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India’s remarkable G20 summit – Taipei Times

India’s successful implementation of presiding over the G20 has been as close to impeccable and unexpected as possible.

A consensual leaders’ declaration and a consensus on admitting the African Union as a full member of the G20 were astonishing for its emergence, speed and meticulousness. For both to occur on the first day itself surprised most analysts, many of whom predicted a chairs summary rather than a leaders’ statement.

A result of hard negotiations, these two decisions set the tone for discussions so the G20 could truly be responsive to global needs, particularly for developing countries.

Much media attention, however, was focused on the absence of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).

While it is true that Xi has rarely missed a G20 summit, this time the summit was compared with the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Jakarta. The EAS is always attended by the Chinese premier, currently Li Qiang (李強). Perhaps this time, China simply followed that link of connecting that EAS and the G20 by having the premier attend, simply because the dates were too close together.

There was speculation that Xi did not attend because he could not control the narrative of India’s G20. There were many occasions during the negotiations over the year where Chinese delegates issued protests and objections, sometimes frivolous, like on the use of the theme “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (a Sanskrit term meaning “one earth, one family, one future”). China also ran into stumbling blocks on climate issues, multilateral development bank reforms, debt stress and Ukraine.

The Chinese drew many red lines during negotiations, but it often seemed that they were simply stirring the pot, if not trying to spoil India’s emergence through a successful G20 presiding. Perhaps when they realized that India would succeed regardless, Xi decided not to attend and instead sent the lower-ranking Li, relatively unknown in G20 circles.

India did not express any disappointment in Xi’s absence. India knew that Xi’s presence would perhaps call into question whether a bilateral meeting would take place. This has not taken place for some time, either at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit nor at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg earlier this year. By Xi not attending, it became evident that bilaterally, there is not much to talk about due to Chinese obduracy regarding their position on the border, trade and cohabitation in a growing Indo-Pacific community.

This is not to say that Li’s presence did not provide adequate Chinese participation. Li is certainly not Xi, and being new, an impactful presence of an established leader was certainly missing. There was more coverage of Xi’s participation in other summits shown on Indian television than there was of Li. The Indian media certainly missed Xi.

US President Joe Biden seemed to miss Xi, too. He was perhaps waiting for a bilateral meeting to restore vitality to the US-China relationship.

Biden announced in Hanoi, Vietnam on Sunday, Sept. 10, that he had quietly met with Li in Delhi.

Ultimately, China did not hold up consensus on the leaders’ statement. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs in response to a question said that China was helpful and in fact had they not been, the leaders’ statement by consensus would not have emerged. China therefore, created problems in the past but in the final call played it gently. In any case, the leaders’ statement is not a binding document. If it was, then the Chinese would be playing hardball like they are with the code of conduct on the South China Sea with ASEAN.

China might be concerned about the terminology in the paragraphs dealing with Ukraine. Many of those deal with sovereignty, territorial integrity and a rule-based international order, of which China is often accused of violating, most recently through its cartographic aggression against its neighbors. China criticized India for holding meetings in Arunachal Pradesh, which China mistakenly thinks is disputed.

China is preparing for the 10th anniversary of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It remains to be seen how many countries will actually attend this time since the BRI has not delivered as well as it originally promised and debt stress has damaged the initiative’s reputation. The announcement by Biden along with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the EU to have new rail, port and energy connectivity between India, West Asia and Europe is a new proposal which will perhaps bring forth the quality infrastructure, which countries have been talking about to challenge the BRI’s lack of transparency. The US’ Build Back Better, the EU’s Global Gateway, India-EU connectivity and the I2U2 collaboration among India, Israel, the US and the UAE all feed into this new proposal, which is big and could be a game changer if properly implemented. France also announced a connectivity project across Africa which would build connectivity. These challenge Beijing’s BRI in concept.

The involvement of countries within these projects has BRICS countries like India, South Africa, as well as Saudi Arabia and the UAE among others. This also shows that the challenge to China through building regional connectivity will not only be in the Indo-Pacific, where Japan is taking the lead, but will also happen in West Asia and Europe, where China has made limited gains and is now facing pushback.

It is clear that the G20 presidency has brought India to the global center stage as an important country with a robust economy, a commitment to the Global South and an ability to guide priorities towards these objectives. China will need to match this harder and act more responsibly as a global power.

Gurjit Singh is a former Indian ambassador to Germany, Indonesia and ASEAN, Ethiopia and the African Union.

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