Choppy waters

Updated on: Dec 06, 2021

Prime Minister Modi has a tricky balancing act to perform at the G20 Summit

President Donald Trump began tweeting even before he arrived in Buenos Aires for the G20 Summit, declaring he wouldn’t be meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin because of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. But he softened the announcement by saying he looked forward to a “meaningful summit” with Putin as soon as “this matter is resolved” and Moscow took the cancellation in stride, saying it would free Putin for important talks with other leaders. Still, aside from the Ukraine clash, optics for a Trump-Putin meeting would have been poor after lawyer Michael Cohen admitted lying to Congress that the president’s pursuit of a Trump Tower Moscow deal stopped before the election campaign.

G20 summits are usually fairly tame affairs followed by a communiqué. At this G20 meeting, though, it’s hard to say when, if ever, relations between the major powers have been so fraught. Among the headliners is Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, and the world will be watching how leaders treat him in the wake of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s gruesome dismemberment. India has already indicated it’s business as usual. Prime Minister Narendra Modi met MbS, as the crown prince is known, on the summit sidelines to discuss boosting economic, cultural and energy ties in what Modi tweeted was a “fruitful interaction.” There’s also been frenzied speculation about whether Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will attempt to narrow trade differences that could wipe percentage points off global growth, though hopes are muted about any significant moves amid Trump’s belligerent statements that he aims to force China to trade on his terms.

The newest G20 feature is the emergence in strength of the hard right-wing. The latest arrival is just-elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, hailed by US National Security Advisor John Bolton as a “like-minded leader”. Other right-wingers include Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte who’s embroiled in an ugly public-spending clash with the EU that economists warn could endanger the euro. Focus will also be on any encounters between Britain’s Theresa May and Trump who’s trashed her Brexit deal as “good” for the EU, not for Britain. In the midst of these minefields, Modi has a tricky balancing act to perform. The first ever trilateral with the US and Japan also assumes importance in the light of China’s heavy-handed manoeuvrings in the South China Sea. He’s also meeting Xi and Putin in the first China-Russia-India trilateral in a dozen years. But Modi has an advantage. Unlike the G7 which is truly a rich man’s club, the G20 is a broader grouping and Modi and his team should press home at the summit India’s advantage as the fastest-growing major economy to offer some global leadership.

Published on November 30, 2018
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