The Group of 20 Summit, since its beginning in 1999, has set the onus for global leaders to unite on economic, health, and political challenges plaguing the international stage. For its 18th rendition, the G20 Summit was held in New Delhi, led by India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and attended by 19 countries and the EU. On its agenda this year, the summit included the topics of food and energy security, climate change, economic aid to developing countries, and the socioeconomic influences of the war in Ukraine.
From September 9th to the 10th, and joined by an extensive list of global leaders, the 2023 G20 Summit covered the vast array of topics it set out to discuss and ultimately, ended with a joint communique – the New Delhi Declaration. Gathering under the theme, “One Earth, One Family, and One Future, championing the Sanskrit phrase for “the world is one family” the 2023 G20 Summit aimed to sculpt a pathway of unity and cooperation for the foreseeable future.
Technological Developments Take the Stage
One of the crucial results of the Summit was the common consent to embrace further technological innovations for developing nations. Throughout Modi’s Presidency, the focus on digital public infrastructure (or DPI), has been imperative to the states’ development. Controlled by the government and utilized to deliver both public and private services to society as needed, India found great strength in this system throughout the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, which aided in vaccine rollout and cash transfers. The delegates of the G20 Summit, intrigued by this novel development, began to open conversations on its effects, particularly, how DPI use in nations with less than satisfactory levels of infrastructure can guarantee economic relevancy.
This also translated to technological solutions for combatting climate change. Ultimately, while the dialogue surrounding artificial intelligence (AI) has always been approached with caution, the importance of creating DPI and AI that is inclusive and respectful to all forms of human rights protections was highlighted. As a result, negotiations with New Delhi to begin further advancement of the digital sector through mechanisms of designated and effective governance for ‘good and for all,’ took place amongst eight nations.
Within the same vein of progressive delegation, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman of Saudia Arabia, shared a handshake with President Joe Biden of the United States, to issue their announcement of a new project: to create a shipping corridor that stretches from India to the Middle East and Europe. While there are no concrete plans as of late, the idea is to set up rail and port links between the nations, as a form of advancing new trade pathways for further economic cooperation. Formulated as a plan to offset or counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the corridor aims to include several Middle Eastern nations, linking the European Union, as a way to not only increase trade but further develop avenues for both, digital integration and the provision of crucial energy resources.
Missing in Action: China and Russia
Prime Minister Modi’s aim for the event was not only, to display his leadership, but conduct a summit that brought the nation’s initiatives together. However, the absence of a couple of crucial players posed inquiries about the geopolitical implications of the 2023 Summit. Both, Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, were missing in attendance.
While Putin could not afford to attend for the risk of being arrested upon leaving Russia, Xi Jinping’s absence was the first in a summit since its beginning in 2008. Understood as an intentional move, analysts have discussed the reasoning for this play, believed to be well-awaited after growing tensions between India and China over a border dispute. Some have viewed this as an “intentional snub,” while others have focused on how this lack of display can work in India’s favor, boosting Modi’s reputation and ultimately, placing India in the lead on the Global South. This gap, however, also created room for Modi to announce in his opening speech, the inauguration of the African Union to the Group of 20.
The African Union (AU) joins the G20
The African Union, a member delegation that connects the 55 states of the continent, led by the chair, Azali Assoumani, has taken an official seat as a permanent member of the G20. Showing onlookers Modi’s ability to further bring world leaders together, this move simultaneously gives a voice to the entire African bloc on some of the most pressing issues on the geopolitical scale. Representing a continent bountiful in resources for battling climate change and spacious in free trade, the AU’s addition to the G20 not only, provides a necessary power to an entire continent that has otherwise been on the outskirts of conversation, but continues to bridge the gap between East and West, North and South. The move from Modi to officially appoint the African Union on this scale is seen as a positive, and ultimately imperative move, for collective action to tackle the issues plaguing the globe.
Russia’s Reigns Loosened
The final outcome of the summit, resounded in a joint communique touching upon the war in Ukraine. In stark opposition to the statement made in last year’s Bali Declaration, the 2023 joint declaration issued by the G20 nations softened their stance with regard to the Russia-Ukraine war. The joint communique backed Ukraine, calling for respect of “territorial integrity and sovereignty” and stating that “the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.” By emphasizing the suffering of the Ukrainian people, it was agreed by all parties that territory cannot be seized by force, ultimately condemning the actions of war occurring in Ukraine. However, there was a distinct avoidance of placing direct criticism on Russian aggression. The turn of phrase and the concentration towards intolerable acts of war instead, evidently evaded placing responsibility on Russia. This toned-down language resulted in a less than enthusiastic reproach by the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, stating it was “nothing to be proud of.”
Despite this, other diplomats considered it to be a successful outcome, as it secured political agreement from otherwise, opposing groups. Having anticipated Russian disproval of any public incrimination or denouncement, the declaration reflected support for a comprehensive peace and received positive response and agreement by all nations. Considered a massive feat and having demonstrated Modi’s capacity for inclusive leadership, the harmonious joint statement on Ukraine signified an achievement for India. Nevertheless, such a weakening stance on Russia’s actions additionally sheds light on the changing stance within Western media and politics, as countries appear to be shifting focus and sentiment, begging the question of where the West may stand in a continued role within the controversy.
As the Summit came to a close after two long days, Narendra Modi appeared to establish his rightful spot on the international stage, and the “Global South” emerged with a win. With the most comprehensive agenda outcome to date, the 2023 summit placed India as a leading power in providing solutions to global challenges, established the Global South at the focal center of global governance, and ultimately restored a certain amount of faith in the processes of multilateralism.
In having all twenty members, including Russia, agree on a statement in reference to the war in Ukraine, as well as various interests to grow and revamp progressive projects on climate change as well as energy and trade policy, the 2023 G20 Summit has ultimately been viewed as a success. As the conference ended with agreements made and projects proposed, passing the baton onward to Brazil for the following year, the international community at large will take note of the changes to come, awaiting the 2024 G20 Summit.