On the return flight from Bali, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s suitcase contained a special object: the gavel of the G20 President. Set to stay in India for a year, it is the symbol of honour that comes with presiding over the world’s premier forum for global economic cooperation. But it also signifies responsibility and proffers an unprecedented opportunity for India’s leadership to shape the international response to pressing challenges. This is the moment when India can step forward to transition from being a rule-taker to being a rule-maker.
Can India handle this mission successfully? It must. Given the oppressive overlay of geopolitics on the G20’s core agenda this year, it will fall on India to steer the G20 away from those rocky waters towards stability and the fulfillment of its promise. In this vein, Narendra Modi’s indication that India’s will be an activist presidency is welcome. The task is difficult, and its first success will lie in reading the outcome of the Bali summit accurately and drawing the right lessons.
The Leaders’ Declaration, based on consensus, was an achievement in itself, as many feared that the grouping may fail to produce it. Several features of the 52-para-long outcome are of particular note – on the current political tensions and the economic crises, on energy security and climate change, health security and the hope embedded in an inclusive digital future.
Significantly, the dark backdrop of “unparalleled multidimensional crises” in which the summit took place, was recognized upfront. It is necessary to acknowledge the impact evident in the economic downturn, increasing global poverty, and delay in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (LDGs).
The G20’s instinct, therefore, was right to stay focused on securing long-term economic growth which is sustainable and inclusive, one based on the futuristic “green and just transitions.” The G20’s effort will continue to ensure food, fertilizer and energy security for all, especially the more vulnerable economies. In particular, there was support for full implementation and continuation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative for good exports from Ukraine.
On climate change, the G20 reiterated its commitment to achieving global net zero greenhouse gas emissions/carbon neutrality “by or around mid-century” and keeping to the 1.5°C temperature limit. Developed countries were reminded to fulfil their previous commitment to mobilize $100 billion per year “by 2020 and through to 2025” – a goal reiterated at COP27 by developing countries, furious at promises unfulfilled, which are now also in danger of being unachievable.
Similar gaps are evident in health security collaboration between the finance and health ministries of the G20 nations for the Pandemic Fund to prevent, prepare for and respond to future pandemics. The current financing gap of $10 billion must be bridged through energetic collective endeavours, with developing countries being more assertive.
Finally, the value of digital technology for multiple sectors – sustainable agriculture, trade, job creation, human capacity development, and inclusive industrialization – was reiterated, especially for developing countries.
Achieving a final formulation for the key political-cum-security Ukraine issue, was a task, but it emerged. The Sherpas burnt the midnight oil to find formulations that could satisfy the two contending camps: the west, and the rest. A finely-balanced outcome, reflected in paras 3 and 4 of the Leaders’ Declaration, saved the Bali summit. “Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine”, the text stated, admitting that “other views and assessments of the situation and sanctions” existed. All agreed that the “use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.” The stamp of Indian diplomacy is visible in the last line: “Today’s era must not be of war.”
While officials delivered, the G20 was a divided house with several leaders shedding their responsibility of charting the path to a peaceful settlement in Ukraine. Instead, they played a sophisticated game of passing the buck. The British PM blamed President Putin for not turning up, saying if he had, “we could get on sorting things out.” The Australian PM urged China to use its influence with Moscow to end the war. The French president conveyed that the conflict must be overcome “by close coordination between France and China”, with President Xi Jinping extending “his support to President Macron’s efforts.”
If only they would remember what scientists and medical experts did, when faced with COVID-19: they quickly identified the virus and invented vaccines to curb the pandemic.
Political leaders must similarly recognize the root cause of the food, fuel, and fertilizer crisis: the conflict in Ukraine and its related sanctions. The false missile crisis on the summit’s last day underlined the perils of delaying a serious bid for peace.
India has made a correct assessment. “Without peace and security, our future generations will not be able to take advantage of economic growth and technological innovation”, said PM Modi. His promise for an action-oriented and ambitious presidency will be closely watched – especially by his domestic constituency which will expect his foreign policy abroad to be equally convincing when conducted from home ground.
Is India prepared? The country has not invested much in multilateral rule-making institutions like the G20, but it is never too late to start. India is ahead in some aspects, particularly technology with digital public goods and its governance. But it will certainly need help and expertise, which can come from the other two members of the next troika, Indonesia and Brazil, as well as from France and Turkey, which can give their deep knowledge of the region around Ukraine. The Modi-Macron lunch on 16 November may have sown the seeds of a future peace initiative. And perhaps PM Modi, after visiting Moscow in December, will travel to Kyiv.
In this, the spirit of the land of Buddha and Gandhi will have been evoked – leaving the G20 to continue, undistracted, to its job of improved global economic growth and governance.
Amb. Rajiv Bhatia is Distinguished Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies, Gateway House
Manjeet Kripalani is Executive Director, Gateway House
A version of the article earlier appeared in The Indian Express.