India’s top official organising this week’s Group of 20 summit has insisted that agreement on a final communique is within reach, despite geopolitical friction that has plagued the build-up and Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s decision to stay away.
Amitabh Kant said New Delhi aimed to push the fractured forum of big economies towards consensus on a leaders’ declaration at next week’s summit, including language on the Russia-Ukraine war that has been opposed by Moscow and Beijing.
“We will attempt to bring a consensus amongst all parties, amongst all the G20 parties,” Kant, the summit ‘sherpa’ for Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, told the Financial Times. “And that is necessary for the future of the G20.”
As this year’s G20 chair, India will host leaders including US president Joe Biden at the summit on September 9-10 in New Delhi. Modi’s government wants to raise India’s international profile and advance an agenda with a sharp focus on developing countries’ needs, in its role as a self-styled leader of the global south.
However, in meetings building up to the summit India’s diplomats have failed to secure consensus for communiques on issues ranging from multilateral finance to climate change, after Russia and China led opposition to a paragraph imported from last year’s Bali summit declaration that deplored Russian “aggression”.
India has issued “Summary and Outcome Documents” after these meetings, spelling out that consensus was not reached.
India’s G20 presidency was further undermined last week when western officials said Xi would not be attending the summit and would send Premier Li Qiang in his place.
Xi’s snub comes against a backdrop of a border dispute between India and China and an expanding economic, defence, and technology partnership between New Delhi and Washington that is largely intended as a counterbalance to Beijing. Russia’s Vladimir Putin will also not attend.
Kant played down India-China tensions, saying that China “knows its multilateral responsibilities”.
“China may have bilateral issues with India, but China is a multilateral player,” he said. “They have been difficult, but we have managed to work with them in the interests of G20.”
Speaking to the FT just before officials convened on Sunday on the outskirts of Delhi to begin thrashing out language for a final communique, Kant insisted: “Our objective is that we should have a consensus on all issues, including the Bali para, including geopolitics.”
The G20 “should not be a divided house”, he said.
Kant’s upbeat remarks contrast with more gloomy forecasts from some western delegations. Two European officials involved in preparations for the summit said there was a strong possibility that no joint statement would be reached given the impasse over Ukraine, with far more entrenched divisions than at last year’s summit in Indonesia.
“A number of developing country members have retreated from language agreed in Bali,” said one. “It will be a battle [to reach consensus].”
Asked about India’s failure to achieve consensus at working group meetings, Kant said they had all agreed “on all ambitious developmental issues except the issue of para three of the Bali agreement”.
Next weekend’s summit will come in a year when India’s population surpassed China’s, and when leading economies are struggling to address the impact of war in Ukraine on inflation, supply chains, and indebted developing economies.
Modi is pressing other G20 members to admit the African Union as a full G20 member, and India has promoted other issues pressed by developing countries, including the reform of multilateral financial institutions.
“The way Indians see it, the G20 is a platform to showcase a part of the world that felt left out, ill-treated and neglected both by the pandemic and the consequences of the Russia-Ukraine conflict,” said Sujan Chinoy, a former diplomat and director-general of the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in Delhi.
Following India’s recent unmanned mission to the Moon’s South Pole, the Modi government is also hoping to present the summit to voters as a foreign policy triumph, ahead of a national election expected in 2024.