Opinion & Analysis

Global divides brought to the fore at Delhi summit

Asia Media Centre manager Graeme Acton reports on the at-times-heated discussions at the G20 summit being held in Delhi this week. Graeme is in Delhi to report on India's foremost geopolitical summit, the Raisina Dialogue, 4-6 March.

Indian Prime Minister Modi kicked off this week’s G20 summit in Delhi with a plea, a suggestion, an appeal, in English, for visiting foreign ministers to attempt a breakthrough of sorts, by escaping the current international mindset and taking heed of India’s G20 tagline “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” , the concept of "One Earth, One Family, One Future" lifted straight from the Upanishads, India’s classic Hindu texts.

"We are meeting at a time of deep global divisions," said Modi, urging delegates to focus on issues that unite them and try to forge some sort of consensus.

It didn’t quite play out like that.

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the Delhi meeting as overshadowed by a "unprovoked and unjustified war" in Ukraine.

In turn, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov kicked back at the suggestion, accusing the US and its pro-Ukraine allies of creating and prolonging a global crisis.

The two met very briefly on the sidelines of the G20, with Blinken urging Russia to reconsider its recent decision to back away from the START treaty

"We must continue to call on Russia to end its war of aggression and withdraw from Ukraine for the sake of international peace and economic stability," said Blinken.

Lavrov in turn suggested the West was manipulating the G20 format.

"A number of Western delegations turned the work on the G20 agenda into a farce, wanting to shift the responsibility for their failures in the economy to the Russian Federation," he said.

"The West creates obstacles for the export of agricultural products of the Russian Federation, no matter how the representatives of the EU convince the contrary," he said, accusing the West of “shamelessly burying" a proposal to allow the export of Ukraine's agricultural products from its southern ports.

Last week, G20 finance ministers failed to reach a consensus on a concluding statement at their meeting in the southern Indian city of Bangalore (Bengaluru).

As chair of that meeting, India released a statement suggesting a conflict of perspectives on Ukraine,

That conflict appears to have continued unabated in Delhi this week.

For India, the policy of non-alignment on the Ukraine conflict has seen pressure from both sides, NATO and Russia. Delhi has abstained on UN votes on Ukraine, with Russia still a major oil and arms supplier.

India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar admitted there were "divergences" among the G20 nations."There were issues and very frankly they were concerned with the Ukraine conflict. There were divergences. There were differences, which we could not be reconciled," Jaishankar said, as he sought to explain why no joint statement was forthcoming from the meeting.

The Foreign Minister pointed out that nations agreed on the ‘bulk of issues" involving the concerns of the global south.

"There were a large number of issues on which there was agreement, like strengthening multilateralism, promoting food and energy security, climate change, gender issues, counter terror. On the issues which concern the global south, there was a considerable meeting of minds that has been captured by the outcome document," he said.

"If we had a perfect meeting of minds on all issues, it would have been a collective statement. In terms of the outcome document you will see that there was almost 90 per cent agreement.” Jaishankar said.

India continues to avoid blaming Russia for the war, and in an effort to avoid its entire G20 Presidency being swamped by international squabbles over Ukraine,  Delhi has called for a concerted look at food security, along with energy and fertiliser availability and supply chains.

In the last official word on the meeting to media in a late news conference, Secretary of State Blinken suggested there was a “broad consensus’ across the G20.

“PM Modi said today we should not allow issues that we cannot resolve to come in the way of those we can”.

“If there will be an outlier country or two,  when you have 18 of the 20 agreed on what needs to be done, that is effective multilateralism in action”.

But despite the best intentions, despite an international summit organised and paid for by India, again the concerns of the superpowers have taken precedence, at the expense it seems of Asia and the global South.

For Delhi’s desire to develop a multi-polar political framework, today must feel surely like a failed opportunity. As the Upanishads might remind the G20 delegates “ “The little space within the heart is as great as the vast universe”.

The G20 today seemed not to hold that space; whether it will be present in the leaders meeting in early September remains to be seen.

Asia Media Centre