News and Views on Tibet

Opinion: The 2023 G20 Summit- A Window into India-China Rivalry

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Photo/The Print

By Dr. Tenzin Lhadon

The G20 is a conglomeration of the most powerful economies in the world, contributing 80 percent of the global GDP and 75 percent of its trade. Although the 2023 G20 “New Delhi Declaration” noted that “it (the G20 summit) is not a platform to resolve geopolitical and security issues”, India, in recent times, has been increasingly seen as a direct rival to China’s ambitions in the Global South and concurrently in the Indo-Pacific region. India hosting the G20 summit and calling itself the leader of the Global South added to its global stature. The strengthening of India’s relationship with Western nations, such as the US, UK, and the EU, along with its rising economy, population, and presence in international relations have compelled China to view New Delhi not just as merely band-wagoning on US rivalry with China, but rather as a rival to its global ambitions. Therefore, Xi Jinping’s absence at the G20 summit and China’s criticism of India’s “attempt to politicize the summit” needs to be understood in this context of balancing powers, instead of merely as a snub to a US proxy. 

The Ukraine-Russia War received heavy attention during the G20 summit. India was heavily criticized for its abstinence in the UN General Assembly’s vote on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as it continues to maintain a strong relationship with the Kremlin. In the previous G20 held in Bali, the members, in their joint declaration, outright condemned Russia, stating that “we deplore in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine and demands its complete and unconditional withdrawal from the territory of Ukraine”. But in the G20 “New Delhi declaration”, although Ukraine was mentioned, Russia wasn’t even named and instead of a similar condemnation of Russian behavior, the statement kept deferring to the UN charter. It is no wonder that Moscow described the declaration as “balanced” but Ukraine’s foreign minister criticized it as being “nothing to be proud of”. However, in the context of India, China, and the United States, what is of more concern is the shifting positions of each country vis-a-vis each other and within the corridors of international geopolitics.

Unlike the G20 summit, Xi Jinping attended and played a leading role in this year’s BRICS summit in June, where the group added six new members (Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE), their candidacy being lobbied for by China. Xi Jinping views the BRICS as an effective counterweight to the West’s strong presence in the G7, and the G20. These newly added countries to BRICS are not only rich in natural resources, especially oil, but more importantly have sour relations and/or geopolitical tensions with the West. The increasing importance of BRICS through its increased global GDP share from 16.4 percent in 1992 to 32 percent at present, in which China has a 70 percent share, explains the successful lobbying of China’s choice of the six new countries. This recent development strengthens China’s prevailing prominence in the BRICS, as compared to the G20 and the G7, where Beijing has been unable to make the same progress. 

During his speech at the BRICS summit, Xi termed this present era as a period of turbulence and transformation where the world is undergoing division and regrouping, implicitly pointing the blame towards US hegemony. Since his ascendency to President in 2012, Xi has never missed attending the G20 summits, including during the pandemic when he attended virtually. However, his absence in this year’s G20 summit is not only unusual but suspiciously intentional. Premier Li Qiang, who was representing China at the G20 summit, stated that the summit “needs unity instead of division, cooperation instead of confrontation, and inclusion instead of exclusion”. India was accused of initiating two prior G-20 sessions in disputed territories — one in Arunachal Pradesh which China also claims, and another in Kashmir, contested by Pakistan. The move has “sabotaged the atmosphere for cooperation at the G-20,” the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations said on its official WeChat account on Saturday. India was accused of intentionally leaving China and Brazil out of hosting an online event for the Global South to build its influence among the developing countries. 

Such accusations arise at the heel of India’s claims of being the leader of the Global South through its representation of the voices of the under-developing countries, a position that China has long claimed for its own. In the months leading up to the G20, these aspirations of India grew louder through its hosting of the “Voice of Global South Summit” in January 2023. The meeting of 125 underdeveloped countries was organized under the leadership of India as an attempt to raise their voices and concerns as a collective whole. India’s external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar, affirmed India’s commitment to issues concerning the Global South and that it would inform G20 leaders of its priorities. India’s leadership role in the Global South was further solidified by the inclusion of the African Union in the G20 this year. 

China’s prominence grew on the back of its impressive economic growth during the late 1990s and early 2000s, as Beijing expanded its global economic influence. However, its economy has yet to recover from the setbacks of the pandemic, its real estate collapse, and rising unemployment, a situation further compounded by its aging population. On the other hand, India’s economy has risen in the past few years, along with its relationship with the West and non-West nations, a growing youthful population, and a rising middle class, a contrasting image to the China of today. On a global level, Beijing has long considered itself the de facto leader of the Global South, through initiatives that they believe address the concerns and the needs of developing countries such as the BRI, Asian Development Bank, Shanghai Cooperation Organization the Regional Comprehensive Economic Framework. This assumed leadership of the Global South has, in recent years been challenged by India, as the latter draws support not just from several developing and poorer nations but also from some of the most powerful nations like the US, UK, and the EU. The US-India Comprehensive Global and Strategic Partnership gives further impetus to multilateral and regional groupings – particularly the QUAD against China’s presence in the Indo-Pacific region. 

New Delhi was also criticized for using the G-20 as a platform to spread the narrative that Beijing is setting up “debt traps” with its loans to developing countries. China’s diplomacy with developing countries, predominantly through trade and investment, has increased its global footprint but has also given rise to concerns regarding debt burden or the infamous “debt trap”. The New Delhi declaration strategically called to “promote resilient growth by urgently and effectively addressing debt vulnerabilities in developing countries” a reference directed towards challenging the growing influence of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The recent India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC), needs to be understood in this context of challenging China’s global economic footprint. 

This year’s G20 summit was an ostentatious affair, with India sparing no expense to signal its entry into the stage of major global powers. In the years following the end of the Second World War and the subsequent Cold War period that followed, Nehruvian India sought to lead the nations that lay outside of the US-Soviet rivalry into a non-aligned movement, a role it desired to play alongside Mao’s China. The 1962 war put an end to those hopes. Fast forward to 2023, India has once again risen to a leadership role among the nations of the Global South, but unlike the short-lived Non-Aligned Movement, China and itself are in opposing positions for that responsibility. 

(Opinions expressed are her own)

The author is a Research Fellow at Tibet Policy Institute, a think tank under the the exile Tibetan government.

One Response

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