In the Aftermath of the 2023 G20 Summit, a Controversial Mix of Bright Intentions and Cynical Calculations Remains
G20 summit in New Delhi, India tracks a mixed bouquet of meanings . On one hand, the slogan "One Earth. One Family. One Future" adorned every wall. On the other, there was a feigned lack of understanding of the real cause of the largest war in Europe in the last 78 years. From one perspective, there was a focus on sustainable development and a green transition. From another, there was a persistent unwillingness to specify the timelines for such a transition. We could continue with more aspects, but for now, let's focus on this.
On September 9-10, the loud G20 summit took place in New Delhi, India. However, it wasn't quite complete. There were two notable absences, albeit for different reasons. Russian President Vladimir Putin did not dare to attend the event to avoid putting his host, India, in an uncomfortable position. The International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Putin for rather unsightly reasons - his involvement in war crimes, including illegal deportations and displacement of the population, especially children, from the occupied territory of Ukraine. Putin was replaced at the summit by Russia's Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, significantly reducing the level of engagement and achievements of the Russian delegation during the summit.
Another headliner, Chinese President Xi Jinping, did not attend on his own initiative. Experts often mention that he did this to deprive his Indian opponents of certain advantages as the hosts of the event. Contradictions between the both most populous countries have long been known, including territorial disputes. At the summit, Xi Jinping was represented by China's Premier Li Qiang, a figure of considerably less influence than Xi but significant enough to engage with top figures in New Delhi.
The host of the summit, India, truly relished its status and sought to gain maximum benefit from being at the center of attention. India currently boasts one of the world's fastest-growing economies, and its geopolitical influence is also on the rise. This has attracted the attention of savvy investors who are frustrated with China's slowing growth and strict business regulations in developed countries. By the way, China's business regulations are also becoming increasingly stringent.
As Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, faces the challenge of next year's elections, he tried to play his role expertly. He maximized the opportunities, and envy is perhaps the only response. For instance, he held talks with French President Emmanuel Macron regarding a nuclear power plant project in the western state of Maharashtra. They also reached an agreement on bilateral cooperation for the joint development of small modular reactors and advanced modular reactors.
The G20 summit of 2023 had significant implications not only for India but for the entire world. It's worth noting that Brazil will assume the G20 presidency next year. Given the leftist, populist tendencies of Brazil's President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his strong affinity for Beijing and Moscow, the G20 is expected to face significant challenges.
A New Belt, A New Road
"I am proud to announce that the USA, India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, France, Germany, Italy, and the EU have concluded a historic agreement on a new economic corridor - the India-Middle East-Europe corridor. This project is more than just laying down tracks; it is a significant regional investment," declared President Biden in a recent tweet. And indeed, it is.
This represents a real alternative and counterbalance to China's "Belt and Road Initiative" (BRI), which China has been vigorously promoting for the past decade but with limited success. The BRI is considered a central element of Chinese leader Xi Jinping's foreign policy, as well as a central component of his "Great Power Diplomacy" strategy. If this new economic corridor is realized by developed countries, it will shift global politics and trade towards the dominance of democratic nations over autocratic regimes.
After the United States and its partners announced plans to create a new trade corridor to the Middle East and India, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that he would accelerate discussions in the region about his own project. He is currently in talks with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to construct a railway and parallel highway to the Iraqi port of Basra. These two Gulf countries are also participating in the US-supported India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor. So, in one way or another, Turkey offers both support and an alternative path in addition to the new economic corridor, which is set to reach the Mediterranean via Israel.
During the summit, Chinese Premier Li Qiang met with several leaders, including Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. However, this did not prevent Meloni from privately informing the Chinese Premier about Italy's future withdrawal from the BRI initiative. Italy was the only G7 country participating in that initiative. While Italy is likely to withdraw from BRI, it will likely seek to revive an agreement for strategic partnership with China aimed at promoting economic cooperation, which was first signed in 2004.
Overall, China received several strong signals from both Europe and the USA regarding their desire for a more restrained Pekin's foreign policy. And it's not just about an alternative to the Silk Road (read - BRI). After participating in the G20, Joe Biden visited Hanoi (Vietnam), where he held productive negotiations with Vietnam's leadership, which is known for its pragmatic approach to relations with both Beijing and Washington. If anyone thinks that Vietnam's rapprochement with the USA will be hindered by memories of a war from 50 years ago, they should remember the Sino-Vietnamese armed conflict in 1978. Neither that nor the other prevented Hanoi from benefiting from economic relations with both of the world's largest economies simultaneously.
China received an additional signal during the G20 from Washington's closest ally - London. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed his "serious concern" to his Chinese counterpart about "interference" by Beijing in British affairs. This relates to the arrest of two individuals on charges of espionage for China. On the occasion, Sunak also reminded China about the situation in the former British colony of Hong Kong. As is well known, Hong Kong is being integrated into China well ahead of the schedule that was agreed upon during Britain's exit from the territory in the late 1990s.
Peace is Not Everywhere
Leaders of the G20 failed to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine in a joint statement after China and Russia rejected formulations that placed exclusive responsibility on Moscow for the full-scale war that began in February 2022 in Ukraine.
The summit's declaration in New Delhi only mentions the "war in Ukraine," phrasing that supporters of Kyiv, such as the United States and NATO allies, do not recognize as it implies that both sides equally bear responsibility for the use of weapons.
Of course, the text of the statement was not agreed upon at the summit but over several weeks before it began. It's this point about the "war" being unrelated to the actual perpetrator that represents a diplomatic setback. Particularly in light of the previous G20 declaration made in Indonesia in November 2023, which spoke of the "aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine." Western diplomats have stated that China's refusal to repeat this formulation hindered recognition of the real situation in this statement. China's position prompted the host country, India, to propose a compromise.
The declaration called for a "fair and lasting peace in Ukraine" but did not directly link this demand to the importance of Ukraine's territorial integrity, as insisted upon by Western countries. The declaration also lacked the phrase "the majority of members strongly condemned the war," unlike the 2022 version of the document.
However, the removal of Western criticism of Russia allowed the G20 to reach agreement on other issues, such as the promise to resume the export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea, according to a senior Western official present at the summit.
In response to this statement, the spokesperson for the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, "From the perspective of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, the 'Group of Twenty' has nothing to be proud of. Clearly, the participation of the Ukrainian side would have allowed the participants to better understand the situation."
French President Emmanuel Macron, however, expressed his view that the G20 is not the right place to achieve diplomatic progress on ending Russia's war in Ukraine.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on the other hand, staunchly defended the previous wording of the G-20 statement regarding Russia's invasion of Ukraine, stating on CNN State of the Union that this phrasing "loudly speaks" to the fact that all members, except Russia, supported Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Not Rushing to Go Green
The concluding declaration of the Indian G20 summit also includes a promise to "continue and encourage efforts aimed at tripling global renewable energy capacity" but does not provide any definitive timelines for phasing out fossil fuels. Why? Because China and Saudi Arabia took such a stance. They demanded this during previous G20 meetings in July.
During the G20 summit, a separate panel on biofuels was held. At the highest level, this initiative was supported by Joe Biden, who, on September 9, stated in his tweet: "Today, I joined leaders from India, Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Mauritius, and the UAE to launch the Global Biofuels Alliance, a partnership to make progress in our joint commitment to deploy cleaner and more environmentally friendly fuels worldwide for our decarbonization goals."
Summing up the driving forces behind this process, it essentially boils down to intricate bargaining between developed and developing countries. Gradually, the balance is shifting towards the idea that developed countries should financially incentivize developing countries for a green transition. In fact, a significant portion of the summit's time was devoted to this issue. As the world economy emerges from the stagnation caused by COVID-19, it is increasingly returning to the problems of climate change. More specifically, to the green transition to avoid climate changes.