The G20 summit, three predictions:
►Prime Minister Narendra Modi would remove the last obstacles.
►Indian diplomats would craft a communiqué on which a consensus would be reached.
►The Indian presidency would be seen as a turning point in G20 history
The first two of these predictions have come true. As S Jaishankar said in an interview, the PM did speak to clear the path with some of his counterparts at critical moments. Regarding our diplomats’ penmanship, the communiqué bears testimony to it. The validity, or lack thereof, of the third prediction will reveal itself only over time.
It is commonly argued that notwithstanding the contentious negotiations, which keep sherpas awake for nights, G20 communiqués are forgotten no sooner than they have been approved by the membership. Nevertheless, a good case can be made for a different fate of this one.
This G20 summit will go down as the moment of a discrete shift in the geopolitical balance among nations. The sum- mit has catapulted India decisively into the big league and placed Modi among a small number of world leaders whose voice will count for more than the others.
In an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Walter Russell Mead noted that the summit reflected three continuing shifts. “The first and, from an American standpoint, the most beneficial of these developments,’ he wrote, ‘is the emerg ence of India as one of the world’s leading powers and as an increasingly close partner of the US. The G20 summit was a personal diplomatic triumph for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.’
More subtly, as Mead went on to add, the summit reflected ‘the accelerating decline in Europe’s global influence and reach’. No doubt, in referring to this development, Mead had in mind the state- ment on Ukraine in the Delhi Communiqué, which is arguably weaker from the European viewpoint than even the one contained in the Bali Communiqué, negotiated a year earlier.
The summit will also be remembered for bringing a decisive change in both tone and substance of the G20 agenda. The issues of concern to the ‘global sou- th’, which used to be on the periphery of communiqués, have come to occupy the centre stage.
As India’s G20 sherpa for three years myself, I recall that our negotiations were dominated by the differences on climate change in 2015 in Antalya, Turkey, concerns with Chinese steel exports and the accompanying glut in the global steel market in 2016 in Hangzhou, China, and the US demand for the recognition of reciprocity as the central feature of trade policy in 2017 in Hamburg, Germany. Today, many point to China as a rival champion of the global south. But issues of concern to the latter were nowhere near the centre stage in its 2016 G20 communiqué.
A concrete outcome of India’s focus on the global south has been the inclusion of the African Union as a permanent G20 member. In hindsight, this was an obvious thing to do. Notwithstanding its1.5 billion-strong population and 55 countries, only South Africa from the continent had been a member of G20. In con- trast, with 742 million people and 50 coun- tries, Europe has the privilege of seven members. Even taking into account Europe’s far larger economic weight, the disparity was glaring.
The communiqué also carries the PM’s personal stamp all over it. It includes a framework for the development of the digital public infrastructure (DPI) promoted by him. It commits the member countries to implement the G20 High Level Principles on Lifestyles for Sustainable Development. The communiqué takes note of the newly launched Global Biofuels Alliance and Green Hydrogen Innovation Centre under the International Solar Alliance.
Concerns over terrorism and money laundering, brought to the centre stage at earlier summits by the PM, are reiterated. The communiqué includes a substantial section on gender equality. A concrete achievement in this area is the appointment of a working group to Empowerment of Women to support the G20 women’s ministerial.
Sceptics have contended that the shift towards subjects of greater concern to the global south in the G20 agenda may not be sustained. While such a possibili- ty can be scarcely ruled out, two factors militate against it.
▷ Modi will be hosting a virtual summit of the leaders in November to renew the commitment to the New Delhi Communiqué agenda.
▷ Brazil and South Africa, both members of the global south, will be presiding over the next two G20 summits.
By organising 200 meetings in 60 different cities, Modi successfully turned the Indian presidency into the people’s G20. While this has instilled a sense of inclusion and pride in every citizen, it has also put on display India’s enormous diversity, rich culture and civilisational we- alth. It is hard to think of a project with a higher bang for the buck.