India makes renewed push for consensus at G20 Foreign Ministers meeting

Negotiations continued late into the night on February 28 and March 1, with efforts to break the impasse between the Russia-China combine and G7-led countries, sources say

March 02, 2023 12:15 am | Updated 08:28 am IST - NEW DELHI

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar meets with Netherlands Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra on the sidelines of the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, in New Delhi on Wednesday.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar meets with Netherlands Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra on the sidelines of the G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, in New Delhi on Wednesday. | Photo Credit: ANI

G20 negotiators met for a second late night on Wednesday to discuss breaking the impasse over a jointly approved document to be released at the end of the G20 Foreign Minister’s Meeting (FMM) on Thursday.

The push for a negotiated statement at the FMM was “ambitious”, said sources, given that last week’s Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting in Bengaluru failed to reach a consensus on a joint statement. Russia and China had objected to two paragraphs pertaining to the Russian “war” in Ukraine in the Chairman’s summary and outcome document.

“Given the nature and the developing situation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, we expect it will be a part of the discussions at the G20 FMM,” Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said on Wednesday, addressing a press conference where he refused to comment on hopes for a joint statement or text.

“I don’t think it would be correct for me to pre-judge the outcome of the FMM. I think we should let the plenipotentiaries of the G-20 decide that,” he added.

Sticking points remain

Diplomats and officials confirmed to The Hindu that despite the stark differences between the Western countries and the Russia-China combine, the Indian government is still hopeful of preparing a text that will be cleared by all sides, with two distinct paragraphs being sticking points. It was particularly uncertain whether Russia and China would accept the language of last year’s Bali G20 Joint Statement. Talks continued late into the night, just ahead of the meetings on Thursday.

“Two countries, Russia and China, did not agree to that. You need to ask them about why exactly, on how their perspective is, or are they no longer with that text from Bali? You have to ask them,” said Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, when asked about the differences in Bengaluru.

The negotiations on the document followed the “Gala dinner” hosted by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, which several of the visiting Foreign Ministers attended. However, the Ministers from the U.S., China, France, Germany, Indonesia and a few other countries were due to land in New Delhi overnight, and missed the dinner.

Bilateral talks

Through the day, Mr. Jaishankar held a number of bilateral meetings ahead of the FMM, stressing the need for a consensus document to arise from the global economic body that includes 20 of the world’s most developed and developing countries.

The Minister said that he had a “wide-ranging discussion” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, where they exchanged views on India-Russia bilateral cooperation and G20 issues. Mr. Jaishankar is also expected to hold talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Thursday, during Mr. Qin’s first visit to India in this capacity. He is travelling to Delhi amidst the military standoff at the Line of Actual Control which has been continuing since April 2020.

“China values its relations with India,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mao Ning said in Beijing, without confirming or denying whether the meeting would take place. “A sound China-India relationship meets the fundamental interests of both countries and peoples,” she added.

Mr. Jaishankar also met with the Ministers of the United Kingdom, Argentina, Nigeria, Mexico, Netherlands, European Union High Representative Josep Borrell and the African Union Chair, who is also the Foreign Minister of Comoros, during the day.

On Tuesday evening he had met with the Foreign Ministers of Turkey and Brazil. Brazil and Indonesia, which form the “troika” of the immediately previous and future G20 chairs are seen as important partners for India in trying to bridge the divides between members over the G20 agenda and Mr. Jaishankar noted that he discussed “the issues coming up at the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting” with Brazilian FM Mauro Vieira. Indian G20 negotiators also met with the delegations from Brazil and Indonesia on Wednesday morning, the sources said, in an attempt to make a renewed push for a jointly agreed-upon text.

Pressure for consensus

The FMM is the second ministerial meeting after the Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors meeting in Bengaluru last week, and there is considerable pressure on Indian negotiators to ensure a consensus on an agreed text during this. An official said that it was “important to note that there is no requirement or precedence for a statement at the FMM”. However, the government is keen to try and forge a consensus on the document as well as ensuring continuity from the 2022 Bali joint statement, as the next big in-person meeting of all the senior G20 Ministers is only likely to take place in September, when leaders will travel to India for the G20 summit in Delhi.

India’s decision to hold a meeting of the Quad Foreign Ministers, from the U.S., Australia, Japan and India, on March 3 has also reportedly ruffled feelings in Beijing and Moscow. The meeting was disclosed by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu last week, when he said that after the meeting, the four ministers would come out publicly for the first time for an “hour-long public event” at the MEA’s Raisina Dialogue conference, where the FMs would “talk about the Quad, and to demonstrate how it is getting tangible and concrete things done in the Indo-Pacific”.

While Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi has deputed a Minister of State to attend the G20 meeting on Thursday, he is still expected to try and travel to India on Friday, for the Quad FM engagements or to attend the meetings via videoconferencing.

(With inputs from Ananth Krishnan in Beijing)

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