NEW DELHI: Leaders assembled in New Delhi for the annual meeting of the heads of the G20 — the world’s largest economies — are expected to take up a number of pressing global issues, including the threat of a global economic slowdown, the need to fight global warming, and efforts to reform multilateral development banks to better serve the countries of the Global South.
The group is also expected to formally invite the African Union to become a permanent member of the organization, a move that would give that continent stronger representation in the world’s largest bloc of economic powers. The G20 is currently composed of 19 nations and the European Union.
This year’s summit is notable for the absence of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin also missed last year’s summit in Bali, Indonesia. The Russian leader rarely travels abroad, having been indicted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court for actions taken during his country’s war on Ukraine.
In Xi’s place, China has sent Premier Li Qiang. Russia’s representative will be Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Joint communique under negotiation
The G20 traditionally concludes with leaders agreeing on a joint statement expressing areas on which they have consensus. Negotiations over the statement began well in advance of the meeting, and on Friday, Amitabh Kant, India’s chief negotiator, said that the statement was nearly complete.
“[The] New Delhi Leaders’ Declaration is almost ready. I would not like to dwell on it,” Kant said at a news conference. “This declaration will be recommended to the leaders.”
Various news reports said that specific language about how to address the war in Ukraine remained a sticking point. Many members of the bloc are among Ukraine’s most ardent supporters and want the group to condemn Russia’s actions forcefully. However, Russia itself is not going to agree to such wording, and other countries that have offered Moscow tacit support, including China, are unlikely to sign on either.
At last year’s G20 summit in Bali, the joint communique noted that most members condemned Russia’s actions in Ukraine, but that there were dissenting opinions among the remainder.
Reporting by the news site Bloomberg revealed that the leaders’ statement is expected to warn of the “cascading crises” facing the global economy, including a concerning decline in global economic growth, which the International Monetary Fund has characterized as the worst in three decades.
Adnan Mazarei, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and a former deputy director at the International Monetary Fund, told VOA that slowing growth and climate change would be high on the agenda for global leaders over the weekend.
He said that lower-than-expected growth, particularly in China, could have significant consequences.
“It will lower demand for commodities and affect, especially, developing countries, and also all other countries, including the advanced countries that trade with China,” he said.
Economic growth concerns come at a time when the negative impacts of climate change are becoming more apparent every day, forcing leaders to listen to calls from developing nations, especially in Africa, for assistance in adaptation and mitigation.
“For that purpose, there is momentum to reform the multilateral development banks and increase their resources, especially the World Bank,” Mazarei said. “This could be, theoretically, through an increase in capital. But more likely, through allowing the World Bank to use its resources more efficiently, meaning allowing the World Bank to take more risk with the resources it has.”
Mazarei said that he also expects G20 leaders to address the fact that many developing nations are struggling under unsustainably high debt burdens, and to explore the expansion of their digital public infrastructure. He said that he was not overly optimistic about significant progress on either front, though he believed movement on the improvement of digital infrastructure was at least a possibility.
The decision by China’s Xi to skip the summit comes as his country is under pressure from multiple directions. China is locked in a simmering border dispute with G20 host India over land on the border of Tibet. At the same time, Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are vying for leadership of the countries of the Global South.
Some have speculated that Xi’s absence is part of the Chinese leader’s ongoing effort to reshape global leadership. Last month, the bloc of nations made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, known as BRICS, announced that it had invited several other countries to join it. If they accept, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates will become members on January 1.
Other countries have expressed frustration with China in advance of the summit. Before traveling to India, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that he saw little opportunity for repairing his country’s fractious relationship with Beijing, and he criticized China’s increasingly aggressive presence on the world stage.
“China has made decisions over the past years that have made it more difficult — not just for Canada but for other countries — to engage,” Trudeau said.
U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak publicly criticized China for its initial reluctance to sign onto a G20 joint statement on the topics of climate change and the Ukraine war — a stance China appears to have moderated as negotiations continued.
In a Friday news conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said, “China attaches great importance to the G20 and has participated in the consultations and discussions on the G20 New Delhi Summit document in an active and constructive way. We stand ready to work with other parties toward positive outcomes at the New Delhi Summit under the principle of consensus-building.”