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EFSAS Commentary

As India assumes leadership of the G20, the India-US relationship is bound to grow increasingly stronger


The two-day G20 summit hosted by the Indonesian presidency in Bali under the theme ‘Recover Together, Recover Stronger’ took place on 15-16 November. Together, the G20 members represent more than 80% of the world’s GDP, 75% of international trade, and 60% of the world’s population. The Bali Summit was held in a very different milieu to the last summit in Rome in 2021, mainly on account of the consequential and wide ramifications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As Charles Michel, President of the European Council, noted, the impact of Russia's aggressive actions on the global economy figured prominently at the gathering, and adverse ramifications such as the challenges to global food security, particularly for developing countries, that were exacerbated by the conflict and tensions, the importance of guaranteeing that global energy demand was matched by affordable energy supplies to ensure that the world has sustainable, secure and affordable energy for all, and the urgent need to strengthen policies and mobilise financing from all sources in a predictable, adequate and timely manner to address climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental degradation, including significantly increasing support for developing countries, all received close attention. The participating leaders also stressed on the need to mitigate the scarring effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to support strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth.

From the South Asian perspective, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s contribution at the Bali Summit came in for special praise. Modi, who in his pre-departure statement to Bali had said that he would highlight India’s achievements and its unwavering commitment to collectively address global challenges and that his focus at the summit would be on key issues of global concern such as reviving global growth, food & energy security, environment, health, and digital transformation, for all intents and purposes did succeed in doing exactly that. Evidence of that came in the form of generous praise and acknowledgement of India’s unifying, constructive, and consensus-building approach in Bali, which helped to somewhat bridge the gap between Russia and Western countries, from multiple senior United States (US) officials. This augurs well for India as it assumes the G20 presidency for the coming year on 1 December.

India’s stand that this is “not an era of war” found a prominent place in the joint communiqué, finalised amid deep divisions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, issued at the conclusion of the Bali G20 Summit, with leaders of the world’s largest economies calling for upholding international law in the context of the Ukraine war and rejecting the threat of the use of nuclear weapons. As brought out in the EFSAS Commentary of 23-09-2022, the term “today’s era is not an era of war” was first used by Prime Minister Modi in Samarkand in September, when he had met Russian President Vladimir Putin on the margins of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit. In Bali, Modi reiterated that “we have to find a way to return to the path of ceasefire and diplomacy in Ukraine”, and highlighted how leaders had made an effort to take the path of peace after the Second World War had wreaked havoc. He asserted that it now was the G20’s turn to step up since the Ukraine conflict had adversely impacted the global economy at a time when countries, especially developing countries, were grappling with “unparalleled multidimensional crises” such as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. Modi enjoined participants that “The onus of creating a new world order for the post-Covid period lies on our shoulders”.

Modi, in his address to the G20 Summit, was critical of the United Nations (UN), saying that it had failed to tackle issues that are troubling the world as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war and the COVID-19 pandemic. Coming down on the fact that the international community had failed to make suitable and required reforms to the UN, Modi added that the consequence is that the world now has greater expectations from the G20, and its relevance has become far greater. At the session on food and energy security, Modi told off countries that had questioned India’s energy purchases from Russia while saying that “India’s energy-security is also important for global growth, as it is the world’s fastest-growing economy. We must not promote any restrictions on the supply of energy, and stability in the energy market should be ensured”. Modi said. Focussing on India’s commitment to a Net Zero Target by 2070, Modi said that India is committed to clean energy and by 2030 will generate half of its electricity from renewable sources.

In the session on digital transformation, Modi asserted that digital transformation should not be confined to a small part of the “human race”, and its greater benefits will be realised only when digital access becomes “truly inclusive”. He lamented that citizens of most developing countries of the world do not have any kind of digital identity. Modi said, “Digital transformation is the most remarkable change of our era. The proper use of digital technologies can become a force multiplier in the decades-long global fight against poverty. Digital solutions can also be helpful in the fight against climate change - as we all saw in the examples of remote-working and paperless green offices during the Covid-19 pandemic”. The Indian Prime Minister said that these benefits will be realised only when digital access is truly inclusive and when the use of digital technology is really widespread. He noted that “Only 50 countries have digital payment systems. Can we take a pledge together that in the next ten years we will bring digital transformation in the life of every human being so that no person in the world will be deprived of the benefits of digital technology?”

While pitching for efforts by the G20 to bring digital transformation into the lives of everyone in the next 10 years, Modi underlined that the principle of “data for development” would be an integral part of the overall theme of India’s upcoming G-20 presidency. The 18th G20 Heads of State and Government Summit is scheduled to take place in New Delhi on 9-10 September, 2023. Noting that it is taking on the responsibility at a time the world is grappling with geopolitical tensions, economic slowdown, and rising food and energy prices, Modi said that India’s presidency will be inclusive, ambitious, decisive, and action-oriented, as represented by India’s G20 presidency theme of “One Earth, One Family, One Future”.

From the statements that emerged from senior White House officials after the Bali Summit, it was evident that PM Modi’s emphasis on diplomacy and dialogue proved to be an ice-breaker and facilitated a degree of consensus among bickering nations that ensured that the G20 forum did not turn into a political battleground for the world economies. The G20 Bali Declaration had actually acknowledged differences among members on the Russia-Ukraine war, but stressed that it was essential to adhere to international law, including the protection of civilians caught in conflicts. The members of the grouping made it clear that they were against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons and sought “peaceful resolution of conflicts”.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters at her daily news conference on 18 November that US President Joe Biden had spoken with Modi and Indonesian President Joko Widodo on the margins of the summit. She added, “India played an essential role in negotiating the summit’s declaration. Prime Minister Modi made clear today’s era must not be of war. Among other priorities addressed, we have a path forward to addressing current food and energy security challenges while continuing our efforts to build a resilient global economy”. She also underlined that “Prime Minister Modi's relationship was critical to this outcome, and we look forward to supporting India’s G-20 presidency next year. We look forward to that next meeting”.

Subsequently, at a large gathering of Indian-Americans hosted by India’s Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu in Washington on 20 November, US Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer again applauded Modi for being instrumental in forging a consensus during the G-20 Summit in Bali. He said in his address to the gathering that “Looking around the world when the United States and  President Biden look for partners that can truly help carry the load, truly helped move forward a global agenda, India and Prime Minister Modi are very high on that list. We just saw this in real-time at the G-20 where the Prime Minister was instrumental in forging a consensus around a joint statement among a far-flung group of countries and in the comments and work that the Prime Minister has done and others in the Indian government have done to highlight the increasing risk related to nuclear issues”.

On the broader contours of the India-US relationship, Finer reiterated the Biden Administration’s commitment to it and said that 2022 and 2023 were two critical years for this. He said, “The year 2022 was huge in US-India relations. We think we have an even bigger year ahead in 2023. We have the Quad summit on the agenda coming up. We have India’s G20 presidency, which I know we’re all looking forward to, including Prime Minister Modi”, adding that “That's just the tip of the iceberg”, and that both 2022 and 2023 were emblematic of how the bilateral relationship has proceeded for decades now.

Finer underlined that “the entire Biden administration and certainly the President sees this as among the most consequential relationships for the US anywhere in the world, but also almost uniquely one of the relationships that still retains some of the greatest potential to continue to evolve and strengthen and improve. We are deeply committed to doing just that. It’s easy to see why that is the case. At a time that can be extremely difficult to forge a bipartisan consensus in Washington on almost anything, there is a strong bipartisan consensus in support of the US-India relationship and has been for decades and a high degree of continuity from one Administration to the next. There is obviously an increasing alignment of our interests, both geopolitically and as two world-leading democracies. And then, of course, the deep ties and incredible dynamism of our diaspora community, our cultural ties or commercial ties. And then finally, and I don’t want this to be lost, there are the ties of our leadership, which we consider to be hugely important”.

Judging by these statements, the India-US relationship is in very healthy territory today, and as India assumes presidency of the G20, the strength and potential of ties with the US should help it in preventing the intrusion of geopolitics into economics since the core rationale and purpose of the G20 is to address rising energy and food prices, spiraling inflation, increasing interest rates, and slowing global growth, and not the geopolitics surrounding the war in Ukraine, which only a reformed and inclusive UNSC would be in a position to address.