After much back-and-forth, the G20 Summit under India’s presidency was finally able to hammer out the text and content of the joint statement, known as the G20 New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration. It’s a significant win for Indian diplomacy, especially since the previous leaders’ summit in Bali under the presidency of Indonesia, failed to produce the joint statement document due to differences in perception and use of language regarding the Russia-Ukraine war in which the European Union members and the US were on one side and the Russia-China axis on the other. In the end, the Bali Summit settled for an outcome document.
The significance of the New Delhi declaration at the Leaders’ Summit is important for India, given that the various important working group and side track meetings that were held since taking over the G20 presidency in November 2022 failed to produce a single joint statement due to the differences among the G20 members about the biggest war ongoing in continental Europe since World War II. It has been reported that India along with Indonesia, Brazil, and South Africa worked behind the scenes to resolve the difference between the Western bloc and the Russia-China axis over the language used to describe Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and bring it to more acceptable semantics. It’s noteworthy that three of the four countries—India, Brazil, and South Africa—involved in the delicate negotiations are part of the BRICS bloc.
The chief coordinator of India’s G20 presidency, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, said, “It was momentous because, in a normal multilateral process, you have to go to the end of any Summit to attain a consensus on an outcome document…The fact that we have come up with the consensus document with the support of our G20 partners on the first day of our presidency, is a tremendously positive news.”
#WATCH | G 20 in India | Chief Co-ordinator of India's G 20 presidency Harsh Vardhan Shringla says, "It was momentous because, in a normal multilateral process, you have to go to the end of any Summit to attain a consensus on an outcome document…The fact that we have come up… pic.twitter.com/IeeymDmVKH
— ANI (@ANI) September 10, 2023
Compared to the Bali outcome document, in which Russia’s war on Ukraine was called “deplorable”, the 83-para New Delhi joint statement used the words “war in Ukraine” and all references to Russia have been dropped in the context of the war, but the issue has been dealt with extensively. Ukraine has been mentioned four times—in paras 8, 10, 11 and 13—out of the eight paras under the subheading: “For the Planet, People, Peace and Prosperity.”
The statement relied on UN General Assembly and Security Council resolutions—most of them ones from which India abstained—to address the global turmoil arising from the war and called for preservation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity. “Concerning the war in Ukraine, while recalling the discussion in Bali, we reiterated our national positions and resolutions adopted at the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly (A/RES/ES-11/1 and A/RES/ES-11/6) and underscored that all states must act in a manner consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the UN Charter in its entirety. In line with the UN Charter, all states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state. The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible,” reads the statement.
Even though only Russian president Vladimir Putin and other officials have threatened the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, the New Delhi declaration’s failure to call out Russia by name has not gone unnoticed by western diplomats.
Further, without naming Russia, the statement asked for stopping “military destruction” of infrastructure in Ukraine that is needed to fulfil the terms of the Türkiye-brokered Black Sea grain deal. “We appreciate the efforts of Türkiye and UN-brokered Istanbul Agreements consisting of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Russian Federation and the Secretariat of the United Nations on Promoting Russian Food Products and Fertilizers to the World Markets and the Initiative on the Safe Transportation of Grain and Foodstuffs from Ukrainian Ports (Black Sea Initiative), and call for their full, timely and effective implementation to ensure the immediate and unimpeded deliveries of grain, foodstuffs, and fertilizers/inputs from the Russian Federation and Ukraine. This is necessary to meet the demand in developing and least developed countries, particularly those in Africa.
“In this context, emphasizing the importance of sustaining food and energy security, we called for the cessation of military destruction or other attacks on relevant infrastructure. We also expressed deep concern about the adverse impact that conflicts have on the security of civilians thereby exacerbating existing socio-economic fragilities and vulnerabilities and hindering an effective humanitarian response.”
In para 13, the joint statement once again reiterated upholding the territorial integrity of Ukraine according to the “principles of international law”. Ukraine, as expected, expressed its disappointment at the failure to mention Russia. Taking to Facebook, Oleh Nikolenko, Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesperson, termed the statement “nothing to be proud of”. “Ukraine is grateful to the partners who tried to include strong wording in the text. At the same time, in terms of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the Group of Twenty has nothing to be proud of. It is obvious that the participation of the Ukrainian side would allow the participants to better understand the situation. The principle of ‘nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine’ remains as key as ever. This is how the main elements of the text could look to be closer to reality,” wrote Nikolenko.
India scored other wins at the G20 Leaders’ Summit as well. Among the more significant outcomes was the announcement of a proposed economic corridor linking India, the Middle East and Europe as a counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The India-ME-Europe economic corridor, which intends to combine land and sea routes and railways, will be a revival of the Golden Route, which once linked the ports of Gujarat to the Arab world, according to historian William Dalrymple.
With the announcement today of the opening of an Indian-Middle Eastern Economic Corridor at G20, it looks the ancient trade routes up the Red Sea from India to Egypt that I am writing about in my new book, The Golden Road, and previewed here in @nybooks, will again become a…
— William Dalrymple (@DalrympleWill) September 9, 2023
This important trade initiative was conceived by India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over the past year and announced in New Delhi. The other key stakeholders in this initiative are Saudi Arabia and the European Union with the support of the US-led Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) and include G7 member countries. This project envisions movement of goods in standardised containers from India’s western seaboard to the Port of Fujairah on the UAE’s eastern seaboard for a 2,600-km railway carriage to the port of Haifa in Israel through Saudi Arabia and Jordan before reaching the European markets. “Today we all have reached an important and historic partnership. In the coming times, it will be a major medium of economic integration between India, West Asia and Europe,” said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while making the announcement. US President Joe Biden termed the economic corridor initiative a “big deal”, which people will hear about often over the next decade.
As and when this sea-road-railroad connectivity becomes operational, South and East Asian economies such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, among others, will have an alternative access to Western markets using the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway that runs from India’s northeastern borders to East Asian countries, part of which comprises the old Stilwell Road that was built by the US-led Allied forces on the eastern front during World War II. It will reduce the dependence of East Asian economies on the Chinese-funded BRI that promises to link Asia, Europe, and Africa.
The announcement of this headline-grabbing initiative is bound to generate a lot of chatter in policy circles in the coming days, even as its economic and logistical feasibility is evaluated.
The current geo-political realities in the Middle East present some of the biggest speedbumps in developing this economic corridor. For starters, Saudi Arabia and Israel don’t even share diplomatic relations. The US is trying to work out a tripartite deal involving the two arch-rivals.
On September 6, the Financial Times reported: “Senior US and Palestinian officials have travelled to Riyadh for talks on a complex deal to establish diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Israel in return for Israeli concessions to the Palestinians and American security guarantees for the kingdom.”
UAE, which is the prime mover of the proposed economic corridor, established diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020. Much will depend on how quickly the complex issues in the Middle East are resolved. China has already sunk in billions in the BRI and enjoys a significant head start.
Global Biofuel Alliance
The joint statement also acknowledged that progress of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the effective implementation of Agenda 2023 have been off-track as only 12% of the targets have been fulfilled or partly fulfilled. “To accelerate progress on SDGs, we commit to taking collective action for effective and timely implementation of the G20 2023 Action Plan to Accelerate Progress on the SDGs, including its High-Level Principles. We will ensure that no one is left behind. We commend the efforts of the Indian Presidency to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda,” reads the declaration.
On climate change, the leaders reiterated the commitment of the countries to lower rising global temperatures. “We note with concern that global ambition and implementation to address climate change remain insufficient to achieve the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,” it said. Carrying forward from the outcomes in Bali on climate change, the declaration emphasised the need for climate financing. “Note the need of USD 5.8-5.9 trillion in the pre-2030 period required for developing countries, in particular for their needs to implement their NDCs, as well as the need of USD 4 trillion per year for clean energy technologies by 2030 to reach net zero emissions by 2050,” it said.
The launch of the Global Biofuel Alliance by Modi at the G20 Summit, on the lines of the International Solar Alliance, is being projected as another win for India.
Apart from India, the founding members include US and Brazil. The intention of this alliance is to increase the global production of biofuels from agricultural waste, municipal waste and other forms of waste that has high carbon content.
But it is clear from the way the G20 Summit was organised with all the glitter that money can summon, and expenditure of ₹4,100 crore, according to some news reports, that Modi was addressing his domestic constituency with an eye on the 2024 general election. The poor were banished behind green curtains lining the sprawling slums that could not be demolished. Dogs and cattle were taken off the streets even as Lutyens’ Delhi got a fresh lick of paint and polish. And the most vibrant part of the city was put under lockdown to facilitate the ease of movement of foreign leaders and dignitaries on lifeless roads. With thousands of hoardings that were put up across Delhi with Modi’s face beaming down on the people, the message was clear: only one man matters, which in an ironic twist mirrored the theme of the G20 Summit: One Earth, One Family, One Future.