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Global Cooperation

What India’s G20 presidency tells us about its approach to geopolitics

India chaired the G20 in 2023 with the message slogan “one planet, one family, one future.”

India chaired the G20 in 2023 with the message slogan “one planet, one family, one future.” Image: REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

Samir Saran
President, Observer Research Foundation (ORF)
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  • India chaired the G20 in 2023 with the message slogan “one planet, one family, one future.”
  • As the country’s role in global politics continues to grow, there are lessons in the G20 presidency on how the country could operate in the future.
  • India’s priority, it seems, is multilateral cooperation and courting countries that may have been marginalized in the past.

The G20 has advanced a lot since it met in Pittsburgh, in 2008, to declare itself the world’s “premier forum for international economic co-operation.”

The Pittsburgh Summit took place in the depths of the 2008 financial crisis and was singularly focused on saving the global financial system.

Today, the picture is different. Today, the G20 seeks not to manage a crisis, but to shepherd the world into a multilateral system of economic governance.

At the recently concluded New Delhi Summit, G20 President India pushed for a consensus among the countries on multilateral global governance — and we can learn much about the country’s geopolitical vision from this and its approach to the G20 more generally.

India's approach to global challenges

The country has used the G20’s channel of multilateral cooperation to engage with the states outside the group. Take, for example, its push to provide the African Union a permanent seat at the G20, or one of the country's first actions as G20 president: hosting the ‘Voice of the Global South’ Summit, a dialogue with 125 countries to understand their developmental concerns.

In the financial sphere, India pushed for the G20's recommendation, unanimously accepted, to reform international financial institutions, create stronger global financial safety nets and systematically address debt vulnerabilities in low- and middle-income countries.

In climate finance India is in the process of developing its offering. Its National Adaptation Fund for Climate Change and the National Clean Energy Fund both seek to improve adaptation and resilience and to provide the funds necessary to deal with climate change.

India has also pledged to launch an online platform for mentoring and building the capacity of women leaders in specific sectors across G20 countries. It has been vocal in its support for a series of commitments to women-led development, including increased investments in STEM for women, promoting women’s entrepreneurship, and ensuring more community-level leadership and decision-making roles for women.

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Pushing for renewed multilateralism

The world of 2023 is vastly different from the one in 2009. Since the Pittsburgh Summit, we have experienced a pandemic, the rise of AI and a growing acceptance of the climate crisis among the "polycrisis" of interrelated risks that continue to challenge progress towards a better world by 2030.

In this context, India’s push for a renewed multilateralism is one that is welcomed by much of the international community — the problems of today mandate this kind of cooperation.

Even outside the G20, India is playing an increasingly important role in the international arena and working with various partners to achieve its goal and push for a multilateral governance model. India is increasingly acting as a bridge between partners, from Saudi Arabia to Brazil and South Africa. It uses its growing influence to affect positive change in the backdrop of simmering geopolitical tensions.

Courting the Global South at the G20

India's approach to multilateralism focuses heavily on emerging economies, using multiple informal, mutually beneficial and purpose-driven partnerships, built on agreements between sovereign governments that are based both on principles and on centering their peoples’ needs. For example, it has signed bilateral trade deals agreed with the UAE, Singapore, Korea and more. These attributes mirror India’s foreign policy approach over the last few years. Over the past decade, India has pioneered a multilateralism that is built around limited-liability, flexible partnerships: from the Quad to I2U2 to BRICS.

The scope of the commitments taken on by the G20 under the Indian presidency — from biofuels to the reform of international development banks — is an indication of the role the country seeks to play in the international community. All are of importance to the developing world.

Multilateralism in a fragmented world

Global leadership today must take on the task of reshaping the world’s economy to the benefit of those who seek to shape the next era of globalization, however that may look.

India, Brazil or South Africa will each be in the chair of the world’s multilateral groupings for the next two years. As members of BRICS, they have previously supported each other’s initiatives. Just as India aided Indonesia in the last-minute scramble for agreement at the G20 in Bali last year, the emerging market democracies came together to make a Delhi consensus possible.

Among these nations, India’s primacy is hard to ignore. It has the largest population, largest economy and highest growth rate. It also has a geography that makes it impossible to ignore. Simply put: India matters.

Another generation from now, the world will have changed again — and, undoubtedly, part of the story of that change will be what happens within India, and how it interacts with the world. India is one of the key stories of our age.

More on India's G20 presidency on Agenda

  • As president of the G20, India has the chance to bring the international community closer together in accelerating climate action. Strong public-private collaboration will be critical to supporting these efforts, write the World Economic Forum's President, Børge Brende, Anish Shah, Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director, Mahindra Group, and Sumant Sinha, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, ReNew Power.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that a united global response is the most effective way to combat and contain a global health emergency. Mansukh Mandaviya, the Minister of Health and Family Welfare; and Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers, Government of India highlights how India is using its presidency of the G20 to build consensus on a global health accelerator.
  • India's Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) is making international waves. Here's how the lessons learned from its success could form the bedrock of a globally thriving Artificial Intelligence (AI) ecosystem.
  • Digital transformation is key to India's economic growth, writes Arundhati Bhattacharya, Chairperson and CEO at Salesforce India, while discussing the opportunities for business.
  • Learn more about the India Smart City Mission (SCM) experience, which is becoming a game-changer for cities in mobilising external financial resources.
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