In a year that has already seen a slew of summits taking place, with more set to happen over the next few months, the high table of global diplomacy seems full in the midst of various challenges. This has meant a hectic schedule for summit meets.
This was on display recently when the G7 meet at Hiroshima, Japan took place with the Quad summit also being hosted on the sidelines. In particular, the G7 summit – a group of the seven most industrialised nations in the world – was particularly watched for its tone and tenor regarding probing concerns of international order.
Even if much of it could be predicted, the pitch and scale of overlapping interests, and also the realms of the G7’s divergence from participants outside the group, could be registered. In its focus on global politics, the Ukraine conflict was, expectedly, at the centrestage, though China also occupied considerable attention.
As in the previous year’s summit at Schloss Elmau in Germany, the G7 continued with its strident tone in censuring Russia this year too. Its seven member states – the US, UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – reiterated the extension of military support to Ukraine and prolonging, even intensifying, sanctions against Russia.
This was obviously made to be seen in sync with “upholding rule of law” in the international order, something the host nation laid down as an objective of the meet. The phrase has had different tenets for different countries and groups. For over a year now, the G7 has made the keynote of censuring Russia which, until the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, was part of the G8. The communiqué, however, doesn’t mention a roadmap for the resolution of the Ukraine conflict while extending support to Ukraine for as long as the conflict continues.
However, such expected continuity, with a vociferous statement on Russia, was supplemented with a strongly-worded statement targeting China for “malign practices” and “coercion”. The sting of this wasn’t offset by the group’s stated wish to build constructive and stable ties with Beijing.
There seems to be a new element in how the G7 has now chosen to use the forum for an intense and alarmist pitch on what it views as profound concerns emanating from China’s international as well as domestic politics. The G7 identified a range of such concerns, including the Chinese action in the East and South China seas, as well as the insidious tensions in cross-strait ties. There also seems to be an oblique censure of the purported designs of China’s “loan diplomacy” when the forum called for an end to any form of economic coercion.
Beijing would also be upset with how the G7 took note of human rights issues in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. In berating China, the group found it convenient to place the concerns under the summit’s rubric of foregrounding “rule of law” in the world order.
While turning a critical gaze to China’s internal and external policies, the G7 also hinted at the collaborative Russia-China ties when the forum exhorted Chinese leadership to use its heft towards Russia’s unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine.
This obviously did not go down well with Beijing. The Chinese foreign ministry saying the bloc was hindering global peace, regional stability, and development of other countries by resorting to “smear, slander and attack”. Moscow termed the G7 statement, and the fact that the group urged China to persuade Russia to pull out from Ukraine, as a display of the bloc’s of Russia and China.
As a special invitee to this summit, India had its own interests – some overlapping, some autonomous, and some divergent from the group.
Although they had telephonic conversations earlier, prime minister Narendra Modi’s first in-person interaction with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky caught much attention. As in the last G7 summit, India focused on the humanitarian aspect of the conflict in asking for a cessation of hostilities. In assuring its active interest in bringing the conflict to an end, India stuck to its stand of not naming a side for condemnation. Thus, it of being non-commital in picking a side.
This autonomous tightrope-walking has since the early phase of the Ukraine conflict and India persists with it, despite the West nudging it to use a condemnatory tone towards Russia. India remains steadfast, refusing to take a black-and-white binary on the issue. In the process, New Delhi has asserted its prerogative in recognising its interests. But it might still explore possibilities of being a facilitator for a peace plan if Kyiv or Moscow seek India’s .
Ever since India first became an invitee to the G7 in 2003, when then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was invited to the summit hosted in France, India’s role has had two broader aspects. The first is as a rising power and the second as a significant leader of the concerns of the Global South.
In calling the Ukraine conflict a crisis of “humanity”, Modi alluded to its humanitarian costs not only in the battlefield but in the wider world. The developing world is grappling with the fuel, food and fertiliser crisis which the conflict has triggered in its wake.
The Global South was represented at the Hiroshima summit by countries like India, Brazil, Indonesia and Vietnam. Some of their concerns did find a way to discussions in the summit, such as transparent financing, debt sustainability for the developing world, and compensations for the developed world’s role in global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. But such concerns were not reflected in the summit’s key statements, which were imbued with the worldview of member states and, as such, remained one-dimensional in approach.
The next few months will witness the SCO summit in July, with India as its current president; the BRICS summit in August hosted by South Africa; and the G20 summit in New Delhi in September. As the president of the G20, India will seek to put Global South concerns in the summit’s agenda when it will host global leaders of the group. At the same time, India, as well as other players in global politics, will also try to navigate their way and interests through the schisms seen in the world order in the wake of the Ukraine crisis and the power play of an increasingly multipolar world.
As these summits – bilateral and multilateral and external to largely global governance structures like the UN – define high-table diplomacy, they are more likely to be watched for what signals they send for the current challenges of the world order.
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