It would appear then that Mr Modi's bilateral meeting with Mr. Biden a day ahead of G20 formalities would mean much more to India in the current context than firming up the ink on an elusive enough G20 consensus on reforms to the multilateral development bank and finance to fight climate change, etc. (File Image: DC)
India’s turn to head the G-20 in a rotating presidency did not come with a diadem of roses. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 added such complexity to the world of diplomacy that no summit of global leaders has been held since then without the shadow of war in Europe casting a divisive light on the negotiating tables. As host, India cannot, however, give up its hope of engineering any sort of consensus on most other issues in New Delhi this weekend.
Jill Biden catching Covid in Washington without passing it on to the US President Joe Biden might be a lucky break as without his presence the G-20 may have lost most of its relevance. China’s President Xi Jinping will be conspicuous even in his absence as he has managed to stymie the joint work that has been going on all year towards an impactful summit.
Domestic compulsions created by a sagging economy, falling employment figures capable of fomenting dissatisfaction among youth and internal security issues may have been compelling reasons for Mr Xi’s absence, the first for a Chinese President from a G-20 summit. But it was always unlikely that he would come to a summit where he would have to face the US President at a time of frosty ties featuring security clampdowns on export of sophisticated technology in microchips.
Mr Xi’s visit to New Delhi was highly unlikely after an informal meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Johannesburg had cold water poured on it post facto by differing perspectives on who had asked for that tete-a-tete. It was also doubtful whether the Chinese leader would have wanted to lend himself to endorsing Indian hospitality and, far less, make a success of G-20, a representative international forum in which China has very few true friends.
What remains for India is an opportunity to seal a greater strategic understanding with the US, which it sorely needs when China’s stand on the LAC is to continue as one of total intransigence with an unending troop faceoff in one of the most difficult frontier terrains. It would appear then that Mr Modi’s bilateral meeting with Mr. Biden a day ahead of G20 formalities would mean much more to India in the current context than firming up the ink on an elusive enough G20 consensus on reforms to the multilateral development bank and finance to fight climate change, etc.
As they say, a friend in need is a friend indeed and the US is just that even if Russia’s President was kind enough in speaking to Mr Modi on the telephone and explaining his absence. But then Mr Putin has not shown a penchant for travelling to summits. It is Mr Xi’s absence that will be the talking point as his trusted aide, Premier Li Qiang, is unlikely to be part of any significant initiative without Mr. Xi’s nod from Beijing.
Mr Modi may be running into Mr Qiang at the summits in Indonesia but, given the disappointment of his meeting with Mr Xi fizzling out, India has to arrive at the conclusion that there is no point in pursuing Chinese leaders with diplomatic overtures regarding the border standoff.
Leaders at the Indonesia summits — Asean-India and East Asia — will be too busy expressing their concerns over China’s latest cartographic caper revealing its claims around the South China Sea. The G-20 may be far from a united family, but India has this chance to forge stronger partnerships with nations similarly unhappy with China’s aggressive approach.