New Delhi September 9 (Nikkei Asia): Group of 20 (G20) leaders in New Delhi have reached a consensus on a joint declaration, avoiding explicit condemnations of Russian aggression against Ukraine but defying doubts about whether a document could be issued at all.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the breakthrough on Saturday, the first day of the two-day meeting.
“Friends, we just received good news,” Modi said. “Owing to the hard work of our teams and with the cooperation of you all, consensus has been reached on a New Delhi G20 leaders’ summit declaration. … I declare that the declaration has been adopted.”
Modi’s announcement was met with applause and thumping on desks in the meeting room.
The declaration is understood to have been made possible by sherpa negotiators reaching a compromise on language concerning Ukraine. The result is a similar but softer document than the declaration agreed at the previous G20 summit in Bali last November, according to the text shared on the Indian government’s Telegram channel. Missing, for example, is the wording that “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine.”
The New Delhi declaration reads: “Concerning the war in Ukraine, while recalling the discussion in Bali, we reiterated our national positions and resolutions adopted at the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly.” This passage skips Bali’s specific description of the U.N. resolution that “deplores in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine.”
In a press conference following the announcement, India’s G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant described the declaration as “a complete statement with 100% unanimity” that highlights India’s “great ability to bring all developing countries, all the emerging markets, China, Russia, everybody together at the same table and bring consensus.”
Kant added that the declaration “has a huge India narrative, a huge India footprint.”
Urging adherence to the United Nations Charter, the New Delhi statement says: “All states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state. The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible.”
Addressing the argument among some members that the G20 should be primarily a forum for economic cooperation, the statement says “that while the G20 is not the platform to resolve geopolitical and security issues, we acknowledge that these issues can have significant consequences for the global economy.”
Saturday’s declaration highlights “the human suffering and negative added impacts of the war in Ukraine with regard to global food and energy security, supply chains, macro-financial stability, inflation and growth, which has complicated the policy environment for countries, especially developing and least developed countries.”
Echoing Bali, it adds, “There were different views and assessments of the situation.”
It also calls for ensuring unimpeded delivery of grains, foodstuffs and fertilizer from both Russia and Ukraine — “necessary to meet the demand in developing and least developed countries, particularly those in Africa.” The African Union on Saturday was also accepted as a permanent G20 member. And the members called for avoiding attacks on infrastructure relevant to food and energy security.
“We will unite in our endeavour to address the adverse impact of the war on the global economy and welcome all relevant and constructive initiatives that support a comprehensive, just, and durable peace in Ukraine,” the declaration reads.
Putting out a declaration at all is likely to be deemed a win for Modi, given uncertainty heading into the summit about the prospects for an agreement.
Throughout its year at the helm of the G20, India had been unable to agree on text about Ukraine, blocking joint statements at all previous meetings. The leaders summit was seen as the last opportunity for New Delhi to bridge the gap — something Indonesia managed to accomplish.
Ahead of India’s 2024 elections, Modi had invested considerable political capital in pursuing a successful summit, closely aligning himself with the event — exemplified by countless posters displayed around New Delhi featuring the prime minister’s visage.
Shortly before Modi’s announcement on Saturday, a source close to the Indian government said that Russia would have to come around during the presidency of its longtime partner, otherwise Moscow would be isolated. Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, India has avoided explicitly condemning the war while repeatedly calling for a peaceful resolution.
“Some compromise over the language is being made,” the source said.
Vincent Magwenya, spokesperson for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, hailed the summit outcome when asked for his reaction. “Prime Minister Modi has done really well, it’s highly impressive.”
At a news conference, India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar emphasized other achievements at the summit.
“It is a matter of particular satisfaction for us that the African Union has this morning become a permanent member of the G20, that too during the Indian presidency,” he said, adding that this is in keeping with the priority “that we attach to addressing the urgent concerns of the Global South.”
Curiously, the New Delhi declaration does not include a direct mention of the “Global South” — a buzzword for Modi and India this year, which hosted a Voice of Global South summit in January. The declaration does, however, include many passages defending the interests of developing countries.
The declaration that the leaders agreed to “focuses on promoting strong, sustainable, balanced and inclusive growth,” Jaishankar said.
On the Ukraine wording, Jaishankar said the declaration reflects the current geopolitical reality.
“I think we are being transparent,” he said. “It is a fact that today this is a polarizing issue, there are multiple view on this … so I think in all fairness it was right to record what was the reality in the meeting rooms.”