G20-Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam: India’s Landmark Leadership at the 18th G20 Summit

Sub Title : The recent G20 conference in Delhi was remarkably successful, enhancing India’s global reputation and meeting all the criteria for a triumphant event

Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 4 Sep – Oct 2023

Author : Anil Sharma

Page No. : 10

Category : Geostrategy

: September 22, 2023

The 18th G20 Summit, hosted in New Delhi, brought landmark achievements under India’s leadership, reflecting the principle of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ – one Earth, one family, one future. Key outcomes include the inclusion of the African Union, a consensus-based Leaders Declaration, and a robust focus on sustainable development, international financial reforms, and digital infrastructure. The gathering emphasized cooperative leadership, strategic alliances, and the reshaping of global dynamics amidst regional tensions and economic ambitions.

The Resonance of ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’

 The 18th G20 Summit that concluded in New Delhi on 10 Sep 23 had some landmark achievements, most important being its theme of Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam or ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future’. If it seemed too idealistic or quixotic, it perhaps was, but at its conclusion the Summit indeed delivered the stars that it promised! The list is long – inclusion of the African Union as a member, Leaders Declaration based on complete consensus, and enhanced focus on several important areas such as Sustainable Development Goals,  Reforms in International Financial Institutions,  Establishing digital public infrastructure,  Promoting a green development pact and encouraging women-led development.

The Evolution and Impact of G20

A brief look at G 20’s history would reveal that it is an intergovernmental forum comprising 19 sovereign countries, the European Union (EU), and now the African Union (AU). It works to address major issues related to the global economy, such as international financial stabilityclimate change mitigation and sustainable development. It includes both industrialised and developing countries accounting for nearly 80% of gross world product (GWP), 75% of international trade, two-thirds of the global population, and 60% of the world’s land area.

G 20 came in to being in 1999 in the wake of world economic crises. It convenes at least once a year, with Summits involving each member’s head of government or statefinance minister, or foreign minister, and other high-ranking officials; the EU is represented by the European Commission and the European Central Bank. Other countries, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations are also invited to attend the summits, some permanently. With a steady rise in influence, in its 2009 summit, the G20 declared itself the primary venue for international economic and financial cooperation.

Pinnacle Achievements under India’s Presidency

The G20 meeting this year under India’s Presidency has been a remarkable success. Notable was the Leaders’ Consensus Declaration that marked the culmination of complex negotiations within a fractured world, wherein the West stood on one side and Russia & China on the other over the Ukraine issue. On the very first day of the Summit, Prime Minister Modi announced, “I have received good news. Due to the hard work of our team, consensus has been built on New Delhi G20 Leaders’ Summit Declaration. My proposal is to adopt this leadership declaration. I announce to adopt this declaration.”

Inclusion of the African Union has gone a long way in making G20 a credible international institution. India had convened a “Voice of the Global South” virtual meeting in January 2023 in which 125 leaders of the developing world had participated. The aim was to put the needs and concerns of the Global South more emphatically on the G20 agenda. India’s lead to make the African Union a permanent G 20 member (making the group G21) was aimed at increasing the weight of the Global South in G20 deliberations. This also gave India sharper diplomatic heft in steering the G20 presidency.

Another important initiative launched on the side-lines of the G20 was the announcement of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). It  is a planned economic corridor that aims to bolster economic development by fostering connectivity and economic integration between Asia, the Persian Gulf and Europe. The corridor is proposed from India to Europe through the United Arab EmiratesSaudi ArabiaJordanIsrael and Greece.

On 10 September 2023 the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was unveiled during the 2023 G20 New Delhi summit by the governments of India, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, FranceGermanyItaly, and the EU.

As part of the G20 presidency, one of the last initiatives India took was to form a Global Biofuel Alliance. A total of 19 countries and 12 international organisations have agreed to join the alliance with India, USA, and Brazil, the founding member countries. The alliance is aimed at creating and promoting the adoption of biofuels and expanding bio-energy access across the world.

Biofuels are liquid fuels produced from renewable energy sources such as plants and algae. Some of the biofuels are ethanol biodiesel, green diesel, and biogas. They provide solutions to the challenges of solar, wind, and other alternative energy sources. Moreover, biofuels also have the potential to replace fossil fuels completely and decarbonise the transportation sector. This will help the world reach its carbon neutrality goals on time.

According to a report published by the Indian Biogas Association, the biofuel alliance can generate opportunities worth US$ 500 billion (bn) (Rs 4,153 bn) for G20 member countries in the next three years. Given the tremendous availability of potential biomass in India, this is a huge opportunity for companies involved in the production of biofuels.

India’s Hard Work and Rising Global Influence

India’s G20 success has been the result of painstaking hard work in several areas, starting with Prime Minister Modi enhancing India’s image manifold on the global stage. He has achieved this by strengthening ties with the US as well as European countries, especially France, even as he has continued to nurture traditional ties with Russia. He has carefully walked the foreign policy rope balancing both the West and the Russia-China bloc —  retaining strategic autonomy by being a member of Quad as well as of BRICS and the SCO.

India has also actively courted the Gulf countries, consolidated ties with Japan, warmly engaged with major ASEAN countries, and, of course, paid very close attention to India’s ties with Africa. With growing international divisions, Prime Minister Modi is seen as a strong leader bridging the divide between the North-South and East-West.

World is also watching India’s steady economic rise and its likely ascent to the world’s third largest economy by 2027. Its credibility as a technology partner in many areas, and recognition of its human potential are growing, making it a valuable ally.

India is also being seen as a counterweight to China by both the US and Europe. With China and Russia allying ever so closely, the geo-strategic value of India to the West has grown. With both China and Russia set to block a consensus document on the Ukraine issue under India’s presidency, US and the West came to India’s help by softening their stance on the subject.  Prime Minister Modi was thus able to showcase India’s resurgence in a stellar fashion through its G20 presidency. The flexibility shown by the west in this area is indeed commendable, even though it came at the cost of some criticism at home.

Indo-US Bonhomie

The US wanted to use the summit to carry forward the momentum of its ties with India. Although this was not a bilateral occasion, the elaborate India-US joint statement issued after the talks between President Biden and Prime Minister Modi underscored this fact. On Day 1 of the Summit, Biden, in the joint statement, “lauded India’s G 20 presidency for further demonstrating how the G20 forum is delivering important outcomes”. This mutual warmth also shows in PM Narendra Modi’s tweet, “Happy to have welcomed US President Joe Biden to 7, Lok Kalyan Marg. Our meeting was very productive. We were able to discuss numerous topics which will further economic and people-to-people linkages between India and USA. The friendship between our nations will continue to play a great role in furthering global good.”

In the joint statement, India and the US reaffirmed the importance of the Quad (opposed by China and Russia).  Modi said he was looking “forward to welcoming President Biden to the next Quad Leaders’ Summit to be hosted by India in 2024”. This would have drawn China’s attention. Several other announcements such as meeting of NSAs at the next iCET, a joint effort to the International Space Station in 2024, cooperation in building resilient global semiconductor supply chains, with investments by specific US companies were made. Progress in collaboration in 5G/6G, Quantum technologies, a commitment to building resilient technology value chains and linking defence industrial ecosystems, as well as deepening and diversifying the India-US Major Partnership education partnerships, have also found mention.

The India-US joint statement was also a diplomatic message to other G 20 participants about the growth of US-India ties.

China’s Diplomatic Setbacks: A New Global Order

As the second-largest economy in the world and staking claims to global leadership, China was primarily concerned with two outcomes of the recent G-20 summit in Delhi. The first was on issues related to the Global South, and second on debt, on which it is facing considerable reproach in general. With India’s success in getting the African Union admitted into the G20, and its mobilisation of several Global South countries, channelling their concerns into the G20, China seems relegated to a lower order. Earlier, China did raise the concerns of the Global South on climate change, WTO, restructuring of global financial institutions etc, but it is now seen as being interested only in its own national interest and inexorably falling into a hubris trap. Indian Presidency of G20 clearly stole the show by inducting African Union as a member of G20.

As the Summit wound up in New Delhi on September 10, China must be pondering over the emergence of a world order that seems to be slipping from its hands. For, overcoming the massive East-West divide and the North-South fault lines, India is trying to bring more inclusive and multilateral regional and global orders in the post-pandemic world.

The Chinese would have also noted the significance of the MOU on India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor unveiled at the G 20 by India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Germany, Italy and the US. Though not stated as such, it is clearly going to outshine the Chinese OBOR projects.

By most indicators, China was at the centre of the G20 processes until recently. However,

the COVID pandemic, Ukraine conflict, U.S.-China “decoupling”, European “de-risking” processes, in addition to other geo-political aspects, are posing big challenges to China. Beijing, at this point, seems too mired in internal contradictions, with little or no response to these challenges.

President Xi Jinping chose not to appear at the G20 Summit in New Delhi, sending Premier Li Qiang instead. Even though  Li spoke of  China’s recent initiatives to build a “community of common destiny”, Global Development Initiative, Global Security Initiative and Global Civilisational Initiative, none of these was endorsed by the G20 countries. His comment about China will “firmly oppose the politicisation of economic and trade issues” did not find much traction either. Premier Li’s bilateral interactions lacked lustre too.

China did not participate in G20 meetings held in Arunachal Pradesh and Srinagar while objecting to the use of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is one family) in the logo. President Xi Jinping’s rejection at the Johannesburg meeting of an “expeditious” disengagement of troops in the western sector and China’s release of a map incorporating vast swathes of lands in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh, has further widened the strategic gap between the two countries.

G20 also took up the issues of debt relief and restructuring options for heavily indebted developing countries. The debt phenomenon is so significant that nearly half the African Union member states are in debt – mostly to the state-owned banks of China. Countries in South America and Asia are also catching up on this debt slide. New Delhi’s appeal during G20 Summit to various  countries to address the debt issue is not likely to go down well with China.

In today’s fragmented world, forging international cooperation has become far more complex. Rising geopolitical tensions of course play their part, but the scale of global problems like the climate crisis, food insecurity, mass migration and displacement is so huge that only large groupings like the G20 will have adequate representation from majority nations to take a comprehensive and holistic view of these problems and to find solutions.

India did well to adopt the theme of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” or “One Earth, One Family, One Future.” for its G 20 Presidency. In many ways the theme embodies the essence of our civilisation. There is no doubt that eventually it is the ‘Global Unity’ approach that will lead to lasting solutions.