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Dicey Diplomacy


Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision not to attend the G20 Summit in New Delhi can be explained by the difficulties he is facing because of the war with Ukraine. These also include threats to his personal security. Now, news has come in that Chinese President Xi Jinping will also be skipping the meet. This means that the Summit will become somewhat one-sided, with the presence of US President Joe Biden attracting all the attention. This is bound to influence India’s relations with these countries.

What could be the reasons behind Jinping’s opting out? Some attribute this to stresses on the Chinese economy that need to be managed at the highest level. Others believe that Jinping has been let down by the second rung leadership, there is dissatisfaction among the various factions and an emerging power struggle. It could also be the desire to deny Prime Minister Narendra Modi the opportunity to showcase himself as one among the world’s most powerful leaders. Tensions between India and China could also have something to do with it.

With the two big leaders missing, it is unlikely that any joint communiqué at the end of the meet would contain a breakthrough vision for global peace and development, which could be attributed to Modi’s helmsmanship. However, the large-scale exposure provided to G20 delegates of all kinds over the past year will pay off by establishing India as a destination for investment and tourism. A firsthand experience of India’s diversity, vibrant democracy, culture and ancient heritage will certainly have favourably influenced delegates representing many domains during the events held across the country, including in Uttarakhand.

In contrast to the Russian and Chinese leaders, Joe Biden will take full advantage of the opportunity provided by the summit to address not just international issues, but also further strengthen ties with India. The Quad Security Alliance will be firmed up, something perhaps that Jinping was also uncomfortable with.

However, the improvement in ties with the western democracies will not entirely be hunky-dory. As has been the case, so often, clumsy diplomacy may undermine all the good work through the usual condescending advice on India’s internal affairs. Hopefully, this pattern will not be followed on this occasion. India’s opposition parties will be hoping that Modi is embarrassed in some way. Some sophisticated diplomacy will be needed all around to prevent that.