Was the New Delhi G20 joint communique a diplomatic success for India?

The joint declaration walked a fine line that spoke of 'different assessments' of Russia's war in Ukraine, while allowing India to project its presence at a global level

Was India's G20 joint communique a diplomatic success? (photo: DW)
Was India's G20 joint communique a diplomatic success? (photo: DW)


When the G20 summit wrapping up on 10 September, host India was able to notch a diplomatic victory as the world leaders gathered in New Delhi reached consensus on a joint declaration, despite previous concerns over addressing Russia's war in Ukraine.

In the months leading up to the summit, Indian diplomats worked hundreds of hours on several drafts to find common ground on the wording regarding Ukraine, with Russia and China especially raising several objections.

The final joint declaration touched on the war, but avoided specifically condemning Russia and categorised the 'human suffering and negative added impacts' of the war in an economic context, 'with regard to global food and energy security, supply chains, macro-financial stability, inflation and growth'.

The declaration called on all states to 'uphold principles of international law… including territorial integrity'. It also 'welcomed… relevant and constructive initiatives' to 'support a durable peace' in Ukraine.

The statement added that there were 'different assessments of the situation'.

Softer take on Ukraine war

The wording was noticeably softer compared with last year's declaration at the Bali G20 summit, which 'deplored in the strongest terms... aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine' and called for a 'complete and unconditional withdrawal'.

Ukraine's foreign ministry called the declaration 'nothing to be proud of', but some of Kyiv's key supporters voiced their satisfaction with the language used.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz praised the statement's clear position stressing the 'territorial integrity' of all countries.

US national security advisor Jake Sullivan said the G20 statement "does a very good job of standing up for the principle that states cannot use force to seek territorial acquisition".

S Jaishankar, India's external affairs minister, said "many things have happened" since last year's G20 summit.

"Bali was a year ago, the situation was different," he told a press briefing.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the summit was a success and added "we were able to prevent the West's attempts to 'Ukrainise' the summit agenda". Russian president Vladimir Putin did not attend the summit; Lavrov was there instead on behalf to present the country.

Amit Julka, assistant professor of international relations at India's Ashoka University, told DW that the language used suggested a "climb down" from both Russia and the Western countries.

"Broadly speaking this was a compromise from the West. But there was a reverse compromise as well, since Russia has agreed to not use nuclear weapons," he said.

"Any direct mention of any specific nation was excluded, and the broad principle of territorial sovereignty was stated. Every country accepted it because they were free to interpret it in their own way," Julka added.

India's growth as a global power

The positive closure to India's G20 presidency comes after several events throughout the year during which Prime Minister Narendra Modi was out to project India's image as a growing diplomatic and economic force in the world.

"India succeeded in several ways. It has been able to project its diplomatic abilities at the global level. However, the success can only be analysed in the long term," Shaunak Set, a visiting lecturer at King's College London, told DW.

Inviting the African Union to become a permanent member of the G20 was seen as a way to highlight the importance of including the "Global South" in multilateral forums.

"In a way, India is reprising its role as the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement. As far as the leadership of the Global South is concerned, there is also some competition with China. The membership of the (African Union) is an important event, but what remains to be seen is how India continues with this leadership,” Julka told DW.

He was referring to the Non-Aligned Movement during the 1950s and 60s, where countries such as India, Egypt, former Yugoslavia and Ghana refused to align with either power bloc during the Cold War.

Along with welcoming the African Union, the G20 communique also opened the door for deepening cooperation with other regional partners in the future.

The US, Saudi Arabia, UAE, EU, India and others on the sidelines of the G20 announced an ambitious plan to link railways, ports, electricity, data networks and hydrogen pipelines. "It is a green and digital bridge across continents and civilisations," said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Dubbed as the modern-day Spice Route, the plan intends to link Europe, the Middle East and India. It could provide an alternative to the Suez Canal, which currently handles 10 per cent of global maritime trade.

"The economic corridor can be a more environmentally friendly option than shipping, and maybe even quicker. There are some concerns about the economics and logistics about how this will be carried out, but this remains to be seen," Julka told DW.

The plan is also being seen as a push by the US to counter China's Belt and Road push on global infrastructure.

The G20 leaders also unveiled plans to triple expenditure on renewable energy and reduce the usage of coal. It also said $4 trillion would be needed to pay for green energy transition. However, the communique made no concrete plans or policies to achieve these goals.

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