The 25th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting kicked off in London on Wednesday, as Britain, the current chair, sought to position the community as a route for tackling a number of global challenges, from climate change to protectionism, based on “equal” voices from across the group.
“It’s a meeting that takes place at a time of significant global challenges. The rules-based international system, which has consistently delivered both prosperity and peace, faces threats in many forms and on many fronts,” Prime Minister Theresa May said during the opening of the first of three executive sessions that took place on Thursday, ahead of the leaders’ “retreat” at Windsor on Friday.
Alongside attending the executive sessions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held several bilateral meetings, including with Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh; Prime Minister of Mauritius Kumar Jugnauth; Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni; Gambian President Adama Barrow; President of the Seychelles Danny Faure; Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda Gaston Brown; President of Kiribati Taneti Maamau; Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama; Prime Minister of St Lucia Allen Chastanet, and Solomon Islands PM Rick Houenipwela.
Ahead of the summit, it was hoped that renewed interest from India will give new impetus and relevance to the organisation. After many years of active engagement with it, there was an eight-year period where no Indian Prime Minister had participated in a CHOGM, so the decision by Mr. Modi to attend the event was seen as a significant moment for the group.
Pride for India
“I had not been able to visit the last summit and this time, it was an honour that Prince Charles came personally to India last year to invite me for it. The Queen herself wrote a personal letter to me, a matter of great pride for India,” he said at Westminster Central Hall on Wednesday, at the ‘Bharat Ki Baat, Sabke Saath’ event.
From the Indian perspective, the Commonwealth offers opportunities to reach out to small states, that make up around 60% of Commonwealth members. In some of these states, India has no diplomatic presence, and forging relations with these countries could help India secure crucial votes during UN or multilateral contests it is involved in, said Rahul Roy Chaudhury, head of the South Asia programme at think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
India also views the Commonwealth as a counterpoint to China, and its expanding influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, he added.
Opening the summit on Thursday, 91-year-old Queen Elizabeth expressed her “sincere wish” that the Commonwealth would choose Prince Charles as her successor to lead the 53-nation community. Ahead of the summit, there had been debate over who should lead the Commonwealth if and when the Queen chose to step down from the role, which she had taken over from her father.