G20 summit in India ends with lukewarm statement

G20 summit in India ends with lukewarm statement

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said of the declaration’s anaemic paragraphs on the war in Ukraine: “I think it’s an extraordinarily strong statement from the world at this G20 meeting”.

Said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov: “I think that a healthy solution has been found in the declaration regarding the need to strive for a clear and equitable balance of interests.”

The same words, with vastly different interpretations of a war that has killed nearly half a million people. How could this be? Only with a statement that offends no one and says nothing.

Joe Biden arrives to board Air Force One on his way to New Delhi. Credit: AP

US President Joe Biden’s team spent much of their time reassuring reporters why the G20 mattered, according to those aboard Air Force One.

“We have consciously sought to make this G20 as inclusive and broad-based as possible,” said India’s external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who defended the summit as an economic gathering, not a security meeting.

“This is one declaration without a single footnote and without any chair’s summary,” added Indian G20 representative Shri Amitabh Kant. “This is a complete statement with 100 per cent unanimity.”


To get to their final state of harmony, there were two days of wall-to-wall coverage of wreath laying, tree saplings, and aphorisms of “one earth, one family, one future” as the leader of one of its largest members faces arrest for an international warrant for alleged crimes in Ukraine. (Vladimir Putin skipped the summit, but Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he would be welcome when the G20 is hosted in Brazil next year).

Jawaharlal Nehru University foreign affairs expert Bali Deepak said India managed to convince G20 members, including Russia, to sign a statement that condemned its war on Ukraine without naming it.

“There are strong words inside, including ‘this is not the time of the war’ and territorial integrity and sovereignty have to be respected,” he said. “People say that it is slightly diluted, but perhaps it depends on how you read it.”

Everyone was happy because, in reality, the annual pageant has become a vehicle for each leader to further their own image as international statesmen and women for domestic political gain. “I think every country does it,” said Deepak.

But perhaps no nation has been as brazen in this act of deception as the host India. The G20 was the launch of Modi’s campaign for next year’s election. “G20 year of India’s rise” was beamed across the country’s TV networks.

“It put Modi domestically as well as internationally on a very high stage,” said Deepak. “Modi invested a lot of political capital in conducting the G20.”

Kant, a senior civil servant who once lamented that India was “too much of a democracy”, told the G20 press conference that Modi saved the negotiations over the final declaration.

“I really feel that in the end, the issue was clenched, because of the leadership of the prime minister because eventually, we had to say that the leader wants it, and this has to be delivered,” he said.

India is now campaigning to overturn Greece’s claim to being the world’s oldest democracy by rebranding itself as Bharat. But it faces growing centralisation of power, rising nationalism and ongoing restrictions on the freedom of the press.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov represented his president Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in India.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov represented his president Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in India.Credit: TASS/Sipa USA

US reporters had to wait until they left India for a press conference with Biden. Modi did not take any questions. He never does.

For dinner, the leaders of the free world had millet, a grain that keeps millions of Indians from starving in drought. That’s admirable. But if they had stepped outside the summit security lockdown in Delhi, they would have seen the hundreds of locals who may have struggled to eat that night because stalls had been shut down to make way for their motorcades.

Get a note directly from our foreign correspondents on what’s making headlines around the world. Sign up for the weekly What in the World newsletter here.