India Announces New Delhi Declaration Is 'Almost Ready,' But Negotiators Still Face a Thorny Path 

On his way to India, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak bluntly pointed the finger at China and said it was the reason that G20 nations had yet to reach a common position.

New Delhi: The race towards getting a declaration at the end of the G-20 summit has entered the critical slog hours.

Even as India’s G20 sherpa Amitabh Kant said that New Delhi declaration was “almost ready” pending the leaders’ approval, the UK prime minister Rishi Sunak said there was still a gap to bridge due to Chinese objections over climate and Ukraine. China however has not publicly shown any sign of flexibility, with their spokesperson stating that Chinese position on Ukraine has always been “consistent”.

In public, the West are also making the right noises to allow negotiators the space in their back room talks to find a resolution over the language on Ukraine war. The US national security adviser Jake Sullivan talked about arriving in New Delhi with a “spirit of compromise to a lot of the different issues that are contentious so that we can find a text that everybody can live with”.

The European Council President Charles Michael demurred from adding to the visible anxiety over the finalising a joint communique. “I don’t intend to say something that will make the efforts more difficult”.

At the same time, he told reporters at a media briefing here that it was “difficult to predict’ whether a New Delhi declaration would be reached. “We are still negotiating”.

The host of the G20 summit, India adopted a confident tone at a pre-event media briefing to the repetitive queries about the fate of the outcome document. 

“New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration is almost ready,” said Kant, but added that he would not be able to give detail due to the “high nature of confidentiality” over the text.

He also added that the talks over the disputed issues were ongoing. “The journey (for finalising the declaration) has just started, not ended”.

When asked whether China had been principal opposition in finding a compromise, Kant said that China was a “multilateral player” and that the nature of multilateral discussions was different from that having direct bilateral talks. Noting that China has their own perspective on issues, Kant asserted that the “challenge is to get consensus across every issue with every single country”.

Neither Chinese President Xi Jinping nor Russian President Vladimir Putin are attending the summit. China is being represented by Premier Li Qiang, while Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov will take Russia’s seat.

Kant pointed out that geo-political issues had only intruded into the G20’s agenda after the start of the Ukraine war. The G20’s Bali summit had seen a compromise being reached at the last minute, with China and Russia endorsing two paragraphs on Ukraine.

But both of them soon withdrew their endorsement – and there has not been a single communique issued at any of the G20 ministerial meetings held this year. Instead, the paragraph related to Ukraine, which is based on the template of the Bali Declaration, is characterised as the “Chair’s summary”, with Chinese and Russian objections to the text included as footnotes.

Russia has wanted its views on Ukraine to be part of the outcome document, but there is no sign that would be acceptable to the western countries who want a stronger condemnation in any final text.

Sources said that the negotiations in New Delhi are much tougher than that in Bali, with both sides finding it difficult to navigate towards a compromise outside of their entrenched positions.

A failure to find a solution on the text about Ukraine would mean that the 18th summit in New Delhi would be first time that a joint communique would not be issued at the end of the leaders’ meeting. If there is no Declaration, the main achievement that will be highlighted is the likely decision to bring in the African Union as a permanent member of the G20.

Indian sources said that all countries are working hard to help India to reach a solution and issue a joint declaration, but also indicated that it was the difficulty should not be underestimated.

On his way to India, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak bluntly pointed the finger at China and said it was the reason that G20 nations had yet to reach a common position on issues ranging from climate change to language on Ukraine war. “We are not there yet,” he told Bloomberg News on the plane to New Delhi.

In Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry didn’t give the impression that that it was willing to move the needle on its position. “We believe that the G20, as a premier forum for international economic cooperation, needs to focus on its mandate, enhance macroeconomic policy coordination and boost world economic growth. On the issue of Ukraine, China’s position is consistent and clear,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told reporters at the daily media briefing today, September 8.

The next two days of G-20 summit will be divided in three main sessions, with several side plurilateral meetings taking place on the sidelines. Each world leader has been encouraged to speak in only two sessions due to paucity of time, with over 40 delegations participating in the summit.

It is expected that the Ukraine war will certainly be alluded to in the speeches of leaders, with the two divided geo-political camps trying to woo the global south by highlighting the economic impact of the Ukraine ear.

While EC president Charles Michel did not want to get into pointed rhetoric over the under-negotiation declaration, he also added that G20 should focus on food and energy security which is being threatened due to Russia blocking Ukrainian export of grains through the Black Sea.

“This meeting is an occasion… to see the cynical approach by Russia, which is (creating) more difficulties for the developing countries,” said Michel, asserting that Russia was shooting “food missiles” against the developing countries.

“By deliberately attacking Ukraine’s ports, the Kremlin is depriving people of food they desperately need.”

Russia had refused to extend the Black Sea grain deal claiming the food grains were going mainly to Europe. It demanded the lifting of sanctions on Russian agricultural products and fertilisers in exchange for the resumption of the deal.