A day after US First Lady, Jill Biden, tested positive for Covid, there was speculation over President Biden’s visit to India for the G20 Summit. On Wednesday, Jake Sullivan, US National Security Advisor, confirmed that Joe Biden will be travelling to New Delhi and thereafter to Vietnam should his health permit.
“On Thursday, the President will travel to New Delhi, India, to attend the G 20 Leaders’ Summit. On Friday, President Biden will participate in a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Modi of the Republic of India. And on Saturday and Sunday, the President will participate in the official sessions of the G20 Summit,” said NSA Sullivan to reporters at a White House briefing on Wednesday.
NSA Sullivan outlined the Biden administration’s plans for the President’s participation in the G20 Summit in New Delhi.
The agenda includes bilateral meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and a focus on “delivering big things together” across multiple domains including climate change, technology, and multilateral development banks.
While the US strives to fortify its international alliances, two major geopolitical players – China and Russia, loom large, threatening to be the spoilers in the global narrative.
The NSA Sullivan also appreciated India’s presidency of the Group of Twenty (G20) and welcomed India’s proposal to add the African Union as a member of this economic grouping.
“As a forum that can deliver and thanks to the leadership of Prime Minister Modi and India’s presidency, we hope we’ll be able to do all of those things. We’re also looking forward to warmly welcoming the African Union as a permanent member of the G20. As the newest permanent member, we believe that the African Union’s voice will make the G20 stronger,” he said.
US OBJECTIVES AT G20
According to Sullivan, President Biden aims to show that the US’s commitment to the G20 “hasn’t wavered,” even in “challenging times.”
Biden’s approach seems to be twofold: internal rejuvenation and global partnership. The United States will push for debt relief for developing countries and seeks to remodel multilateral development banks to be more effective.
Biden has also called for additional funds for the World Bank to boost its financing capacity by $25 billion, echoing similar ambitions for the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“As the President heads to the G20, he is committed to working with emerging market partners to deliver big things together. That’s what we believe the world will see in New Delhi this weekend. The United States’s commitment to the G20 hasn’t wavered. And we hope this G20 summit will show that the world’s major economies can work together even in challenging times. So as we head into New Delhi, our focus is going to be on delivering for developing countries, making progress on key priorities for the American people from climate to technology, and showing our commitment to the G20,” said Sullivan.
CHINA’s OBSTRUCTIONIST APPROACH
China’s role at the summit could be a determinant of its success or failure.
Sullivan notes that the “tensions between India and China affecting the summit is really up to China.” Beijing’s track record suggests it might adopt an obstructionist approach, particularly when it comes to issues involving its geopolitical interests or territorial claims. While China has been heavily involved in multilateral development, its method, often dubbed as ‘Debt Diplomacy’, poses an alternative to the transparent, high-quality investment that international financial institutions provide.
However, it is the attitude of China towards India’s presidency that could pose as a huge challenge, from President Xi skipping the meeting to China objecting to various texts of the joint communique.
To a question on India-China tensions impacting the outcome at the G20 Summit, Sullivan said, “As far as the question of tensions between India and China affecting the summit really, that’s up to China. If China wants to come in and play the role of spoiler, of course that option is available to them.”
“What I think that the chair, India, will encourage them to do, what we the United States, and every other member, virtually every other member at G20 will do is encourage them to come in in a constructive way on climate on multilateral development, bank reform on debt relief, on technology, and set aside the geopolitical questions; and really focus on problem solving and delivering for the developing countries,” he added.
NO CONSENSUS ON RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR
Another sore point in achieving a unified G20 stance is the Russia-Ukraine war.
Despite a majority of the G20 members agreeing on the illegality of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, reaching a consensus becomes “challenging” with Russia at the table.
Sullivan doesn’t expect Russia to change its position anytime soon, indicating that unity on the issue may remain elusive.
To a question on what changed from the Bali summit where there was a consensus document to now, Sullivan said, “If I recall, Russia, who was the main objector to the proposition that so many of the other members in the G20 signed on to. I don’t expect that Russia is going to flip its position on the Ukraine war this year. So to get absolute consensus on a statement on Ukraine is challenging because you’ve got Russia seated at the table won’t be at not at the leader level because Putin isn’t going to be there but the fact that most members of the G20 as most members of the UN General Assembly continue to hold the position that Russia’s war was illegal in violation of the UN Charter, and that this war must end on terms consistent with UN Charter. That is the result of months of hard diplomacy by the United States and our partners. And it continues to reflect where international sentiment is on this issue. And what assurances.”
HUMAN RIGHTS AND MEDIA FREEDOM
Sullivan assured that freedom of the press and human rights issues would not be compromised during President Joe Biden’s trip to India.
When asked by a reporter on the safety of the travelling American press, he said, “The ability of the American press travelling with President Biden to be able to go to the G20 and cover the G20 in an unencumbered way is something that has been a serious priority for this White House, for me personally as recently. We are putting our money where our mouth is in terms of making sure that the American press will have all the access that they need and are entitled to as members of the international press as members of the White House press.”
He indicated that these topics would be part of the agenda, even during the President’s subsequent trip to Vietnam. Biden aims to advance partnership in a manner consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Secondly, President Biden himself has spoken on questions related to democracy and human rights as recently as the state visit earlier this year, the United States’ position on these issues is clear and is reflected in the statements of our president.”
He added, “when it comes to the trip to Vietnam, we believe that we have a powerful opportunity to advance our partnership in a way that will deliver for the American people and will deliver broader security, stability and prosperity in the Indo Pacific. But we also always raise issues related to freedom of expression, freedom of religion and other basic human rights that are at the core of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This trip will be no exception to that.”
The G20 Summit in New Delhi will be a litmus test for the Biden administration’s ability to rally global economic powerhouses around issues such as climate change, technology, and equitable development.
While the US under Biden seems to be pushing for a collaborative approach, achieving a unified stance may prove to be a Sisyphean task given the obstructionist tendencies of China and the complexity surrounding Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Nevertheless, the Summit serves as an essential platform where major economies can strive for meaningful outcomes, especially at a time when the world is grappling with historic and overlapping shocks.