Russia-China, West divide may raise tensions at G20

Officials concede a joint statement at the G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting is difficult

Updated - February 28, 2023 11:12 am IST

Published - February 27, 2023 10:04 pm IST - NEW DELHI

India’s G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant speaks during an event in New Delhi. File

India’s G20 Sherpa Amitabh Kant speaks during an event in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: ANI

The growing confrontation between Western countries and the Russia-China combine overshadowing the government’s plans for the G20 and the Ministry of External Affairs’ Raisina Dialogue this week.

Officials concede that after the public spat at the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors’ meeting over the weekend, a joint statement at the G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting looks unlikely for now. A final call will be made on Tuesday and Wednesday, as India’s Sherpa Amitabh Kant leads talks with Sherpas of other G20 nations, ahead of the G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting on March 1. If they fail to reach a consensus, India hopes to put out a “Chairman’s outcome statement” similar to the one issued at the Finance Ministers’ meeting in Bengaluru, said officials, where “most” countries signed on to paragraphs dealing with the Ukraine war, and Russia and China agreed to the statement apart from those paragraphs.

The tensions, that saw Russia and China come out publicly together on a multilateral stage for the first time since the war in Ukraine began in February 2022, are likely to be more pronounced as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang land in Delhi on Wednesday for the inaugural reception to be held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. In Bali last July, Foreign Ministers of all G-7 countries boycotted the inaugural dinner session hosted by Indonesia due to Mr. Lavrov’s presence, although officials hoped that won’t be repeated this year. The dinner will come just days after a UNGA vote condemning Russia for the invasion of Ukraine in which 17 of G20 countries comprising North America, Europe, Gulf countries, Turkey and even BRICS member Brazil voted in favour of the resolution, while only India, China and South Africa abstained.

‘Blackmail, diktats’

After the Bengaluru G20 meet, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued an angry press statement, accusing Western countries of “blackmail” and diktats, and blaming them for derailing the consensus. “Russia and China expressed a resolute protest in this regard. Many other delegations also experienced serious disappointment with such ultimatum actions by the United States and its allies, which continue to sow enmity and hatred,” the Ministry statement added. Earlier, French Finance Minister had issued a public ultimatum to India and the G20 grouping saying that France “will oppose any communique” that doesn’t include wording from the Bali Communique of 2022 that recorded that “most countries” condemned the war. Eventually, Indian negotiators bought peace by adding both versions and releasing it as an outcome statement and not a joint communique.

Former National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon said the precedent may actually assist India, so long as it doesn’t aim for a joint statement.

“China and Russia have now set a pattern, where they can get through G20 meetings — by objecting to certain parts while others say what they wish on Ukraine, and there is no joint statement. This may suit India as well,” Mr. Menon said in response to The Hindu’s question at a meeting with journalists of the Indian Association of Foreign Affairs Correspondents (IAFAC).

Meanwhile, a plan by the Modi government to host a meeting of the Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting on the sidelines of the G20 meeting — with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and the Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi (who has not yet confirmed attendance), is also likely to ruffle feathers in the Chinese and Russian camps. The MEA did not respond to queries on plans to hold the Russia-India-China trilateral on the sidelines of the meeting, however. In May this year, both Chinese and Russian Foreign Ministers are expected to travel to India again to attend the SCO Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Goa.

Both Russia and China are likely to be at the centre of critical conversations at the MEA’s Raisina Dialogue organised by the Observer Research Foundation from March 2-4 as well. According to the latest programme, no Russian or Chinese Minister is scheduled to speak at the event, which is the MEA’s flagship annual global conference. While a number of panels including European Ministers likely to raise issues with Russia, at least two panels, which will include military and naval chiefs of Quad countries and allies are expected to deal with concerns over China in the Indo-Pacific.

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