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G20 and our evolving ties with India

The recently completed G20 summit in New Delhi brought with it some noteworthy developments.

As an organisation, the G20 is becoming more inclusive of the Global South’s interests as it expanded its membership to include the African Union, a 55-member geo-political grouping covering the entirety of the African continent and its 1.3 billion people.

Admitting the African Union to the G20 is an attempt to balance Beijing’s influence on the continent amid several multi-year China-sponsored infrastructure projects and the Chinese Communist Party’s patient, steady cultivating of political relationships. It also demonstrates that the G20 is working with the developing world on issues of need and shared concern.

As the president of this year’s G20, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has served as an effective bridge to connect the interests of developing and developed nations. This has involved Mr Modi giving voice to the Global South, seeking to displace China in this role.

Notable in his absence at the G20 summit in New Delhi was Chinese President Xi Jinping who sent his premier, Li Qiang, to attend on his behalf. This was a missed opportunity for Xi to participate in what many viewed as a successful summit.

In Xi’s absence, the summit was an opportunity for US President Joe Biden to demonstrate new American commitment towards addressing concerns in the Global South, providing an alternative to China. Discussions addressed tripling global renewable energy capacity to address climate change; public and digital infrastructure investments; debt relief; and, in President Biden’s words, ‘Creating a better future (that) represents greater opportunity, dignity, and prosperity for everyone.’

The idea is for the G20 to provide the Global South with needed investments and financial assistance without strings attached, drawing a contrast to Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) global infrastructure development strategy which has left many participating countries heavily indebted and dire financial straits over the past decade.

In terms of the summit’s declaration, the G20’s joint statement was bereft of condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead referred to the ‘suffering’ of the Ukrainian people. This was a water-downed version as compared to last year’s G20 joint statement in Bali, Indonesia that condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and this development reflects India’s fence-sitting stance on the war as well as the lack of agreement in the world concerning the issue.

The summit also provided insight into the changing nature of the US-India relationship which is increasingly focused on shared interests rather than common principles and values. Washington’s foreign policy is geared towards addressing the challenges of a rising China and it is seeking to partner with India and other states to offset growing Chinese power and influence in the world.

To this end, the US has been willing to engage in a realist, transactional relationship with India that trumps security over democratic ideals. Concerns over Mr Modi’s backsliding on human rights and press freedoms have been placed on the back burner as the US engages India on defence ties.

Despite areas of disagreement, the US-India relationship is stronger than it has ever been as the world’s two largest democracies work closely on diplomatic and hard power initiatives.

During their meeting on the eve of the G20 summit, Biden and Modi agreed to deepen cooperation with defence technology transfers, AI, space and defence industrial collaboration, contributing to both countries’ deterrence capabilities and military preparedness.

Biden and Modi also recommitted to making India into a hub for US Navy vessel and aircraft maintenance and repair while committing US industry to increased investment in India’s aircraft capabilities.

Also discussed were partnerships addressing semiconductor chip production, supply chain resilience, higher education, carbon emissions reductions, telecommunications, and maintaining open access to shipping lanes in Indo-Pacific waters.

A significant achievement of the summit concerned plans for a new shipping and rail corridor that will connect India, the Middle East and Europe. Dubbed the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor – IMEC, this project will connect these three regions with shipping lines, rail, energy pipelines and high-speed data cables as a way to challenge China’s economic weight in the region, provide an alternative to China’s BRI, secure supply lines with trusted partners and promote sustainable growth in low and middle-income countries.

The endeavour will involve Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Israel, and will seek to counter increasingly close relations between America’s Gulf Arab partners and Beijing.

Additionally, the summit announced an agreement to continue developing the rail line connecting the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Africa’s interior mining region with the port city of Lobito, Angola on Africa’s Atlantic coast. The objective is to support the economies of the DRC, Angola and Zambia, bring transparency to the mining industry in Africa and develop global supply chains for critical minerals. The project also seeks to increase competitiveness with China in Africa while establishing a contrast with Beijing’s infrastructure projects which have been criticized for creating poor conditions for African laborers.

The newly announced infrastructure initiatives come at a welcome time given the dire need for projects that support both developing and modern economies. It demonstrates that the West is providing the investment in high-quality infrastructure with responsible financing that the developing world has been requesting for years amid disappointments with China’s BRI.

The summit also called for the Washington-based World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to increase assistance to poorer nations to help with climate financing, restructuring sovereign debt and regulating cryptocurrencies.

Specifically, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva urged for an increase in resources. For his part, President Biden called for the G20 to ‘scale up’ the World Bank to increase its lending capacity for low and middle-income countries in efforts to create a better option for coercive Chinese financing and to provide nations with additional options.

As the world continues to fragment into blocs of countries divided over the US-China rivalry and the war in Ukraine, Western leaders hope that stepped-up lending by multilateral banks will improve influence and diplomatic ties with the Global South, much of which has been under the sway of Beijing and Moscow in recent years.

Larger picture, developments at the G20 point to a new type of US foreign policy that is likely here to stay for the time being. That is, Washington’s approach to the world today is increasingly determined by how it can advance its interests amid its escalating rivalry with China for influence and power.

Ted Gover, Ph.D., (@tedgover) is Associate Clinical Faculty at Claremont Graduate University in Los Angeles.

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