Skepticism was running high ahead of the 2023 summit of the Group of 20, or G20, held in New Delhi in early September. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that they would not attend. At one moment, it was touch and go whether U.S. President Joe Biden – whose wife, Jill, was ill with COVID-19 – would make the trip. The general consensus was the group would fail to come up with a final declaration, largely because of differences over the war in Ukraine.
And yet, the assembled leaders did release a joint declaration on giving a new impetus to the World Bank, fighting climate change and dealing with infectious diseases, among other issues. One of the main outcomes was the admission of the African Union as a full member, much as the European Union has been from the start.
The final G20 statement has been criticized for not specifically condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But given Moscow’s and Beijing’s stance on that war – and New Delhi’s studiously neutral position on it – that was never much in the cards.
And perhaps that is the point. From its beginning, the G20 was established to deal with global economic governance issues. Yet, over time, some members have attempted to hijack it to focus on geopolitics.
Perhaps the time has come for the G20 – which now consists of 19 leading economies, the European Union and the African Union – to go back to basics and deal with what it’s best at: the economic, environmental and developmental challenges facing our troubled world. After all, there are already plenty of international organizations that deal with geopolitics, not least the United Nations.
Politics of a domestic kind was certainly in evidence during the G20. Taking place as India gears up for its 2024 elections, the country was plastered with G20 posters featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The emblem of the gathering was the lotus flower, which happens to be that of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.
It is estimated that some 100,000 foreign delegates visited India in the year running up to the meeting, and that 15 million Indians participated in G20-related activities.
As Indian diplomat Abhay Kumar told me during my visit to New Delhi a week prior to the summit, cultural events were held in all Indian states as part of the official G20 program. New Delhi itself looked as clean and green as I have ever seen it since first setting foot there 20 years ago as Chile’s ambassador to India.
Was all this a bit much? Perhaps. But at a time when some politicians revel in decrying anything that has to do with the outside world, there is something to be said for stressing the significance of a diplomatic summit – and its meaning for the people of what is today the most populated country on Earth.
There is little doubt that the world is undergoing an “India moment.” The recent moon landing of an Indian spaceship, the Indian economy growing at the fastest clip of any major country, and New Delhi flexing its diplomatic muscles big time during the G20 all burnish its credentials as a leader of what has become known as the Global South – and consists of various countries around the globe described as “developing.”