There are some useful takeaways from the recently concluded G-20 meet at Bali, Indonesia. The biggest among these is that it has carved out a space for dialogue between nations in times of heightened conflict and strife. As India inherits the presidency of the fractious grouping for a year — with the US and European Union in one camp, Russia and China in another, thanks to the Ukraine war — it is faced with unique challenges and opportunities. Its biggest advantage lies in the fact that it has a foot in both camps, as it were. The challenge lies in leveraging this assiduously carved out middle ground over the next year. The Indian delegation, led by Prime Minister Modi, seems to have hit the ground running at Bali. Its role in moderating the G-20’s condemnation of Russia in its war with Ukraine has been globally acknowledged.

It is perhaps a result of interventions by China and India that the joint communique acknowledged the existence of “other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions”. India should build on its well-regarded position that ‘today’s era is not of war’ to nudge the world towards ending the war — and with it, normalising flows of energy, food supplies, commodities, medicines and industrial goods. As G-20 president, India’s challenge would lie in taking all members along in follow-up meetings. It is perhaps in recognition of this responsibility that Prime Minister Modi broke the ice with China’s President Xi Jinping with a handshake — despite China’s aggression on Indian soil in the summer of 2020. Modi’s gesture may not alter China’s intent, but it puts the onus on China to alter its response.

Similarly, Bali got Xi and US President Joe Biden to share assurances over Taiwan. They also concurred, at least on the face of it, that competition should not turn into a zero-sum game over trade and technology exchange. The G-20 seemed to paper over, at least for now, the ideological rift between the West and East — and India as a democracy in the latter region is well placed to bridge this chasm. The fact that Bali brought face to face, or across the table, leaders of countries which have been at loggerheads recently is significant.

However, the challenge is to see whether this alters the ground reality of sanctions and embargoes on Russian goods. The EU’s sanctions on Russian crude come into force from December 5, which could impact India’s purchases. Russia said at the G-20 meet that it will allow Ukraine to export grain through the Black Sea, provided its own exports of grain and fertiliser are not held up by sanctions. India should take this up on priority by activating talks at various levels. It should also work towards ensuring that G-20 has a tight and distinct agenda, eschewing an exchange of homilies on everything under the sun, be it finance, digitisation or ‘coordinated’ monetary policy. An agenda that sticks to food, energy and climate security would do for now. Else, G-20 could turn into just another talking shop.

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