Uniting a Divided Group?
By Xu Feibiao  ·  2023-09-19  ·   Source: NO.38 SEPTEMBER 21, 2023
 A reporter poses for pictures at the media center of the Group of 20 Summit in New Delhi, India, on September 9 (CNSPHOTO)

The widely anticipated 18th Group of 20 (G20) Summit in New Delhi, India, concluded on September 10 and issued a joint declaration. Overall, the gathering made some unexpected progress but failed to address the already dysfunctional global governance system.

An overcast summit

Due to the escalating competition between major countries, this year's G20 summit was a cloudy and confrontational gathering from the very get-go. Compared with the Bali Summit in 2022 in Indonesia, this one witnessed even more contradictions and greater uncertainty.

The confrontation between Russia and the West has intensified. In the second year of the Ukraine crisis, the opposition between Russia and the U.S.-led West on Ukraine has been expanding and deepening, and its impact has been felt at the G20 meetings at all levels.

From the time India took over the G20 presidency until the eve of the summit, most G20 ministerial meetings and working group meetings had been deadlocked and ended without concrete outcomes due to the confrontation between the West and Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the leadup to this summit had already warned that if it were to only unilaterally put pressure on Russia without reflecting Russia's position, "there will be no general declaration on behalf of all members."

The United States and its allies also escalated their suppression of China. This was already evident at the Group of Seven (G7) Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, in May.

Under the joint management of the U.S. and Japan, that G7 summit shed light on issues "concerning" China and a "free and open Indo-Pacific," highlighting "economic coercion," "economic security" and the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII)—launched by the U.S. in June 2022 in yet another American bid to contain China.

Before this summit in New Delhi, American President Joe Biden had already stated he would "address China's 'coercive and unsustainable lending' practices" as well as propose a funding alternative to the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.

The gap between the so-called Global North and South, a divide largely based on economic status with countries in the South usually lagging well behind their Northern peers, has significantly widened in recent years.

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, developing countries have faced acute economic and social problems such as sluggish growth, mounting debt, rising unemployment and worsening poverty. The countries of the North have not yet provided their assistance, but instead, the U.S. in particular has continuously raised interest rates and adopted trade protectionist barriers, which have worsened the environment for developing countries.

Commitments to tackling climate change and other global issues have not been fulfilled by the West for a long time, and their technical and financial assistance to developing countries has been delayed in place. On the contrary, the West has implemented unilateral policies on energy transition, carbon tariffs and fossil energy subsidies. The European Union (EU), for example, will implement a carbon border adjustment mechanism in October. When this border tax takes full effect, companies wanting to import goods into the EU must buy certificates reflecting the emissions generated in producing them. This does not comply with global trading rules, nor will it satisfy most developing countries.

India has made great contributions in hosting this summit. However, it has also used the platform for its own political purposes. It hosted a meeting of G20 tourism ministers in the disputed Kashmir region, and a research and innovation gathering in the Chinese region of Zangnan illegally occupied by India. On the eve of the summit, India also held large-scale military exercises in areas where it has territorial disputes with Pakistan and China, further intensifying its conflicts with neighboring countries including China.

Unexpected breakthroughs

Despite the criticism of its role as host, India's relations with the U.S., Europe, Russia and other countries, as well as its diplomacy, finally made the summit a success and harvested the "eye-opening" outcome of the declaration.

First, the summit officially announced that the African Union (AU) had become a permanent member of the G20. This proposal was first put forward by China. At the Coordinators' Meeting on the Implementation of the Follow-Up Actions of the Eighth Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in August 2022, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made it clear that China supports the AU in joining the G20. Later, Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed China's support to the AU in Indonesia in November of the same year when addressing the Bali Summit.

The accession of the AU as the 21st member of the G20 marks a milestone in global governance. It makes up for the under-representation of the G20, enables African countries to more actively participate in global governance and helps the building of a more just and reasonable system in this regard.

Previously, only one of Africa's 55 countries, South Africa, was included in this multilateral platform. Compared with the five European members—France, Germany, Türkiye, the United Kingdom and the EU, and three members from Latin America—Argentina, Brazil and Mexico, the regional representation of Africa in the G20 was way too unbalanced.

The declaration on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine surprised almost everyone. The dispute over the Ukraine crisis has been the primary obstacle to G20 cooperation in the past two years, with the West sticking to its position and bringing negotiations to a near standstill in various areas. However, this summit made a huge concession: It highlighted the "human suffering and negative added impacts of the 'war in Ukraine'" instead of using the previous expression of "Russia's invasion."

An opinion piece in the Financial Times even called it "a blow to Western countries that have spent the past year attempting to convince developing countries to condemn Moscow and support Ukraine."

The declaration reached in New Delhi follows the practice adopted in Bali a year ago of emphasizing that the G20 is a platform for discussing global development and economic governance, rather than a platform for solving security issues.

It also cited an article of the United Nations Charter, saying, "all states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state. The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible." Leaders at the 2023 summit emphasized the peaceful settlement of international disputes through consultation, representing a warning not only to Russia but to the West at large.

Third, the declaration highlighted the aspirations of the Global South and made progress in the fields of sustainable development, energy transition and environmental protection.

In the field of sustainable development, the summit highlighted issues such as employment and vocational training, quality education and global hunger and malnutrition. New multilateral cooperation mechanisms and initiatives were launched, such as establishing a working group on micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, creating a global agricultural information-sharing system, and strengthening digital public infrastructure.

A long way

Despite calling the summit a success, it saw more cosmetic than substantive progress.

Although the India-hosted summit put forward many new goals, plans and initiatives, the results of substantive cooperation in a range of areas, including funding sources, responsibility sharing and initiative implementation, were very pale. For example, it called for a significant expansion of sources of climate finance, noting "the need of $5.8-5.9 trillion in the pre-2030 period for developing countries" as well as "the need of $4 trillion per year for clean energy technologies by 2030 to reach net zero emissions by 2050."

However, without any viable financing solutions, these are merely empty targets and figures.

In key areas such as climate change and energy transition, the parties still have different ideas and interests. For example, phasing out the use of fossil fuels has become an indispensable measure to achieve net zero emissions in tackling climate change, but leaders failed to reach a consensus on this, casting a shadow over the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference to be held in the United Arab Emirates in November.

Due to the lack of consensus, this summit has correspondingly achieved little on how to implement its resolutions.

More importantly, it failed to reverse the current trend of fragmentation and cliquism in the global governance system, in addition to failing to reduce the contradictions and differences among G20 members. Whether it is the contradictions between Russia and the West, the strategic competition between the U.S. and China, the gap between the Global North and South, or the disputes between China and India, the summit failed to resolve any of them. They will continue to exist and shake the foundations of global governance.

The author is director of the Center for BRICS and G20 Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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