Highlights

  • India takes over G20 presidency
  • Ukraine - Russia war looms large
  • US - China relations look to thaw after years of tension

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Decoded: India's big diplomatic moment at G20 amid US - China relations & Ukraine - Russia war

As India takes over the G20 presidency, it has a chance to make a big impact on the global diplomatic stage.

The G20 meet in Indonesia this week saw world leaders navigate two important conflicts. The Russia - Ukraine War looms large over all international spaces, but also of note in Bali this year was the thawing of relations between the US and China. PM Modi attended the conference in person, and had a packed schedule, holding bilateral talks with many world leaders in the wake of India’s growing importance as an economic centre of power, in an increasingly bipolar world.

Established in 1999 after a series of major international debt crises, the Group of 20 aims to unite world leaders around shared economic, political and health challenges.

China and the US have been competing as two major global power centres for the past few years. This competition has, at times, got ugly. The world's two largest economies were locked in a bitter trade battle that saw them impose tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of one another's goods. They are also embroiled in conflict over the self-ruled country of Taiwan, which China considers an integral internal region, while the US is invested in the country’s independence due to its significance in the semiconductor manufacturing industry.

Tension over Taiwan has frozen much of China-US talks over the last few years. At G20, however, US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping broke the ice, and met for nearly three hours to hash out some of the thorniest issues in their relationship, including the question of Taiwan, the economy and a return to climate negotiations.

Although the reconciliatory comments from both leaders have gone a long way to resume normal ties, they remain competitors in the global arena. Both countries are vying for influence over the Asia Pacific region. Joe Biden took the opportunity of an Indonesia presidency for the G20, to announce a series of initiatives in the region, including efforts to promote electric vehicle use, improve clean-water access and support female entrepreneurs.

However, despite China’s slowing growth, many ASEAN countries maintain close economic ties with the country. At the conference, ASEAN countries reiterated their strong ties with China while taking pains not to upset Biden.

The US is increasingly placing India at the centre of its ambition to detach global supply chains from the clutches of China. The Biden administration’s top economic diplomat, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, emphasised that point on a visit to New Delhi.

PM Modi had a packed schedule at the conference, where he took over the G20 presidency from Indonesian President Joko Widodo. He held bilateral talks with many leaders of constituent countries, including his first in-person meeting with new Indian-origin Prime Minister of the UK, Rishi Sunak. The two leaders discussed ways to increase commercial linkages, raise the scope of security cooperation in context of India’s defence reforms and make people-to-people ties even stronger.

The other leaders PM Modi held talks with included French Prime Minister Emmanual Macron, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and the newly elected Prime Minister of Italy, Giorgia Meloni.

India will host the conference next year, and the Prime Minister said that the world is looking to India’s leadership of this premier economic forum with ‘hope’.

India’s presidency of the G20 also coincides with its increasing role in the global diplomatic arena. Speculation has been rife that New Delhi could emerge as a mediator in the Russia - Ukraine conflict. Prime Minister Modi has repeatedly called for talks between Moscow and Kyiv, and emphasised that this is not a time for war. The G20 Presidency offers New Delhi an opportunity to expand its diplomatic clout amid grave international threats.

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