India has the near impossible task of balancing the West and Russia-China as it hosts a G20 event in New Delhi.
India has the herculean task of overcoming the great divide between the West and Russia-China as it hosts the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meet in New Delhi on March 1-2. Interestingly, this meet arrives days after the G20 finance ministers and central bank governors (FMCBG) met in Bengaluru, last week. But finance chiefs of some of the world’s biggest economies failed to agree upon a joint communique at the meeting. Russia and China had opposed the West’s condemnation of the war in Ukraine. In an angry statement issued by Russia, its foreign ministry lashed out at the United States, the European Union and the G7 nations for attempting to impose “diktat” that Russia called “clear blackmail”.
To quote from the Russian foreign ministry’s statement, “We regret that the activities of the G20 continue to be destabilised by the Western collective and used in an anti-Russian way." While Moscow accused the "collective West" of its confrontational approach towards the Ukraine conflict, France’s Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire and his German counterpart Christian Lindner pressed India and the G20 grouping to include Bali Communique of 2022 that recorded the condemnation of war by "most countries " and not dilute the language of last year’s declaration. That explains why the meeting had no joint communique. Instead, it was summed up in a chair’s summary issued by India.
Needless to say, the Bengaluru stand-off is perhaps only a precursor to India’s conundrum — How to walk the diplomatic tightrope? In a meeting where India is the president and has its own concerns primarily with China vis-a-vis the LAC and security of the Indo-Pacific, a concern that’s expected to be raised at the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting too. To be hosted on the sidelines of the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the gathering will be attended by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong with the Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi most likely to skip the overall event. But the QUAD meet is unquestionably bound to raise eyebrows among the Russian and Chinese representatives.
Moreover, China’s newly appointed foreign minister Qin Gang will be visiting India for the first time after New Delhi sent a stern warning to Beijing over the recent border skirmish in Tawang in December 2022 and completed disengagement in the eastern Ladakh sector in September, last year. India has persistently maintained that normalcy between India and China cannot be restored without peace at the LAC- a message that is expected to be conveyed again to the Chinese foreign minister. How Beijing responds to New Delhi’s messaging will be a defining moment for the bilateral relations between the two.
What’s more is that Beijing’s presence arrives at a time when the US-Chinese tensions are reaching a new low everyday even more so after the US shot down what it claimed was a Chinese spy balloon flying over its skies. The incident had prompted US Secretary of State Blinken to cancel his trip to Beijing. Besides, US intelligence has already suggested that China is set to arm Russia in the Ukraine war. And as recently as Monday, the US Department of Energy assessed that the Covid-19 virus most likely came from a laboratory leak in China’s Wuhan lab, a claim sharply refuted by China.
Furthermore, the war in Ukraine has just completed a year with the UN General Assembly voting overwhelmingly on the eve of the war’s first anniversary. The UNGA resolution called for an end to the war demanding that Russia exits Ukrainian territory. Seventeen of the G20 countries namely North America, Europe, Gulf countries, Turkey and Brazil voted in favour of the resolution. However, India, China and South Africa abstained. And that’s why it’s safe to say that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang land in Delhi on Wednesday at a time when the geopolitical climate is looking rather adverse.
On top of that, Russia and China’s role in the Ukraine war and the Indo-Pacific, even Taiwan may come under strong criticism at India’s premier multilateral conference Raisina Dialogue too. Hosted by the Ministry of External Affairs and the Observer Research Foundation, the dialogue takes place from March 2-4. Nonetheless, India’s role has certain predicaments though replete with opportunity. That India, along with Türkiye and Israel, have the potential to mediate the war in Ukraine is a possibility that’s been debated ever since it began.
But at present, if India can manage its balancing act between two arch-rivals, a united West vs Russia-China, subsequently, achieving a joint communique at the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meet rather than settle for a chair’s summary as it did at the G20 meet in Bengaluru; the feat is bound to reposition New Delhi as a prominent force in a changing new world order; perhaps even enhance its chances of securing a permanent seat for India at the UNSC’s horse-shoe table.
Akanksha Swarup is a columnist for News18.