India’s G20 Presidency comes at an “incredibly important time” when the world confronts challenges like the Ukraine conflict, global food supply disruptions and China's “increasingly assertive actions" on the world stage, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said.

He also announced that he will travel to New Delhi next week for the G20 Foreign Ministers meeting and engage with partners from across the globe.

India assumed the Presidency of the G20 on December 1, 2022.

“India is an incredibly important global player of increased, not only economic prosperity but diplomatic influence. We're very very pleased with that. We're very proud of the longstanding relationship the UK has of course with India,” Cleverly told PTI in an exclusive interview.

Cleverly, the UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, addressed the high-level UN Security Council debate on ‘Maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine’ here Friday, held on the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

“But this is an incredibly important year because we see not only conflict in Ukraine, we see global food supply disruptions, we see China's increasingly assertive actions on the world stage. So India's G20 Presidency comes at an incredibly important time,” Cleverly said.

He said that he wishes India “complete success” in its presidency, and “making sure that we debate the whole range of issues facing the world, not just the ones that are perhaps in the headlines at the moment.”

Cleverly confirmed he will travel to India to participate in the G20 Foreign Ministers Meeting to be held in New Delhi on March 1 and 2.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are also headed to the Indian capital next week for the high-level meeting, coming just a week after the one-year anniversary of the Ukraine conflict.

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“I will be joining the Foreign Ministers of the G20 next week. Of course, it is an opportunity for us in the UK to engage with partners from right across the globe, not just in our Euro-Atlantic near the neighbourhood, but also in the Indo-Pacific. So, I am very much looking forward to discussing that,” he said.

Bilateral ties

Cleverly stressed that the UK’s posture to the Indo-Pacific will be an “increasingly important part of our long-term foreign policy. Our relationship with India, with Indonesia, with a number of other countries in the region, will be instrumental in supporting our own prosperity and security and the prosperity and security of our friends in the region.”

In response to a question on possible bilateral discussions with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during the Foreign Ministers meeting, the British leader said Jaishankar “will, of course, be very very busy as the host Foreign Minister, but I will perhaps abuse our relationship to make sure I have a little bit of time to have a bilateral discussion with him.” He highlighted that the two sides are talking about advancing the bilateral trade relationship through a Free Trade Agreement, "the negotiations of which are progressing.

He said The UK and India are also focused on their shared desire to use the intellect of their young generations working closely together on issues like renewable energy generation and storage, helping lift people out of rural poverty and "about making sure that we protect our natural environment whilst also supporting the economic development that India has seen over the last decades and a whole load of other things.”

He quipped that the two might even have the opportunity to talk about cricket. “I very much value my relationship with Dr Jaishankar. He is a very, very thoughtful interlocutor, and I look forward to spending some time with him in the G20 meetings,” he said.

Indo-Pacific and China

Responding to a question on how the UK views China's aggressive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere, Cleverly said the point that London has made to Beijing is that it is an important and significant international player.

“But we expect all countries in the world to abide by the rules, the regulations, the things that have kept our international relations in a positive spirit.

“I think that's in their interest, it's in the interest of the globe that they do so. If that were to be the case, they would be very, very important, not just a bilateral partner but multilateral partners. That's what we're hoping to achieve in our relationship with China.”

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India, the US and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open and thriving Indo-Pacific in the backdrop of China's rising military manoeuvring in the region.

China claims nearly all of the disputed South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it. Beijing has built artificial islands and military installations in the South China Sea.

UNGA resolution

Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Blinken, Japanese Foreign Affairs Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna travelled from their capitals to address the Security Council debate on Ukraine at the UN Headquarters.

On the eve of the conflict's anniversary, the UN General Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly adopted a resolution underscoring the need to reach “a comprehensive, just and lasting peace” in Ukraine in line with the principles of the UN Charter.

An electronic sign displays the results of a vote by delegations adopting a resolution on Ukraine during a high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to mark one year since Russia invaded Ukraine, at U.N. headquarters in New York City

An electronic sign displays the results of a vote by delegations adopting a resolution on Ukraine during a high-level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to mark one year since Russia invaded Ukraine, at U.N. headquarters in New York City | Photo Credit: Mike Segar

India abstained, questioning whether the world was “anywhere near a possible solution” acceptable to both Moscow and Kyiv.

With no resolution in sight, Cleverly, when asked if he sees a solution to the conflict in the near future, said he really hopes the conflict comes to a conclusion soon.

“There has been so much bloodshed, so much pain, so much suffering, so much damage. But ultimately, that resolution has got to show that the international community supports the UN Charter, supports the territorial integrity and international law. This means that Russia, Vladimir Putin, cannot succeed in his invasion of Ukraine. So that has been our longstanding position. We want Ukraine to prevail. But we want this to come to a conclusion soon.”

India has asserted that the Security Council has been rendered ineffective to address contemporary challenges to global peace and security.

To a question on the need for Council reform with India sitting as a permanent member helping address global challenges, Cleverly said the UK recognises that for institutions to remain valuable, they have to evolve and London has been talking about UN reform for some time.

"I think it's absolutely right that we have increasingly influential voices like India's centerstage at these multilateral fora. We've made that position publicly. We want to remind the world that organizations like the United Nations are important but we need to make sure there's a real diversity of voice at the top table including India’s.”