India seeking greater voice for developing world at G20, but Ukraine war may overshadow talks


NEW DELHI (AP) — It’s never been easy for the leaders of the world’s largest economies to find common ground, but the global ramifications of Russia’s war on Ukraine mean even greater challenges for meaningful agreement at the Group of 20 meeting this year.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, this year’s host, has pledged not to let Ukraine overshadow the needs of the mostly developing nations in the so-called “ Global South,” but many of those issues are closely affected by the war.

“New Delhi will not want to distract from the main agenda, which is to address issues of concern for the Global South,” said Nazia Hussain, an associate research fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. “So while there will be discussions on the emerging issues as a fallout of the war — supply chain security and decoupling, energy security, and food supply — the focus must remain on how to mitigate the fallout rather than debate the geopolitical/security aspects of the war.”

Even before leaders started arriving for the summit, however, that proved a difficult task.

Russia and China, which has been Moscow’s most important supporter in the war against Ukraine, have blocked attempts at a final communique over objections to phrasing on Ukraine — the same wording they signed off a year ago at the G20 summit in Bali that said “most members strongly condemned the war.”

The European Union, meanwhile, has said compromise language suggested by India is not strong enough for them to agree to.

If leaders don’t break this deadlock, it could lead to the first time that the group’s summit has ended without a communique reflecting the countries’ commitments.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the Bali summit by video last year, but Modi has made a point of not inviting Ukraine to participate in this year’s event.

Still, the White House has said that President Joe Biden’s agenda includes “mitigating the economic and social impacts of Putin’s war in Ukraine.”

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has even promised Zelenskyy to keep Ukraine in the discussions, telling him in a video call that Zelenskyy posted on Instagram that “I’m disappointed that you won’t be included but as you know, we will be speaking up strongly for you.”

Founded in 1999, the G20 was initially a response to global economic challenges, but since then, geopolitical tensions have introduced more politics into the discussions, complicating its ability to work effectively, said Ian Lesser, vice president of the German Marshall Fund and director of its Brussels office.

The G20 encompasses the world’s wealthiest countries in the Group of Seven, including the U.S., Canada, Britain, Japan, Germany and the European Union as a bloc, along with Russia, China and others.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine and China’s growing assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region have added friction, pitting some of the most powerful G20 countries directly against each other diplomatically, Lesser said.

“Having China and Russia in the room now is a very different question than it would have been a decade ago,” he said. “It is very difficult now for any of these large-scale summits to avoid the major issues of the issues of the day, and these major issues are very polarizing — the war in Ukraine, tensions in the Indo-Pacific, even climate policy — the things that are both at the top of the global agenda but also very difficult to address.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will not be attending the G20 themselves, instead sending lower-level officials.

Russia and China did not indicate why their leaders were not attending, but neither have traveled much recently and both seem to be putting a greater emphasis on the more like-minded BRICS group of nations: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. That group agreed at its summit last month to expand to include Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Egypt and Ethiopia.

China’s relations with India continue to be strained over ongoing border disputes, but despite the decision to send Premier Li Qiang instead of Xi, Modi and Xi did discuss the issue face-to-face at the BRICS summit and China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing considers India-China relations “generally stable.”

Along with its membership in BRICS, India has historic ties with Moscow but is also on good terms with the U.S. Modi is hoping to use his country’s influence to bridge gaps between the wealthy nations that have been standing together to sanction Russia over the Ukraine war and the Global South.

About half of the G20 countries are found in the Global South — depending on how one defines it — and Modi hopes to add the African Union as a bloc member.

In preparation, he held a virtual “Voice of the Global South” summit in January and in working groups has targeted issues critical to developing nations, including alternative fuels like hydrogen, resource efficiency, developing a common framework for digital public infrastructure and food security.

“For the Global South, India’s presidency is seen as an opportunity with immense potential to address developmental needs, particularly as Brazil and South Africa are set to take over the presidency of the G20 from India in 2024 in 2025 respectively,” Hussain said.

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters before Biden’s departure that the president supported adding the African Union as a permanent member and that the president hoped this summit “will show that the world’s major economies can work together even in challenging times.”

The U.S. will also focus on many of Modi’s priorities, including reforming multilateral development banks, especially the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, to help developing countries, Sullivan said. Biden will also call for “meaningful debt relief” for low- and middle-income countries, and seek to make progress on other priorities including climate and health issues.

Without Xi and Putin present, some have suggested it could be more difficult reach meaningful agreements, but Hussain said it may be an opportunity for Modi to focus more on India’s G20 priorities.

“While a yearlong presidency cannot solve all the problems of the Global South, India has managed to set the ball rolling on some of these issues, and individual G20 countries can carry forward the work,” she said.

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