Top diplomats from the world’s major industrialized and developing nations grappled Thursday with deepening rifts in their ranks as they held contentious talks dominated by Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s moves to boost its global influence.
Host India appealed for all members of the fractured Group of 20 to reach consensus on issues of deep concern to poorer countries even if the broader East-West split over Ukraine cannot be resolved.
And while others, including U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, chose to highlight their positive roles in addressing world crises, the divide was palpable.
In a video address to the assembled foreign ministers in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged them not to allow current tensions to destroy agreements that might be reached on food and energy security, climate change and debt.
“We are meeting at a time of deep global divisions,” Modi told the group, which included Blinken, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and their Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, whose discussions would naturally be “affected by the geopolitical tensions of the day.”
“We all have our positions and our perspectives on how these tensions should be resolved,” he said, adding that: “We should not allow issues that we cannot resolve together to come in the way of those we can.”
In a nod to fears that the increasingly bitter rift between the United States and its allies on one side and Russia and China on the other appears likely to widen further, Modi said that “multilateralism is in crisis today.”
He lamented that the two main goals of the post-World War II international order — preventing conflict and fostering cooperation — were elusive. “The experience of the last two years, financial crisis, pandemic, terrorism and wars clearly shows that global governance has failed in both its mandates,” he said.
Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar then addressed the group in person, telling them that they “must find common ground and provide direction.”
Blinken, according to remarks released by the State Department, spent much of his time describing U.S. efforts to bolster energy and food security. But he also told the ministers pointedly that Russia’s war with Ukraine could not go unchallenged.
“Unfortunately, this meeting has again been marred by Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine, deliberate campaign of destruction against civilian targets, and its attack on the core principles of the UN Charter,” he said.
“We must continue to call on Russia to end its war of aggression and withdraw from Ukraine for the sake of international peace and economic stability,” Blinken said. He noted that 141 countries had voted to condemn Russia at the United Nations on the one-year anniversary of the invasion.
However, several members of the G-20, including India, China and South Africa, chose to abstain in that vote.
While they were all in the same room, there was no sign that Blinken would sit down with either his Russian or Chinese counterparts. Ahead of the meeting, Blinken said he had no plans to meet with them individually but expected to see them in group settings.
In addition to attending the G-20 and seeing Modi and Jaishankar individually on Thursday, Blinken met separately with the foreign ministers of Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria and South Africa, and was also scheduled to hold talks with the foreign ministers of the Netherlands and Mexico.
As at most international events since last year, the split over the war in Ukraine and its impact on global energy and food security will overshadow the proceedings. But as the conflict has dragged on over the past 12 months, the divide has grown and now threatens to become a principal irritant in U.S.-China ties that were already on the rocks for other reasons.
A Chinese peace proposal for Ukraine that has drawn praise from Russia but dismissals from the West has done nothing to improve matters as U.S. officials have repeatedly accused China in recent days of considering the provision of weapons to Russia for use in the war.
Blinken said Wednesday that the Chinese plan rang hollow given its focus on “sovereignty” compared to its own recent actions.
“China can’t have it both ways,” Blinken told reporters in Tashkent, Uzbekistan before traveling to New Delhi. “It can’t be putting itself out as a force for peace in public, while in one way or another, it continues to fuel the flames of this fire that Vladimir Putin started.”
He also said there is “zero evidence” that Putin is genuinely prepared for diplomacy to end the war. “To the contrary, the evidence is all in the other direction,” he said.
In the meantime, Moscow has been unrelenting in pushing its view that the West, led by the U.S., is trying to destroy Russia.
Ahead of the meeting, the Russian Foreign Ministry slammed U.S. policies, saying that Lavrov and his delegation would use the G-20 to “focus on the attempts by the West to take revenge for the inevitable disappearance of the levers of dominance from its hands.”
The antagonism has left India in the unenviable position of trying to reconcile clearly irreconcilable differences.
The meeting is particularly crucial for India’s hopes to use its chairmanship of the group to leverage its position on the global stage and adopt a neutral stance on Ukraine in order to focus on issues of importance to developing nations like rising inflation, debt stress, health, climate change and food and energy security.
But just last week, India was forced to issue a chair’s summary at the conclusion of the G-20 finance ministers’ meeting after Russia and China objected to a joint communique that retained language on the war in Ukraine drawn directly from the declaration from last year’s G-20 summit in Bali, Indonesia.
India hopes to avert a repeat of that, but prospects appear dim. U.S. officials said discussions were ongoing about language that could be used in a final statement but could not predict if they would succeed.
So far, though, India has refrained from directly criticizing Russia, its major Cold War-era ally, while increasing imports of Russian oil, even as it has increasingly faced pressure to take a firm stand on Moscow.
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