G20: Big test for Indian diplomacy as US, Chinese and Russian ministers meet in Delhi

New Delhi

Foreign ministers from the world’s biggest economies have gathered in New Delhi, setting the stage for a big test of Indian diplomacy as it attempts to manage tensions over the brutal and unprovoked invasion of India. Ukraine by Russia.

At the second high-level ministerial meeting under India’s chairmanship of the Group of 20 (G20) this year, the country’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar will meet with his American, Chinese and Russian counterparts on Thursday, hoping to find enough common ground to make a joint statement. at the end of the summit.

The world’s largest democracy, with a population of over 1.3 billion, has been keen to position itself as the leader of emerging and developing countries – often referred to as the Global South – at a time when the surge food and energy prices due to the war are hammering consumers already struggling with rising costs and inflation.

Those sentiments were at the center of a press conference on Wednesday, when Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra told reporters that foreign ministers should reflect on the impact, “particularly economic”, that the conflict has had. had globally.

But analysts say India’s bid to push forward its agenda has been complicated by lingering divisions over the war.

Those differences showed up in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru last month when G20 finance chiefs failed to agree on a statement after their meeting. Russia and China refused to sign the joint statement, which criticized the invasion of Moscow. This left India to release a “Chair’s Summary and Outcome Document” in which it summed up the two days of talks and acknowledged disagreements.

Analysts say that throughout the war, New Delhi has skillfully balanced its ties with Russia and the West, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi emerging as a leader courted by all sides.

But as the war enters its second year and tensions continue to mount, pressure could mount on countries, including India, to take a tougher stance against Russia – testing Modi’s political skill.

Arguably India’s most famous event of the year, the G20 summit was heavily promoted domestically, with huge billboards depicting Modi’s face plastered across the country. The roads were cleaned and the buildings freshly painted before the visit of the dignitaries.

Set in the ‘mother of democracies’ under Modi’s leadership, his political allies have been keen to highlight his international credentials, describing him as a key player in global order.

Last year’s G20 leaders’ summit in Bali, Indonesia issued a joint statement that echoed what Modi had told Russian President Vladimir Putin weeks earlier on the sidelines of a regional summit in Uzbekistan.

“Today’s era must not be one of war,” he said, prompting the media and Indian officials to claim that India had played a vital role in bridging the differences between a Russian isolated and the United States and its allies.

A flower-adorned sign welcomes foreign ministers in New Delhi, India, on February 28, 2023.

India, analysts say, prides itself on its ability to balance relations. The country, like China, has refused to condemn Moscow’s brutal assault on Ukraine in various United Nations resolutions. Rather than cutting economic ties with the Kremlin, India undermined Western sanctions by increasing its purchases of Russian oil, coal and fertilizers.

But unlike China, India has grown closer to the West – especially the United States – despite its ties to Russia.

New Delhi’s ties with Moscow date back to the Cold War, and the country remains heavily dependent on the Kremlin for military equipment – a vital link given ongoing tensions between India and China on its shared Himalayan border.

The United States and India have taken steps in recent months to strengthen their defense partnership as both sides try to counter the rise of an increasingly assertive China.

Daniel Markey, senior adviser, South Asia, for the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), said that while Indian leaders “wish to facilitate the end of this conflict that preserves New Delhi’s relationship with Washington and Moscow and puts Disruption of the Global Economy,” India had “no particular leverage” with Russia or Ukraine that would make a settlement likely.

“I believe other world leaders are also interested in playing a diplomatic peacemaking role. So when and if Putin wishes to come to the table to negotiate, there will be no shortage of diplomats hoping to help him,” he said. he declared.

Yet as Putin’s aggression continues to throw the global economy into chaos, India has signaled its intention to raise the many concerns facing countries in the global South, including climate challenges and food and energy security. , according to its foreign secretary, Kwatra.

“The G20 in particular needs to come together to focus on these priorities,” he said.

While Modi’s government appears keen to prioritize domestic challenges, experts say those issues could be sidelined by tensions between the US, Russia and China, which have recently increased over concerns from Washington that Beijing is planning to send lethal aid to the Kremlin’s ailing war effort.

Speaking to reporters last week, Ramin Toloui, the US Under Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, said that while Secretary of State Antony Blinken would highlight his efforts to address food and energy security issues, it “would also highlight the damage that Russia’s war of aggression has caused.

Blinken “will encourage all G20 partners to redouble their calls for a just, peaceful and lasting end to the Kremlin’s war, in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter,” Toloui said.

Meanwhile, Russia, in a statement on Wednesday, accused the United States and the European Union of “terrorism”, saying it was “ready to state Russia’s assessments clearly” on the food crisis and current energy.

“We will draw attention to the destructive barriers that the West is multiplying exponentially to block the export of goods that are of critical importance to the global economy, including energy sources and agricultural products” , Russia said, hinting at the difficulties that New Delhi could face. during the meeting.

India has “worked very hard not to be stuck on one side or the other,” Markey said. The country could not “afford to alienate Russia or the United States and Modi does not want the war discussion to force tough decisions or distract from other issues, such as green economic development and sustainable,” he added.

But with ties between Washington and Beijing falling after the US military downed what it says was a Chinese spy balloon that flew over US territory, New Delhi will have to carefully navigate difficult negotiations between conflicting views. .

China maintains that the balloon, which US forces shot down in February, was a civilian research aircraft accidentally blown off course, and the fallout led Blinken to postpone a planned visit to Beijing.

As differences are likely to play out at Thursday’s ministerial meeting, analysts said India could see even limited progress as a victory.

“Any joint statement would likely be presented in the Indian media as a diplomatic achievement,” Markey said. “But its broader meaning would be limited.”


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