Increased challenges to Indian diplomacy The Statesman 25 Apr 2023
In the coming months Indian diplomacy will face multiple challenges. Leadership summits for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the G20 are scheduled in Jun and Sept respectively. While the G20 will be dominated by Ukraine with the west seeking a reference against Russia in the joint statement, the SCO summit will attempt to blame the US for fueling the war as also for its selective targeting of China and Russia. India will have to navigate its way through the summits to ensure that statements emerging at the end are balanced.
While the G20 is western dominated, the SCO comprises of landlocked Central Asian nations as also South Asian. For G20 members, Ukraine is close to home and hence a matter of concern. Its members have grudgingly accepted India’s neutrality. Last year the US had demanded that Russia be expelled from the G20, a move which failed to find traction amongst its members.
The SCO is dominated by China and Russia, both of whom are anti-US and consider it as a competitor. With the entry of Iran into the SCO, anti-US tirade can become more pronounced. India is a member of the QUAD and a close US ally, apart from maintaining good diplomatic ties with both camps. Indian diplomacy will have to ensure that neither summit ends up in mudslinging.
India is also a member of the RIC (Russia-India-China trilateral) leaders of whom are expected to meet on the sidelines of the SCO. In between the SCO and G20 summits is the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit scheduled in Johannesburg in end Aug. The recently concluded foreign affairs ministers’ meet of the G20 brought the Russian and US counterparts face to face paving the way for dialogue.
Few major G20 preliminary meetings, including that of the finance and foreign ministers, ended without a joint statement, due to disagreements between representatives of the west, Russia and China. India insisted on adhering to its stand of not blaming Russia for the Ukraine crisis. A foreign ministers meet of the SCO is scheduled for early May in Goa. India will aim to issue a joint statement at its conclusion which would be balanced and in tune with its vision for the organization.
India has thus far avoided criticizing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, continues to procure its oil, while providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine. It has abstained on voting against Russia in global bodies. India has neither supported pro-Ukraine resolutions in the UN. Simultaneously, India has been the leading voice calling for talks to end the conflict.
Most global leaders refer to PM Modi’s statement, ‘this is not an era of war,’ when accusing Russia on Ukraine. India has effectively employed its relationship with Russia to ensure that there is no damage to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant as also Ukrainian grain is permitted to be exported.
Last week, Ukraine’s first deputy foreign minister, Emine Dzhaparova, visited India. She is an adherent of Satya Sai Baba and has visited Putaparty, the hometown of Sri Satya Sai Baba, on multiple occasions in the past, hence is well versed with Indian culture and thought. She arrived in India with a single point agenda of drawing India away from Russia, closer to Ukraine. She came armed with a letter from the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, for the Indian PM. The letter while inviting PM Modi to Kiev also contained a request by Zelensky to address the G20 via a video link. Hoping to influence the Indian government she termed India as ‘Vishwaguru.’
However, adhering to protocol and aware of her true intent, she was not granted an audience with the External Affairs Minister nor the PM. Her major interaction was with the MOS External Affairs, where her request for Zelensky to address via video-link was politely declined. The G20 and SCO summits in India are expected to be attended by all major heads of state including the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping apart from other western leaders including President Biden.
It would be the first time since the war began that major antagonists, heads of the US, Russia and China would be present in the same room. Whether they would initiate dialogue is another issue. Since India does not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, it has no obligation on acting on the arrest warrant issued against President Putin. An address by Zelensky would mar the event as he would be spewing hatred towards Russia while demanding support from the west, in the presence of global leaders.
India is also the voice of the global south. It has sought to push their concerns before the world. The success of the global south summit held earlier this year cannot be wished away. Simultaneously, India is an invitee to the G7 and thus a link between the global south, developing and developed world. Its unique position demands that India should avoid joining any camp which could jeopardize its strategic autonomy and reputation as the harbinger of peace.
The Indian agenda for the G20 includes terrorism, climate change, use of technology, economic cooperation etc. It would be loathe to let Ukraine hijack its agenda. India has also been seeking a seat at the UNSC. It has thus begun highlighting the failings of the current UNSC. For this it needs support of the global south, whose voice it seeks to become. Further, India is sought by all major players on account of its growing economic and military clout. It cannot allow its gains to be impacted by choosing sides in a conflict which has no direct bearing on it.
It is rare for a country to head two global organizations, both with vastly different composition and views, simultaneously. There is no doubt that India will be in the spotlight throughout 2023. If it intends to leave its mark, it will have to ensure that neither summit is highjacked and productive statements are issued on its termination. The summits must also be successful for them to be politically exploited in the 2024 elections. The test of Indian diplomacy is on.