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India G20 Presidency: Balancing Historical Ties and Modern Diplomacy Amidst Rising Global Tensions

India G20 Presidency navigates the complexities of international diplomacy, seeking to reconcile historical alliances with contemporary challenges. Amidst escalating global tensions, New Delhi's role underscores its evolving stance on the world stage.

By Prof Sudhanshu Tripathi
New Update

India G20 Presidency

India’s G20 presidency and its substantive role in the ASEAN summit in Jakarta have once again drawn a strenuous path for the country, albeit with immense fruitful prospects. It looks almost the same, with few exceptions, as it was during the early 1970s India-Pakistan War when New Delhi was encircled by the Washington-Islamabad-Beijing axis. That prompted the then PM Indira Gandhi to conclude a significant friendship treaty with the erstwhile Soviet Union (the USSR) to ensure its peace, security, and national integrity. Navigating such geopolitical intricacies requires a delicate balance between honouring past allegiances and addressing present-day global dynamics. With India’s G20 presidency, it finds itself in a pivotal position to influence and be influenced, demanding a nuanced approach that serves both its national interests and global responsibilities.

The first exception is that the US has now become disenchanted with Pakistan’s dubious role in syphoning off huge American assistance to support terror networks in its territory, besides actively colluding with various global terror organisations. The second exception points to the escalating Sino-US tensions on several key issues like AI, climate, and trade relations, in addition to direct confrontation between the two major powers in the Indo-Pacific, especially concerning China’s illegal takeover of the South China Sea, Beijing’s intrusion into Taiwan's airspace, and collusion with Pyongyang to threaten both South Korea and Japan.

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While the aforementioned India-USSR treaty indeed set the future course for expanding and deepening bilateral cooperation between the two faraway asymmetric states - one the then super power and the other a consolidating nonaligned nation - continuing its tryst with destiny that began on the midnight of 15th August 1947, the country has since achieved a significant power position in international and global affairs. Now, India continues to maintain its strategic autonomy while boldly asserting its independent stance through its muscular foreign policy.

That may be substantiated by successfully handling China’s attempts to invade the Sino-Indian borders (McMahon line) towards India at Doklam and Galwan in 2017 and 2020, respectively. Further, New Delhi’s surgical strikes against terror outfits inside Pakistan’s territory have not only smashed and deterred the terrorists housed therein but have also sent strong signals to Islamabad and other terror-supporting countries, as they consider the country a safe pasture for promoting terrorism and religious fundamentalism of all shades and forms. However, with the India G20 presidency, the nation faces a challenge: to transition from a reactive stance on regional threats to a proactive leader in global diplomacy. This role necessitates India to not only showcase its defence capabilities but also its commitment to fostering peace and stability in the region.

Moreover, India has maintained a cautious balance with both the US and Russia as both these powers are equally important for accomplishing its national interests, including economy, security, and possibly a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. While India, with its historical-traditional ties to Russia and its growing partnership with America, finds itself walking a tightrope as it interacts simultaneously with both major powers, especially during the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, it is still striving to discharge its due role to reduce tensions between the two belligerents.

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Indeed, India has long maintained close multi-faceted relations with the erstwhile USSR, succeeded by present-day Russia, after its disintegration during the closing years of the 1980s. The partnership between the two countries spans many decades since the end of the Second World War and encompasses various areas such as defence, cultural exchanges, energy and the likes. Fortunately, Russia continues to be a significant supplier of military hardware to India even today, in addition to cheap crude oil, and both nations continue to cooperate on numerous global issues, including counter-terrorism and regional stability.

However, the conflict in Ukraine has obviously strained India's traditional relations with Moscow as New Delhi maintains silence over the US-led western power’s massive logistical support to Ukraine. That support continues to sustain this war and accrues immense benefits to America and other western states from the sale of arms and ammunition to Ukraine. This is why India continues to maintain a prudent stance, neither condemning nor fully endorsing Moscow’s attacks in Kyiv.

Against this backdrop, India’s likely meaningful actions in Jakarta will significantly determine future security concerns of almost all regional partners in Southeast Asia, as most of them have long-standing border disputes with China. That may also stress the security concerns of not only South Asian states, including India but also the entire East, against the backdrop of eastward-shifting global geopolitics. With the India G20 presidency, there's an opportunity for India to advocate for collective security and collaboration, even as it manages its bilateral tensions. Balancing its regional challenges with its new-found global leadership will be the litmus test for India's diplomatic finesse and vision in the international arena.

This is why the ASEAN nations eagerly seek America’s constant support and its increasing military actions in the region, like forging security cooperation and holding joint military exercises, in addition to expanding economic cooperation to protect their national borders and economic well-being. Also, the organisation emphasises India’s purposeful role as the net security provider in the region, which will undoubtedly be meaningful for the entirety of East Asia, including the Indo-Pacific, as well as the Far East and beyond.

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In this scenario, the India G20 presidency offers significant leverage to India to outline and lead forthcoming prospects of immense economic cooperation among member states, effectively consolidating the hitherto overlooked global South against the privileged North, the former colonial rulers. This is crucial as it will undoubtedly revive the lost spirit of earlier South-South cooperation, with the added presence of the lone superpower and many major global powers, amidst the imbalanced growth of ongoing globalisation worldwide. Evidently, the G20 now offers India a much-needed global forum, especially given the diminishing role of the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) in international relations over the past few decades.

Thus, India must fully seize both these opportunities with great care to safeguard its national interests and project its enduring, peaceful yet self-reliant image among global leaders. Although Ukraine is nearly devastated and overwhelmed by the aggressive actions of the Russian army, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy continues his resistance, bolstered by consistent support from the US-led NATO powers. This ongoing support hinders the Russia-Ukraine conflict from reaching a logical conclusion. Given the significant challenge posed by a smaller state compared to its global might, President Putin, in sheer frustration, might consider using nuclear weapons to end the conflict. Such a tragic move could trigger a series of extreme counter-nuclear reactions, leading to an unimaginable catastrophe. Clearly, India must emphasise the importance of peace at global forums, underscoring that there's no substitute for humanity's survival. This stance would serve as a veiled response to the belligerence of Russia and NATO powers led by the US.

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