The recently concluded G20 summit in Bali provided the leading economies a platform to hear and be heard on global issues. The gathering already made headlines for the surprise meeting between Biden and Xi and how they seem to find a way forward to defuse heightened tensions between the two powerhouses. The summit provided an opportunity as an ice-breaker between China and many of the US allies including Australia, Canada, France and South Korea, which could potentially have a positive effect in reducing disagreements and geopolitical tensions. The immediate outcome being that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken now plans to visit China early next year, the highest-level US visit to China in more than four years.
The second day of the two-day summit was marked by worries about an escalation in the Russia-Ukraine war, after two people were killed in a missile blast in Poland. This incident immediately sparked concerns that NATO alliance (of which Poland is a member) might be drawn directly into Russia’s nearly nine-month war against western-backed Ukraine. Although Poland later suggested that missile that hit it was Ukrainian stray, easing concerns of escalation. Nevertheless, such incidents and miscalculations suggest that the scale and scope of war could rapidly spiral out of control beyond Russia and Ukraine engulfing EU and the US, which is a matter of grave concern.
The Ukraine conflict and its implications including food and energy security figured highly in the talks. But as expected, there was no diplomatic headway to arrive at a substantive breakthrough on the conflict. Most countries deplore the Russian aggression against Ukraine that is causing immense human suffering and exasperating existing fragilities in the global economy.
Understanding the challenges and the need for collective action, the G20 Presidency of Indonesia focused on three main pillars namely: global health architecture, sustainable energy transition, and digital transformation. Through these pillars, the forum wants to continue to take the lead on ensuring equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, promoting sustainable and inclusive economic development through MSMEs participation and digital economy.
As a leading strategic multilateral platform connecting the world’s major developed and emerging economies, the G20 holds a strategic role in securing future global economic growth and prosperity. G20 members represent more than 80% of world GDP, 75% of international trade and 60% of the world population. Recognition of the importance of collective action and inclusive collaboration among major developed countries and emerging economies around the world has always been the core purpose of the G20.
The summit is taking place at “the most pivotal, precarious moment in generations”. With the global population now at eight billion and growing, action or inaction by the world’s largest economies, the G20, will be critical to determine if everyone gets to live on a peaceful and healthy planet, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said at a press conference in Bali, Indonesia, on Monday.
While it is recognized that the G20 is not the forum to resolve security issues, nonetheless these security issues have significant consequences for the global economy. Hence it is incumbent upon the G20 to address these issues as much as possible, particularly so when UN and other bilateral interventions have failed to diffuse the conflict. This is where India’s role can be critical as it presides over the G20 Presidency on 1 December, it could reflect upon the hits and misses of the summit and learn as to how to make this multilateral forum more relevant in the coming years. As the world is passing through economic downturn, inflation and supply chain disruptions, trade and economic resilience could be a major “thematic” agendas for the upcoming year. There are several cues and templates for its presidency from the Bali summit.
From a geopolitical perspective, suggestion could be to focus on the leveraging Indo-Russian ties to bring in a more isolated Russia within and towards the discussion and diplomacy roundtable of multitude of G20 events in the run-up to the leaders’ summit in September 2023. India could use its presidency to address the Ukraine conflict and try to defuse the situation and strategize for peace and path towards reconciliation as much as possible. The G20 communique that “today’s era must not be of war” precisely echoes PM Modi’s message to Russian President at the SCO summit few months back.
The other anchor of the summit could be bridging the gap between the West and the Global South on issues such as climate change, trade facilitation, and healthcare resilience support. India has in the past championed the cause of low-income countries, whether it’s at the climate talks (UNFCCC), negotiating for a fairer deal in terms of technological and financial support for developing countries, at WTO—towards trade issues related to lowering of tariff and non-tariff barriers for developing countries, at WHO, for patent waiver on Covid vaccines etc. India could work on adopting an SDG stimulus package that will provide governments of the Global South with investments and liquidity, and offering debt relief and restructuring for vulnerable nations.
PM Modi suggested that “data for development” will be integral part of the overall theme of India’s upcoming G20 Presidency. The digital transformation should not be confined to a small part of the human race and its greater benefits will be realised only when digital access becomes truly inclusive. India’s experience in the past few years has shown that if digital architecture is made widely accessible, it can bring about socio-economic transformation.
Fourteen years back, the leaders of the G20 met for the first time in the wake of the most severe financial crisis. Fast forward to 2022, the G20 met in the backdrop of the Ukraine conflict, choppy global economic recovery from the pandemic and amidst pressing sustainable development and climate change issues plaguing the world population. India will have too many things on its plate as it takes the mantle of this multilateral forum. India needs to carefully balance and meander through issues central to its self-interests and those for the global community. As India champions its virtue of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam—the world is one family for the G20—its presidency needs to skilfully manage this disorderly family in the year ahead.
Dr Mohit Anand is Prof of International Business and Strategy at EMLYON Business School, France. Rajesh Mehta is a leading consultant and columnist working on market entry, innovation and public policy.