India tests its new global role in the G-20 | International
India will test its growing global prominence at the G-20 summit scheduled this weekend in New Delhi. The strength of economic growth, the success of the lunar mission, demographic primacy and the beneficial position of a fundamental partner for the United States and Europe in times of erosion of relations with China have shaped India's new strength on the international scene. But a summit that appears very complicated in the midst of strong tensions will portray how much influence New Delhi has and how viable its multi-party play is in seeking to defend its interests.
India continues to maintain its traditional mantra of non-alignment in foreign policy while cultivating with increasing conviction the objective of becoming a powerful and independent pole within a multipolar world. Its most immediate and critical challenge is the fight with China, a rivalry that encompasses issues such as territorial disputes, competition for influence in the region, Beijing's support for Pakistan and other sensitive factors. It is also in this perspective, and not only in that of the deterioration of international relations, that the announced absence of Xi Jinping from the New Delhi summit must be interpreted, in addition to that of Vladimir Putin.
The difficulties in the previous negotiating work suggest that the possibility of the summit ending without a consensus statement is not remote. That would be, first of all, a failure for the group as a whole, but the Indian presidency would undoubtedly come out with its prestige in question. The tension between New Delhi and Beijing does not make things easier.
The fight with China - which, like others in the modern world, goes hand in hand with a close economic relationship, very important for India in its infrastructural and manufacturing development objectives - can be seen behind the main movements on the world stage of the country led by by Modi: the attempt to set itself up as a spokesperson for the so-called Global South, New Delhi's rapprochement with the US, India's position in the BRICS forum.
“As Narendra Modi and his foreign minister have said, India is aligned with its own interests. Among them, the will to prevent China from becoming hegemonic in the region to the point of preventing India from exercising its influence stands out. This is key, and when you look at New Delhi's relationship with the Global South it should be seen substantially as an attempt to be more influential than China in that area,” says Frédéric Grare, a researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations who is an expert on India. . In this fight, China has the advantage of its greater economic means, but India can play with its position outside the Washington/Beijing dichotomy, which in political terms can be an advantage.
The effort to establish itself as a great representative of the Global South is the main key to reading the Indian presidency of the G-20. New Delhi has tried to push an agenda that, from debt restructuring to the design of global financial institutions, from climate change to food prices, largely takes the point of view of that broad group of countries.
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On the other hand, New Delhi's rapprochement with Washington due to common distrust over the Chinese rise is gaining great momentum. The movement is not new, but it has gained particular momentum with Prime Minister Modi, who recently made a new state visit to the US in which he was granted the honor of addressing Parliament for the second time, a distinction achieved by very few leaders in the history. Modi returned home with important Defense technology transfer agreements under his arm.
"But the rapprochement is not only with the US, but also with its allies, European or Indo-Pacific," observes Eva Borreguero, a professor of Political Science at the Complutense University of Madrid specializing in South Asia.
The relationship with China also marks India's position in the BRICS. This is a group that arose from the will of emerging countries not aligned with the West that demanded greater international political weight. Now, under pressure from Beijing, it has just taken steps to expand, while antagonism towards the West has been strengthening in the group - from Russia and China, among the historical members, or with the upcoming incorporation of Iran. “India does not share this. Their movements in that group, although they respond to their own logic, suit Western interests,” says Grare.
Grare observes that Indian foreign policy underwent a change after the dissolution of the USSR, a major supplier of its weapons. He continued to maintain a close relationship with Russia, which is one of the reasons why he did not condemn the invasion of Ukraine at the UN, but this was assuming increasingly less relevance in a global perspective and has not prevented Modi from launching critical messages to the Kremlin or endorsed, at last year's G-20 summit, an uncomfortable statement for Moscow. Since the collapse of the USSR, the approach to the United States began to take shape and the expert sees a line of continuity, with a more nationalist tone, with the necessary adaptations due to the change in context, but without significant variations of substance.
Borreguero points out how the formal maintenance of the non-alignment policy hides “underground” changes. “India has realized that this non-alignment did not serve to prevent wars with China and Pakistan. New Delhi is concerned about its security, and without that security its ability to address internal problems is diminished. And it is in that context that the construction of this new dense network of relations with the United States and several of its allies must be seen, for example, through the QUAD format (which brings together the United States, India, Japan and Australia).” This is not a formal alignment, much less a military alliance, but it is the significant membership in a dedicated forum that seeks to keep the Indo-Pacific “free and open,” a concept with very high-caliber strategic connotations.
Another question is whether, and to what extent, the Hindu nationalism promoted internally by Modi and which is provoking a strong rejection of the consistent Indian Islamic minority can deteriorate India's relations with the wide range of Muslim countries. “I don't think this is having a significant impact,” Grare says. “I'm not saying it's irrelevant, but it's not that important, I don't see this affecting international relations.”
All these factors will converge at the New Delhi summit, marking, for better or worse, the Indian presidency's capacity for action in the search for consensus. As a senior European official noted, Indonesia, holder of the previous G-20 presidency, achieved a true feat at the Bali summit in 2022 by putting together a consensus statement in an already very tense general situation. This year's event will offer important indications about the state of the world order, and also India's place in it.
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