The 2023 G20 New Delhi Summit was historic and nail-biting. There was no agreement on the joint statement until the last minute. As Indian Sherpa Amitabh Kant would eventually brief reporters, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to step in personally to get a unanimous agreement from Russia and China for the statement. The summit was also historic because this is the last G20 (Group of 20) summit.
Thanks to India’s efforts, the African Union (AU) is now a permanent member of the group, bringing the number to 21 and including the Global South. Politically, this is a very important achievement because it brings Africa, as a continent, to the table and gives the AU the same political stature as the European Union. In the current battle between democracies and autocracies, it was necessary to give Africa its voice in the G20 grouping, with the hope that it is invited to the G7 grouping as a permanent member shortly.
The New Delhi Leaders Declaration also brought India’s leadership of the Global South to the fore. India’s focus had been an inclusive declaration, and while there was no condemnation of Russia in the final declaration, there was language that condemned aggression by countries with the objective of capturing territories of other countries. There was also solidarity and concern expressed for the war in Ukraine – even though this was strongly criticized by the Ukrainian government.
The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor
The focus of this G20 was the Global South and eventually a surprise alliance was announced which counters China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) was announced on the margins of a larger Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII) co-chaired by US President Joe Biden and by Modi.
The IMEC creates a data, rail, and pipeline corridor between India and Europe through the Middle East with the support of Israel, UAE, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Leaders of the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Mauritius, UAE, Saudi Arabia, the US, and India signed the memorandum of understanding announcing the historic project.
“The Indian-Middle Eastern economic corridor will revive the ancient Red Sea route which once linked Roman Egypt with Kerala and Gujarat,” said William Dalrymple, an eminent historian.
While Israel was not present at the G20 summit, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a detailed press conference explaining and supporting the IMEC.
“Israel is at the focus of an unprecedented international project that will link infrastructure from Asia to Europe,” he said.
Italy was also the only European country to sign as the founding member of the Global Biofuels Alliance launched during the G20. Singapore, Bangladesh, Italy, the US, Brazil, Argentina, Mauritius, and UAE, all founding members with India will focus on the promotion of biofuels as a means to a carbon-neutral economy.
Leaders of India, Brazil, South Africa, and the US held a joint announcement as the leaders of the current and next three G20 summits, committing to build on the historic progress of India’s G20 Presidency to address global challenges. The optics of this joint declaration enforced the existing India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) trilateral with the presence of the US and hinted at cracks in BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa).
At the recent BRICS summit in Johannesburg, India had to negotiate hard to contain the expansion of BRICS, for which China was strongly lobbying. China’s intentions were to develop BRICS as an alternative to G7, where it is not invited.
IN THE final declaration, India also achieved language against terrorism, money laundering, and any form of racial and religious discrimination. Such language was important for it to deal with cross-border terrorism from Pakistan.
While Modi’s India was the biggest victor, finally demonstrating its foreign policy acumen despite the absence of China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Biden and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni made significant gains via the summit. Biden had a long-awaited rapprochement with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (MBS), who led the initial announcement of the India-Middle East corridor.
As this corridor passes through Jordan and Israel (Haifa), this was also a silent acknowledgment of Saudi-Israeli ties on the brink of normalization, an objective that Biden has been working towards.
With the launch of the PGII, Biden also concretely counters China’s BRI, bringing together allies of the enlarged Indo-Mediterranean under one umbrella. The IMEC brings the US’s strongest allies in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe under a single, US-led trade alliance.
For Meloni, the bilateral with China’s Prime Minister Li Qiang was the occasion to inform him of Italy’s intention to withdraw from its Belt and Road Initiative MoU. Italian participation in the IMEC is therefore a victory. The European termination of the IMEC – previously foreseen in Greece – will now probably move to Italy. With Italy and India already sharing the Blue-Raman high-speed data cable and MSC’s short cargo sea route – which takes 19 days – Italy will play a key role not only in the biofuels development but also in hydrogen pipelines and energy security, carbon transitioning, and potentially in the development of transcontinental railways.
Apart from the economic significance of these various programs, this extends Meloni’s Mattei Plan to the shores of India. Italy becomes the European crossroad like Israel becomes the Middle Eastern crossroad of data, energy, and trade from India to Europe.
The inclusion of the African Union (AU) in the G20 also creates the opportunity for Meloni’s agenda for the next G7 in 2024 to continue with India’s efforts.
Meloni has put Africa at the center of her international agenda. The language on migration in the G20 declaration was in line with the conclusions of the International Conference on Development and Migration which Meloni hosted in July 2023. Italy was one of the initial supporters of the initiative to permanently include the AU in the G20.
Leaders who attended the G20 summit concluded their visit to Delhi by paying their respects at Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial in Raj Ghat. This was the most solemn moment of India’s leadership and its commitment to peace and non-violence.
This G20 summit India stood true to its Sanskrit motto, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam. (The World is One Family). The world, for those two days, was one family.
The writer is the president of Glocal Cities. He has been a political researcher, consultant, and entrepreneur in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa for two decades, interacting with leaders and decision-makers, and working with people from all walks of life across the Middle East.