NEW DELHI: The two-day G20 summit at the dazzling Bharat Mandapam in the heart of the national capital always promised to be India’s moment in the sun. But it actually ended up exceeding expectations.
From clinching a consensus on the joint declaration to successfully inducting the African Union into the group, India managed to check all the boxes during the summit last weekend.
More importantly, it presented itself as a confident new global power which can be a leader for the developing world.
In doing so, India is giving a stiff competition to China, which has been trying to position itself as the undisputed leader of the
for many years.
According to a report in The New York Times, a newly-confident India is presenting itself as a different kind of leader for developing countries — one that is big, important and better positioned than China in an increasingly polarized world to make America listen.
Bridge between West and the rest
The report said that the primary example of this was the the “unexpected consensus” India managed over the weekend, persuading US and Europe to soften the statement on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The report added that India also presided over the decision to add the African Union to the G20 in its campaign to be the champion of the global south.
This ensured two things. First, India managed to evade a stalemate over the Ukraine war, which would have taken centrestage unless a consensus had been reached. Second, with the global powers softening the stand and focusing on other issues, India managed to play the role of a bridge between the West and the Global South.
“Global South” refers to the group of countries primarily located in Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Oceania, which are usually characterised by lower levels of economic development, limited access to resources and legacy of colonisation and exploitation.
Kishore Mahbubani, a former ambassador for Singapore, told NYT that a “structural shift” is happening in the global order.
“The power of the West is declining, and the weight and power of the global south — the world outside the West — is increasing,” he said, adding that India is the “only country” which can be a bridge between “the West and the rest.”
Perfect counter to China
The report said that India finds itself in a perfect position in the global world order since neither US nor China are especially beloved among developing nations.
“The United States is criticized for focusing more on military might than economic assistance. The signature piece of China’s outreach — its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative — has fueled a backlash as Beijing has resisted renegotiating crushing debt that has left many countries facing the risk of default,” it said.
On the other hand, India is less domineering and less tied to money or defence, the report said.
The observations come at a time when China’s BRI is facing a host of issues with burgeoning loan defaults and a rethink by several members. During the G20 summit, Italy told China that it is planning to exit the ambitious project since it failed to yield the expected results.
The report noted that contrasted with Xi, who is usually distant and stiff in public, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exudes personal warmth. It cited
‘s “long, strong hug” to African Union chief Azali Assouman after the inclusion of the group to G20.
Message for Beijing
Months ahead of the G20 summit, PM Modi had invited 125 mostly developing countries to a virtual meeting in January to signal New Delhi’s intention to be their champion on the world stage.
“Three-fourths of humanity lives in our countries. We should also have equivalent voice,” PM Modi had said during the meeting.
The report said that the gathering had a message for China, which was not invited, like other G20 members.
Eric Olander, the editor of China Global South Project, told NYT that Beijing regards New Delhi as a “major rival”, particularly in Asia.
However, he added that it’s mainly due to India’s close ties to US and not in terms of global south leadership.
“China is very confident that India can’t compete with Beijing in the key areas that matter most to developing countries, namely development finance, infrastructure and trade,” he said.
But with BRI projects needing a strong push and China’s economy sagging, India is taking slow, but positive strides, to compete with its South Asian neighbour.
That’s one of the reasons why US and the West see India as an important ally.
China, too, acknowledges that.
“The US-led Western countries want to use India to divide the global south and weaken China’s position among developing countries,” a recent editorial in the Global Times, a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, read.