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'India must have its place in the sun'

Last updated on: September 18, 2023 16:15 IST
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'China seems more intent on creating a new world order rather than shaping the existing one.'
'India is of course, at this moment in time, aligned with the West-led order because of China's full-spectrum aggressive behaviour towards India.'

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra D Modi announces adoption of the G20 Leaders' Summit Declaration, September 9, 2023. Photograph: ANI Photo

"India has added new value to the G-20 and given it a makeover. It has replenished it with new ideas, new processes and perhaps, even new outcomes," says Ambassador Jitendra Nath Misra, India's former envoy to Portugal.

The diplomat-scholar-poet is currently Professor of Diplomatic Practice at the O P Jindal Global University, Sonipat, and Distinguished Fellow at the Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, Dhaka.

"However, the G-20 Summit in India, for me, is but a moment. India might have created a new narrative by effectively deploying the skills of its able diplomats, but is that a milestone? I am not sure because of the structural weaknesses of the G-20," the distinguished diplomat tells's Archana Masih in a two-part interview.


Did Chinese President Xi Jinping make a big miscalculation by not attending the G20 summit in New Delhi?

China might have thought that sending Premier Li Qiang instead of President Xi would be a setback for India.

However, in multilateral meetings, the conduct of delegates in securing outcomes is more important than the level of representation.

India has been positioning itself as the voice of the Global South.

China, on the other hand, was trying to steal India's thunder. China, in fact, has no credentials to call itself a member of the Global South because it is no longer a developing country; it is a middle income country.

China is trying to challenge West-led multilateral institutions and create alternative institutions such as BRICS and SCO.

Therefore, G20 has become less useful for the prosecution of Chinese interests than in the past.

China achieved significant recent success in securing the expansion of BRICS. The expansion happened despite doubts expressed by India and Brazil.

Hence, while Xi's absence from the summit was a snub to India, it was also a snub to the G20. India understood that it wasn't a snub just to India and didn't take it as a personal insult by Xi Jinping to Prime Minister Modi.

India dealt with the G20 Summit at a structural level with a clear understanding that China is attempting to create an alternate world order and G20 is not the forum to do that as the G-20 is heavily dominated by developed countries.

IMAGE: Modi with Chinese Premier Li Qiang at the G20 Summit in New Delhi. Photograph: ANI Photo

What did India do differently in its G20 presidency? How has it reshaped G20?

I also link this to the bilateral China-India relationship.

India is trying to develop China-facing capabilities at the Line of Actual Control and deal with China's hard power.

The Chinese economy is five-and-a-half times the size of the Indian economy. The asymmetry in power means that India must strike partnerships.

Despite China's heavy influence in BRICS, India understands that BRICS is important because the world should not be dominated by the West and India must have its place in the sun.

Yet, India doesn't want to put all its eggs in the BRICS basket because China is attempting to steer BRICS away from India's interests by making it a China-dominated forum.

That is the reason why India had to add new value to the G20 and give it a makeover. It replenished it with new ideas, new processes and perhaps, even new outcomes.

India was deft in understanding that we had a better claim than China to be the voice of the Global South because, as I said, India is a developing country and China isn't.

The poorest nations face a debt service burden of over $60 billion, and they owe two-thirds of this debt to China. This makes China a problem rather than a solution for developing countries.

Besides, according to the World Bank, in 2022, India's per capita GDP was only 2,389 US dollars, China's was 12,720 US dollars.

But it is not as if China has ceded the space to India in the Global South. This struggle will continue, and the outcome is uncertain.

India has a diplomatic tradition, a history of being a dealmaker between North, South, East, and West. So, it put traditional skills to good use.

IMAGE: Modi welcomes US President Joe Biden on his arrival at Bharat Mandapam, September 9, 2023. Photograph: Evan Vucci/Pool via Reuters

How has India put that diplomatic tradition to effective use?

Holding the Voice of the Global South Summit [in January 2023], India calculated that merely talking about development, like the G-20 has done over the years, is not enough.

The Global South has to be brought on board in a more inclusive manner for greater credibility and also to reflect the shift in power from the West to the East.

Of course, China is an important part of that narrative, but by making the G20 more inclusive through membership of the African Union, India creates greater weight for itself within the G20 than in the past.

Power is shifting and India is a bright spot in the world economy. However, the G20 Summit in India, for me, is but a moment. India might have created a new narrative by effectively deploying the skills of its able diplomats, but is that a milestone? I am not sure, because, of the structural weaknesses of the G20.

By inviting the African Union, the G20 has become more inclusive and India has acted as a bridge between the North and the South -- and the West is happy to go along because the G20 is weaning away the South from China. Between the South and China, the South is the lesser evil for the West.

So there is a sweet spot or congruence of interests between India and the Rest, excluding China, obviously.

In a global context, India understood this aspect well and all the meetings were geared towards bringing the South into the centre of the conversation. My congratulations to External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and the Ministry of External Affairs for their correct reading of the international situation.

IMAGE: Modi, Biden with other heads of State/governments and heads of international organisations at Rajghat to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi. Photograph: ANI Photo

What are the big outcomes of the summit?

  1. The Joint Declaration is the most important outcome, followed by
  2. The inclusion of the African Union, and,
  3. The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor.

Since the Corridor could become an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative, the West was happy about it. In fact, I feel the United States might have played a gentle helping hand in toning down the Western opposition to the Joint Declaration because it does not name Russia on the Ukraine war.

It makes references to Ukraine in terms of war and suffering, but does not name a perpetrator of that human suffering. It also denounces the resort to war to make territorial gain, which is indirectly a criticism of Russia without naming Russia.

It was done skilfully.

In the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, last year, the Russians and Chinese accepted a far stronger statement, which called out Russia, but that didn't happen in Delhi. Yet, the West agreed with it.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan both called the statement a 'milestone'. Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany said that, with a reference to territorial integrity, western concerns regarding the war in Ukraine had been met.

The only country that criticised the statement was Ukraine.

India was able to get a consensus because of the alignment of geopolitical forces currently at the global level.

Besides, G20 member states decided that they needed to moderate Chinese aggressive behaviour around the world.

Indonesia, a member of the G20, is also a victim of Chinese cartographic claims. The Nine Dash Line overlaps Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone in the Natuna Sea areas. As far as I know Indonesia has not presented the map of its Exclusive Economic Zone to the UN, but when they do, the conflict will come out into the open.

If China thought that they would pressure and snub India by releasing their new map just before the G-20 Summit, I think they miscalculated.

India's response was immediate. India's protest was followed by protests from Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan and interestingly, Nepal.

India is able to take a leading position when it comes to resisting China for its aggressive behaviour. Therefore, by releasing the map at that particular moment China might have handed India an opportunity to orchestrate a chorus of protests to resist Chinese aggressive behaviour. But whether such a chorus can be sustained remains a question.

The G20 has become a forum where the West-led order is pushing back against an emerging China-led order. China seems more intent on creating a new world order rather than shaping the existing one.

India is of course, at this moment in time, aligned with the West-led order because of China's full-spectrum aggressive behaviour towards India.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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