The Group of 20 top world economies welcomed the African Union as a member as their annual summit got underway Saturday, but their wording on the contentious issue of Russia’s war in Ukraine was limited to a call to avoid seizing territory by force or the use of nuclear weapons.
There had been serious doubt that an agreement could be adopted because of disagreements among members, most centrally on differences about the war.
The G20 final statement, released a day before the summit formally closes, was less sharply worded over the war than one issued during last year’s meeting in Bali.
It said members reiterated their national positions resolutions adopted at the United Nations, and called on “all states must act in a manner consistent with the Purposes and Principles of the U.N. Charter in its entirety.”
“In line with the U.N. Charter, all states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state. The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible,” it said.
There was widespread support for adding the AU to the G20, making it the second regional bloc to become a permanent member after the European Union and adding momentum to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s drive to give a greater voice to the Global South.
Modi shook hands with the current AU chair, Comoros President Azali Assoumani, and embraced him warmly before inviting him to sit at the table.
The continent was thrust into the spotlight as well by the, which happened while most of the delegates gathered in New Delhi were asleep. Modi offered help and support in his opening remarks.
“On behalf of all of us I would like to express our heartfelt condolences to the people affected by the earthquake that struck Morocco a short time ago. We pray that all the injured people get well soon. The entire world community is with Morocco in this difficult time and we are ready to provide them all possible assistance,” he said.
He told leaders they must find “concrete solutions” to the widespread challenges that he said stemmed from the “ups and downs in the global economy, the north and the south divide, the chasm between the east and the west,” and other issues like terrorism, cybersecurity, health and water security.
Modi addressed the delegates from behind a nameplate that listed his country not as India but as “Bharat,” an ancient Sanskrit name championed by his Hindu nationalist supporters that his government has been pushing at the G20.
With much of the world’s focus on Russia’s war in Ukraine, India wants to direct more attention to addressing the needs of the developing world at the summit — though it’s impossible to decouple many issues, such as food and energy security, from the European conflict.
“Friends, after COVID-19, the world is facing problems of trust deficit,” Modi said. “The war has further deepened this trust deficit. If we can beat COVID, we can also triumph over the trust deficit caused by the war,” he said, though he avoided mentioning the names of any countries involved.
As the summit opened, at least a fifth of G20 heads weren’t in New Delhi. The leaders of Russia and China opted not to come, ensuring no tough face-to-face conversations with their American and European counterparts over multiple disputes, most acutely the war in Ukraine. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez canceled his attendance after testing positive for COVID-19, and Mexico’s president decided to miss it, too.
A series of preparatory meetings leading up to the summit failed to produce agreements, largely due to differences over Ukraine. Ending the weekend without such a statement would underscore how strained relations have become and tarnish the image Modi has tried to cultivate of India as a global problem solver.
A draft version of the closing statement being circulated among diplomats and obtained by The Associated Press contained no mention of the war in Ukraine, leaving blank a section under the heading “Geopolitical situation.” It wasn’t immediately clear when that version had been produced.
Participants arriving in the Indian capital were greeted by streets cleared of traffic, and graced with fresh flowers and seemingly endless posters featuring slogans and Modi’s face. Security was intensely tight, with most journalists and the public kept far from the summit venue.
The G20 agenda featured issues critical to developing nations, including alternative fuels like hydrogen, resource efficiency, food security and developing a common framework for digital public infrastructure.
Countries were also expected to address reforming development banks like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to help make funds more accessible for lower- and middle-income countries as they seek solutions to combat climate change, among other things.
India’s lead G20 negotiator, Amitabh Kant, told reporters that boosting climate action and climate financing were key priorities, particularly for developing and emerging markets.
“Our view was that Global South, developing countries, emerging markets must be able to get long-term financing,” he said.
Modi said on the X social media platform, formerly known as Twitter, that the summit’s first session, titled “One Earth,” was “productive” and that he stressed on furthering “human centric development, which is also something Indian culture has always emphasized on.”
French President Emmanuel Macron arrived late, missing the opening address and first session after staying in Paris to watch the opening of the Rugby World Cup.
With so many other issues on the table, Human Rights Watch urged the G20 leaders not to let international disunity distract them at the summit.
Meenakshi Ganguly, deputy director of the organization’s Asia division, added that members should not “shy away from openly discussing challenges like gender discrimination, racism and other entrenched barriers to equality, including with host India, where civil and political rights have sharply deteriorated under the Modi administration.”
The summit comes just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin said a landmark deal allowing Ukraine to export grain safely through the Black Sea will not be restored until Western nations meet his demands on Russia’s own agricultural exports. The original deal was brokered by the United Nations and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but Russia refused to extend it in July, complaining that a parallel agreement promising to remove obstacles to Russian exports of food and fertilizer hadn’t been honored.
Russia dispatched Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as its top representative to the G20. Erdogan himself was on hand in the Indian capital and others said ahead of the summit that they hoped to be able to find solutions, even as Russia’s military keeps up its attacks on Ukraine’s ports.
“The Kremlin’s war is also unraveling lives far beyond Ukraine, including right here in South Asia,” European Council President Charles Michel told reporters Friday in New Delhi. “Over 250 million people face acute food insecurity worldwide, and by deliberately attacking Ukraine’s ports, the Kremlin is depriving them of the food they desperately need.”
U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he hoped to marshal international resources to counteract the impact of Russia’s moves on the global food supply. London will host a global food security summit in November in response to Moscow’s actions. Sunak’s government has also said Royal Air Force aircraft will fly over the Black Sea as part of efforts to deter Russia from striking cargo ships transporting grain from Ukraine to developing countries.
Hundreds of Tibetan exiles held a protest far from the summit venue to condemn Chinese participation in the event and urge leaders to discuss Sino-Tibetan relations.
On Friday evening, before the meeting got formally underway, Modi met with U.S.. The president departed Washington after he tested negative for COVID-19 on Thursday.
White House aide Kurt Campbell told reporters afterward that there was an “undeniable warmth and confidence between the two leaders.”
Leaders of the U.S., India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were working to finalize a joint infrastructure deal involving ship and rail transit between India and the Middle East to Turkey and beyond, in hopes it could be announced in New Delhi during the summit.
Campbell called the emerging deal a potentially “earth-shattering” project and said that “the strongest supporter of this initiative is India.” In the past, Campbell said, India’s leaders have had “almost a knee jerk reaction” to resist such massive multilateral projects.
U.S. administration officials sought to play down that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wasn’t invited to address the G20.
The Ukrainian leader has made regular appearances, virtual and in-person, at such international forums since the start of the war more than 18 months ago to rally allies to stay committed to supporting Ukraine.