G20 had more than just about PM Modi’s trilateral meetings

Even from India’s perspective, the G20 was more than just about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address, and his two trilateral meetings (Modi-Xi-Putin and Modi-Trump-Abe). Sure, these were important meetings, and it wouldn’t have escaped anyone’s attention that, one, this was Modi and Xi’s fourth meeting this year; two, that India has adroitly managed to make its own concerns for the Indo-Pacific a larger concern that also involves the US and Japan (and Australia); and three, that India’s growing closeness to the US doesn’t seem to have hurt its relationship with old ally Russia. The fact that India gets to hold the G20 meeting in 2022 is also worthy of some celebration, especially because that happens to be the 75th year of Independence, but then, India would have hosted a G20 meeting sooner than later.

Which brings us to the two major issues that loomed over the G20 meeting, climate and trade. On the first, the G20 failed. The US confirmed that there would be no rethink of its decision to exit the Paris Agreement. And the communique issued at the end of the summit — analysts and government officials say it was a surprise there was even a communique — was silent on the issue. On the other, the G20 did better, which means it reluctantly acknowledged the benefits of multilateralism and global isolation. However, for perhaps the first time in recent summits, there was no mention of the risks of protectionism — at a time when many member countries have raised barriers to trade. The leaders also acknowledged that multilateralism was “falling short of its objectives”, which basically fits in with US President Donald Trump’s belief that trade (or at the least the way it is done worldwide) is broken (or at least flawed). They promised to take steps to reform the WTO during the next meeting, in June 2019 in Japan.

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping also met during the G20 summit, in a meeting that had implications for global trade and, therefore, also for India. The good news emanating out of that interaction is that the two sides have agreed to cease hostilities for 90 days even as they work out a trade deal. Even if one isn’t forthcoming at the end of the period, the temporary truce is welcome. India’s relevance in these meetings will only increase as its economy grows. It should focus on building an alternative to multilateralism — it already seems to be doing so, with the Quad and Prime Minister Modi’s JAI (Japan, America, India) — and speak out, even if it is the only voice doing so, on climate.

First Published: Dec 03, 2018 10:23 IST

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