delicate task of balancing the needs of developing nations with the complexities of global politics, hoping to find common ground amidst these challenges.