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13th G-20 summit—Indian diplomacy’s finest hour

By Vijeth Kanahalli

The week leading up to the 13thG-20 Summit 2018 was one filled with chaos for the world’s mightiest economic and military superpowers. Great Britain was at loggerheads with the rest of EU and with its own Parliament over the Brexit deal. France was on the boil with protests over rising fuel and commodity prices. The United States of America and China had locked horns on who would cede ground in the ongoing trade war. Russia was again caught in conflict with Ukraine. Germany was in a fix on whether or not to impose sanctions on Russia over the Kerch Strait incident. Finally, Saudi Arabia was entering the summit knowing it would face diplomatic isolation over the ongoing yet to settle incident brutal murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi.

At the summit, there was no success between the abovementioned countries to break the palpable tensions amongst them. The only diplomatic breakthrough and yet not a success was drawn between China and the United States wherein they decided to halt the tariff war for now. However, there no details are out on this halt and the devil is the details which is yet to be revealed. On the bilateral front, POTUS Trump did not meet Crown Prince MBS of Saudi Arabia or with Vladimir Putin.

While the above two paragraphs seem to portray a gloomy summit, one country made diplomatic strides in balancing and holding all the powers present at Buenos Aires together and achieved in bringing forth a very progressive Buenos Aires G-20 Leaders’ Declaration. I’m referring to the Republic of India. In a matter of 48 hours at the summit, under the stewardship of Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, India left a significant foot print. India was able to hold bilateral and trilateral meetings with very contrasting and contradicting groups without either of the groups gaining more prominence over the other.

India held the first ever Japan-America-India (JAI) trilateral meeting. The meeting of the three democracies discussed their converging interests to ensure security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Despite being a part of this group, India has made it clear that it sees Indo-Pacific as a geographic and not a strategic construct. While James Mattis proclaimed recently that the Indo-Pacific for the United States is from Hollywood to Bollywood, Mr. Modi long before this meeting had stated that for India, it stretches all the way from the East African Coast to the Western Coast of America. India stands by this firm position in order to maintain a friendly relationship with China which it has rebuilt since the Doklam stand off last year. India has now held 4 bilateral meetings between Xi Jinping and Modi. Even the Chinese side has acknowledged that there has been perceptible improvement in the Indo-China relations post the informal Wuhan summit between the two leaders. The JAI meeting can be termed as a victory for India as it did not receive any negative press from the prominent Chinese press.

Also, there was no signs of the QUAD group holding any meeting despite Australia’s presence at the meeting because China has always viewed this group suspiciously and believes that this groups interest is to contain them. India showed respect to China by not bringing this group together at Buenos Aires.

Next, India participated in the RIC meeting with Russia and China. This was the 2ndtime that this group met in 12 years. This showed the seamless balance India has achieved in interacting with America in JAI and the Eurasian giants in the RIC meeting. Modi comfortably raised the issues of rising volatility in fuel prices in this meeting without any derailing voices it usually faces from Pakistan in the SCO meetings where theses three countries usually meet on such issues. The RIC meeting was necessary because unlike at JAI, over here Modi was able to highlight the necessity to reform multilateral institutions which have been unable to meet the expectations of the international community.

There was a BRICS meeting held on the sidelines of the summit too which was attended by heads of the four governments. They exchanged views on continued terrorist attacks and urged all nations to take a comprehensive approach on tackling terrorism including all the elements identified in the Johannesburg Declaration.

The G-20 declaration echoed a lot of pressing issues that were reiterated by Mr. Modi throughout the two days at various fora. His points on tackling international economic offenders; countering terrorism; tackling climate change; reformation of multilateral institutions; benefits of digitization; need for technological innovation in finance; sustainable food future; gender empowerment found its way in some form or the other into the declaration.

The Indian Diplomacy was at one of its finest hours and also its high points that it has never exhibited so far. In a matter of those 2 days, India showed that it has gained global salience. Whether it is the world’s most advanced democracies; world’s most progressive economies or world’s most powerful militaries—everyone today wants great relations with India. Modi was able to show that NAM is a relic in the Indian diplomatic archives and that we are able to work in contradicting and contrasting groups and yet maintain seamless balance in achieving our strategic interests and promote peaceful relations with all nations alike.

India is now gearing up for the G-20 summit in 2022 which it will host in the 75th year of its independence. India owes its gratitude to Italy which has forfeited its opportunity to host in 2022. Mr. Modi has sounded the bugle that we will be a New India in 2022. Although India may not have the indigenous military prowess or economic dominance like China or the United States, it has always used the good will it has achieved through its soft power to bring the world together. Mr. Modi and his diplomatic entourage deserve a salute for keeping this G-20 summit together.

Vijeth Kanahalli is a Corporate Solicitor and a student of M.A. International Affairs (Diplomacy, Law and Business) at Jindal School of International Affairs at O P Jindal Global Univeristy.

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