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Will India Emerge Unscathed From The Diplomatic Quagmire It Finds Itself In

When G20 had 200 events organised, there were just a handful for the SCO countries. Russia and China, it is believed, also expressed unhappiness with host India over the manner in which the SCO summit was shifted by a month to allow the PM to visit the US. They claim that the SCO countries, in terms of GDP and size, are no less than the G7 nations.

By Sanjay Kapoor
New Update

SCO Summit Meeting of the council of heads of the SCO member states in 2022 | Photo courtesy: PIB | Government of India

As the host of both the Group of 20 (G20) nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) later this year, India finds itself in a pickle. Although global attention is welcome, what follows could be unpalatable. In the best of times, it would not have been easy to balance the competing demands of the two groups, but due to the raging war in Ukraine, the exertions from both groups have acquired an unexpected intensity that is posing a major foreign policy challenge for India - implications of which will be visible long after the curtains come down on these two events.

The denouement to this exciting war of wits could happen even earlier when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Washington on a first State visit in June. What needs to be seen is will the US persuade New Delhi to unwelcome Russian President Vladimir Putin for the G20 summit, which will take place later in September this year. Sources who keep a close watch at Capitol Hill claim that US President Joe Biden may not attend the G20 summit if Putin, as a member country, decides to participate in it. In these circumstances, what will Prime Minister Modi do? Can he muster up the diplomatic guile like the Indonesian Prime Minister, Joko Widido, to get President Putin and President Biden to participate in the summit at Bali and also get everyone to agree to a statement despite the division caused by the Ukraine war? This seems like a big challenge as Indian defence and finance ministers failed to get all the ducks in a row to agree to a joint statement. The loud claims of some Indian officials that they were capable of building a consensus on contentious issues and had played a role at Bali expectedly turned short.

How Indian diplomats absorb the pressure that would come their way on many critical issues would have a bearing on the success of the G20 event. It would be visible during PM Modi’s first State visit to the United States of America under President Joe Biden. Washington could pressure India to stop buying cheap Russian oil and further reduce its dependence on defence equipment.

Also Read |  Why is the Ukraine war not ending?

Quite visibly, the US has begun the exercise to reclaim its relationship with New Delhi before Biden meets Modi in June 2023. US NSA, Jake Sullivan, travelled to Riyadh for a meeting with not just Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman but also India’s National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval and UAE’s security boss to discuss ways to integrate the Middle East with South Asia through rail lines and sea lanes. Ostensibly, the endeavour was to keep in check the growing influence of the Chinese in the oil-rich region, who had brokered a pathbreaking peace deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which not just rehabilitated Iran in the region but ended a fratricidal war with neighbouring Yemen. Besides pushing Saudis towards Israel, the US also wanted to try to stop Riyadh's new foreign policy endeavours from joining the China-Russia-led Shanghai Cooperation, which is increasingly becoming an anti-West bloc.

It is from this standpoint that one has to see the statement that the Russian Defense Minister, Shoigu, made during his visit to India during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Defence Ministers’ conclave. The long-standing ally of India was trenchantly dissonant over the creation of the Quad group of countries and its obvious implications on how it was anti-China in its construct and imagination. Shoigu was critical not just of the US but also members of the Quad like India, which in his reckoning, followed the same anti-China policy as the West.

In some ways, Russian criticism of the Quad was inspired by its close ally China which has been deeply anxious about the Quad, even when India, Australia and Japan have taken pains to explain to Beijing that there is no merit in its criticism. Many believe that the Galwan clashes of 2020 were an attempt by Beijing to check whether Quad was a military alliance or not. As the US did not come to India’s rescue, it became clear to them that New Delhi was fighting its own battles.

In fact, India was reluctant to join Quad if it was meant to be a military compact designed to take on China, but other partners reassured that it was meant to collaborate on other issues like the production of vaccines to take on the pandemic, piracy and the likes. China is obviously not fooled by these clarifications as it has been pressured to clean up its act and stop its hegemonic ways in the Indo-Pacific region. Though India has abundant reasons to join any military alliance that keeps the Chinese threat in the Himalayan region at bay, Quad or for that matter, is limited to the Indo-Pacific region.

Also Read | India’s worry – after the recent setback, will the G20 summit in September 2023 yield a joint statement at all

India still believes that a better way to manage China is through negotiations and trade. In the last few years, India is also benefiting from Western powers’ attempts to decouple from China. For instance, Apple, the iPhone maker, is furiously shifting their plants from China to India and other Western powers. Despite expressing misgivings about shifting from China by many Western private sector companies, whose concerns are driven by profit and predictability of the use of law and not by political reasons, pressure from the West to decouple has begun to show an impact on their fortunes.

The rapidity with which the world is changing after February 24, 2022, has seen China and Russia scramble to garner support from countries that are uncomfortable with the US hegemony of the global financial system. Due to this, China is at the forefront of the new financial world order, where trade will take place in national currencies and not in dollars. This process of de-dollarisation is attracting many countries of the SCO that are slowly doing business in renminbi, dirham, ruble and rupee. All 18 countries of the world have jettisoned the dollar in favour of this new arrangement. Iran, which is the new member of the SCO, has agreed to do business in yuan or renminbi, which allows it to beat the US sanctions. Russia, too, is benefiting from this but has problems with the large amount of rupees it has collected after the sanctions prevented it from trading in dollars with India. In the future, it wants to do business in either yuan or ruble to purchase oil or defence equipment like an anti-missile system, S-400.

These are the kind of niggles that are showing up from Shanghai Cooperation Organisation countries as the time for the summit comes closer. Some Shanghai Cooperation Organisation members have also expressed unhappiness over the partisan treatment shown to them. Whereas G20 had 200 events organised all over the country, there was just a handful for the SCO countries. Russia and China, it is believed, also expressed unhappiness with host India over the manner in which the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit was shifted by a month to allow the PM to visit the US. They claim that the SCO countries, in terms of GDP and size, are no less than G7 nations.

It will be interesting to watch how India emerges unscathed from this diplomatic quagmire it finds itself in.


Sanjay Kapoor is a Senior Journalist based out of Delhi. He is a foreign policy specialist focused on India, its neighbourhood and West Asia. He is the Founder and Editor of Hardnews Magazine. He is a Member of the Editors Guild of India (EGI) and, until recently, served as the General Secretary of EGI.