'Tough Road Ahead but Positive Signals': English Editorials on India's G20 Presidency

India’s moment – as editorials from some of the country’s English newspapers pointed out – was overshadowed by the global threat that has loomed since February this year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

New Delhi: On Wednesday, November 16, India was officially handed over the Group of 20 (G20) presidency by Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the closing ceremony of the 17th iteration of the summit at Bali. 

India will officially take over the leadership of the intergovernmental group from December 1.

Prime Minister Modi, speaking at the summit, highlighted the importance of the presidency to the life of every Indian. Noting that the overarching theme of the presidency will be ‘One World, One Family, One Future’, Modi laid particular emphasis on women-led development, a “truly inclusive” digital transformation and more.

India’s moment, however – as editorials from some of the country’s English newspapers pointed out – was overshadowed by the global threat that has loomed since February this year – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

On the second day of the summit, Russia reportedly launched a volley of 100 missiles at Ukraine. Subsequent reports that two of these missiles ended up in Poland, a member of NATO, further flamed tensions, pushing any other concerns at the G20 summit to the backburner. 

It must be noted, however, that both Poland and NATO later clarified that the missiles were not fired by Russia and were likely strays fired by the Ukrainian side.

To this end, the G20 member nations produced a joint statement on the Russian invasion. While the members largely stood by their previously stated positions – “Most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy,” the document said (emphasis added) – India’s influence on the final document was widely acknowledged.

‘For India, leadership of the G20 is an important opportunity to make a concerted push for the global south’

The Indian Express, in its editorial, begins with this point exactly. It notes that it was “inevitable” that the war in Ukraine be the focal point of the intergovernmental summit. 

“No country wants this war, but not everyone is on the same page over an outright condemnation of Russia,” the editorial reads. It also highlights that Russian President Vladimir Putin did not attend the summit, sending foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in his place, who, it says, “lashed out at the assembly for politicising the war”. 

President Widodo described discussions of the conflict as “most contentious”.

The Express editorial then goes on to discuss Prime Minister Modi’s speech in which he underlined the aforementioned goals of India’s presidency as well as the challenges it will: “Geopolitical tensions, economic slowdown, rising food and energy prices, and the long-term ill-effects of the pandemic”. 

“This is an opportunity for India to make a mark as a global leader. Delhi must avoid the temptation to turn its presidency into a gimmicky year-long “festival of India” in the run-up to the 2024 general elections,” the editorial reads.

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Apart from the tensions surrounding the war in Europe, the editorial also highlights the important bilateral interactions that took place in Indonesia. This includes the more-than-cordial first meeting between Modi and British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the latter’s green light to the ‘Young Professionals Scheme’ which will see the UK grant 3,000 two-year visas to Indian graduates aged 10-30. 

As the editorial notes, this will likely “smoothen the path towards a quick finalisation of the Free Trade Agreement which hit a road bump last month.”

‘Welcome pragmatism: On India’s G20 presidency’

Acknowledging the importance of India’s presidency as well as the numerous challenges – economic hardships, global recessionary trends and a fraught geopolitical landscape –  it will face, the Hindu editorial also highlights the “positive signals” that emerged from the 17th G20 summit.

“Despite fears that G20 members would fail to produce a joint statement, Sherpas of each delegation persevered to reach a 17-page consensus document,” it reads.

The editorial notes India’s role in “tempering” some of the language used in the negotiations on Russia’s invasion and highlights that Prime Minister Modi’s words to Putin on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in September – that this is not an “era of war” – found their way in the final joint statement.

The editorial also highlights how Putin’s absence in Indonesia proved to be a boon in some ways, resulting in more “manageable” negotiations on the Russia-Ukraine war. However, it noted that India’s non-committal position on the war was not shared by many countries, as the joint statement read that “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine”.

The Hindu editorial also lauds Modi for his pragmatism in extending his hand to Chinese President Xi Jinping – something he did not do at the SCO summit and has not done since tensions broke out between the two nations in Galwan in 2020. 

The editorial notes that this pragmatism is necessary for India as the chair of the G20 and the SCO next year to ensure participation and cooperations from all nations in these groupings; especially rivals such as China and Pakistan.

“More such pragmatism will be necessary for India in its year of the G20 presidency, with about 200 meetings planned. To achieve this New Delhi will have to bring on board all countries with its vision for the forum’s future — steering the world’s economic leadership through this difficult phase, and preparing for future perils including climate change and global warming, food and energy shortages, terrorism and conflict, and bridging the digital divide,” the editorial reads.

‘War that must end: G20 was predictably divided on Ukraine. For peace, likes of US, EU, China, India must work in concert’

The Times of India editorial notes that it is unsurprising that the G20 summit culminated in a “nuanced” joint statement where member nations stuck largely by their previously stated positions.

“This compromise isn’t surprising since G20 was never a forum to resolve security issues,” it reads, while acknowledging India’s influence in bringing about a statement that was “acceptable to all sides” and Modi’s now famous words.

Yet, the editorial acknowledges that there is no end in sight to the war in Ukraine, highlighting Russia’s most recent missile attack on its neighbour and the two stray missiles which found their way into NATO member Poland.

“Russian troops continue to occupy Ukrainian territory and Moscow has self-certified the annexation of four Ukrainian regions. But given Ukrainian advances in recent weeks and Russia’s recent withdrawal from Kherson, Kyiv’s current ground position is roughly what it was just before the war began,” the editorial notes.

It thus acknowledges Ukraine’s somewhat favourable position but lays emphasis on G20 president India, in concert with the US, China and EU nations, to work towards finding a resolution to the conflict.