G20-2023: What is India's agenda?
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G20-2023: What is India's agenda?

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo take part in the handover ceremony during the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on Nov 16. (Photo: AFP)
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo take part in the handover ceremony during the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on Nov 16. (Photo: AFP)

The success of the G20 in Bali has turned President Widodo Joko into a global leader for overcoming divisions regarding the war in Ukraine. The G20 leaders' declaration was issued, surprising everyone. Behind the scenes, however, kudos went to India which helped draft the communique. Now, India, as the current G20 chair, will be out right in the front row with all eyes watching. What will India's agenda be? What is India up to?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi minced no words last week when he said that the world is facing great challenges such as climate change, terrorism, and pandemics. Therefore, the global community should act together and not fight one another.

What will the world's largest democracy's G20 agenda be? Judging from India's growing confidence and leadership, New Delhi will not be shy in placing its interests and those of other developing countries up front. India wants to see collective leadership in tackling global issues such as climate change, food security, cyber security threats, etc.

Mr Modi reiterated that the G20's priorities would be shaped in consultation with both G20 partners as well as partners in the global South, whose voices often go unheard. "We will encourage an honest conversation among the most powerful countries -- on mitigating risks posed by weapons of mass destruction and enhancing global security."

India does have an ambitious agenda for the G20, which industrialised members might find puzzling as it reflects very little of what the West has in mind. At various diplomatic gatherings over here, one could read some of the tea leaves about what India plans to do. Obviously, the overarching theme, which has been referred to often, would be "Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam", speaking spiritually. In plain English, these two Sanskrit words mean "one earth, one family, one future" -- or something like that. If that is the case, India will have to be Hanuman the hero in the Ramayana epic who is agile and can perform all kinds of miracles and somersaults.

As the incoming G20 chair, India has to build on the agenda from what has been achieved or in certain cases deferred to from the previous summit in Bali. Indonesia was very clear on three aspects: the global health system, energy transition, and digital transformation. Obviously, these three goals would be included in the agenda of India.

In fact, India has already listed quite a few priorities apart from the key issues raised in Bali. These include the circular economy, public infrastructure, disaster risk and resilience, digitalisation in development, and women-led development.

Given the current global situation dominated by superpower rivalries coupled with their actions and policies, both visible and invisible, India would like to promote the voices of the Global South that have been ignored. Actually, the loudest voice has been India's, especially about the war in Ukraine. Other countries that share similar positions have gone unreported. As such, New Delhi wishes to see more inclusive and collective responsibility for the rest of the world.

After all, it is the South that has been the major victim of actions and policies perpetrated by industrialised countries. For instance, the Ukraine war has caused all-around negative impacts on developing and poor countries throughout the world. India has been pitching without taking sides. This position will remain the case during its G20 chairmanship. Russian President Vladimir Putin was missing from the Bali meeting but with India as chair, Mr Putin will be obliged to attend the summit next year.

Whatever plans India has in mind would certainly be aligned with the Asean agenda. India's position on the Ukraine war has won accolades in Asean, which has displayed very diverse viewpoints and positions. The bloc appreciates New Delhi's unwavering stand. Last month, New Delhi was accorded comprehensive strategic partnership (CSP) in the wee hours before their leaders met in Phnom Penh. Geopolitical values outweigh economic interests in granting CSP to India. The Asean-India Trade in Goods Agreement or AITIG was signed. But implementation has been sluggish. Now, with the CSP, India's stature is on par with China, the US, and Australia as they are all in the top tier of the bloc's dialogue partners. From this perspective, India can be the new champion and speak on behalf of Asean in addition to Indonesia.

Furthermore, under India's leadership, two of the most important items for the G20 would be the promotion of awareness of youth as well as empowerment and women-led development. These are the future for the world, regardless of country. The younger generation has yet to absorb the old world which has been kept intact by analogue technology which requires deep thinking minus the "like" or "dislike" emojis. Youth and women will be India's signature agenda items next year.

These days, young people look to the future via smartphones. Their future can be clicked on and off but the real world is different. The chairmanship will definitely try to showcase India's start-ups in all areas. Some surveys say India's start-ups have grown exponentially to 72,993 in 2022 from 471 in 2016.

In addition, women are one of the important resources in global development, as they provide the foundation for families and are quite often the victims in conflict situations. The highlighting of these challenges would further promote the leadership of the Indian chair as issues from the Global South would be reiterated by the host.

Kavi Chongkittavorn

A veteran journalist on regional affairs

Kavi Chongkittavorn is a veteran journalist on regional affairs

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