KC Singh | Will G-20 presidency be Indiaâ€™s crown of thorns?
India assumes the chairmanship of G-20 on December 1 this year. But the celebrations began on November 16, as the gavel was passed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi by Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo at the Bali summit. The Congress has bemoaned that the BJP will use next year’s series of pre-summit activities for partisan one-upmanship domestically as the 2024 Lok Sabha elections approach. That is something any government does, though with the BJP excessive chest-thumping cannot be ruled out.
Be that as it may, there is another significance to Indonesia passing the baton to India. The Bandung Asian-African Conference in 1955, attended by 29 heads of state or government, became the precursor to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which India under Jawaharlal Nehru co-founded. Indonesia has even now created a template of independent chairing at a time of multiple geopolitical schisms. If the Indonesian slogan was “Recover Together, Recover Strong”, India has coined “One Earth, One Family, One Future”. The challenges were obvious as the summit convened.
The almost simultaneous COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, underscored the shadow of the slippage on transition to a carbon-neutral future due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. The fact that newly elected Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lual de Silva was at the COP27 meeting promising to fight deforestation in the Amazon rain forest, reversing the approach of his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, brought hope. Simultaneously, former US President Donald Trump declared a fresh bid for the White House in 2024, denying the dangers of climate change and completely fudging the facts about rise of oceans due to global warming. He was the chief culprit in retarding the global climate change agenda by withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
That Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend the Bali summit, despite Indonesia strongly resisting Western demands that he be disinvited, spelled the geopolitical cracks dogging a global consensus to combat the challenges.
Underscoring this was the firing of almost 100 missiles by Russia at Ukraine to knock out its energy infrastructure as the leaders met in Bali.
Chinese President Xi Jinping shook hands with Prime Minister Modi and sat down for a first-ever in-person three-and-a-half hour meeting with US President Joe Biden. While the US and China seemed to settle for an uneasy path to de-escalation, China followed up the summit with its naval flotilla again sailing threateningly towards Taiwan. The danger lurks that with the US House of Representatives now passing under the control of the Republicans, the next Speaker may decide to complicate the détente with China by visiting Taiwan. Sino-US relations had visibly worsened after a visit by Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier in 2022.
The other danger flows from the assessment of the International Monetary Fund that 2023 will be a bad year for the global economy with around one-third of countries likely to enter a recession, including Australia. The G-20 Bali Leaders’ Declaration opens with the same warning that 14 years after its founding the leaders of the organisation were meeting as the world was “facing the most severe financial crisis in our generation”. It said the overall situation was one of “unparalleled multidimensional crises”. It explains that the potpourri consists of the Covid-19 pandemic, still swirling especially in China, and climate change. This toxic mixture has hindered the “achievement of Sustainable Development Goals”.
This is the crown of thorns that India has received. Simply hyping up its theatrical side would be a distraction. India is a subcontinent-size nation, which is both a part of the problem as well as the solution. But in a world full of rivalries and antagonisms, over the resolution of which India has little control, India can only incrementally advance the collective agenda. The 52-para Leaders’ Declaration is a Magna Carta of global renewal in all its aspects. It begins by suggesting that the economic challenges require tangible and precise steps involving the use of all policy tools. This is easier said than done as when the US started raising interest rates to control domestic inflation, and the approaching midterm elections in November, the impact was global as the dollar appreciated with finance flowing back to it. The global South faced a double whammy of higher oil prices due to sanctions on Iran and Russia and a stronger dollar.
Food security got a lot of attention in the Bali Declaration. It talks of ensuring that the vulnerable are protected from hunger and food supply chains are secured. The Istanbul agreements allowing Ukrainian foodgrains to be exported spells the difficulty in keeping food prices under control when two major grain exporters — Ukraine and Russia — are at war. There is a good suggestion like the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation being asked to share its mapping exercise on food security. Even India has had to balance domestic requirements when determining what and how much to export.
The climate change paragraphs provide useful support to the COP27 meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh. The inclusion of the phrase “common but differentiated” responsibilities is welcome as India has always advocated it. It accepts that developing nations’ Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to mitigation must be in keeping with their need to develop and their historically low contribution to global warming. But India’s resistance at COP27 to coal being singled out for immediate reduction as a fuel indicates the contradictions.
The Covid-19 pandemic has underscored the need to be not only vigilant but increase the funding of the Pandemic Fund to ensure that the world never again faces the crisis that began in 2020 and which still lingers. The WHO Vaccine Technology Hub’s steps to enable the sharing of mRNA vaccine technology has been encouraged. Finally, comes the acceptance that “Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the transformation of the digital ecosystem and digital economy”. This is one area where India has moved rapidly and can lead by sharing its experience, imparting digital skills to less developed nations, and encouraging cross-border digital payments. Indian software companies could benefit from India bringing global focus on its achievements in the digital arena.
Thus, the G-20 chairmanship is an opportunity to contribute to the themes already in play by incremental push and pull. To avoid pre-election controversies, it would be useful to show the same inclusiveness at home that India advocates abroad. India is a microcosm of the global challenges of economic disparities, rural-urban divide, environmental degradation and economic slowdown. Whatever works for one-sixth of humanity will surely be useful for the rest.