By Collins Chong Yew Keat
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: The G20 Summit was a watershed moment with different implications for all major powers present. It remained the ultimate playbook of strategic and brilliant geopolitical moves in strengthening key partnerships, addressing shortcomings and initiating wise and strategic chess moves in a new domain of power strategy and friendshoring efforts. India and the US scored big in the absence of Xi and Putin, and Beijing and Moscow saw their grip further squeezed by a flurry of moves and consolidations.
Holding the Bridge for G20 Unity
India drew praise from all camps for negotiating a compromise, displaying its diplomatic nous and mastery of charm and friendshoring tactical genius. The watered down declaration on the issue of Ukraine and Moscow has been a huge debate, especially on how Biden can eventually agree and endorse the final communique.
India remains more critical for the US, rather than risking ties and deeper trust and support and faith from Delhi with rejection of the declaration. China is the biggest picture here, and by not wanting to embarrass Delhi by rejecting the declaration and to embarrass Modi and the host, Biden saw the bigger priority in getting Delhi on board in the long game against China.
The move to preserve the importance of G20 in addressing common shared threats, especially non-traditional threats, remains the higher priority, especially for Biden's upcoming elections.
The Russian Factor
It remains a win for India to get a declaration at all, seeing how Beijing and Moscow have tried to block and dictate in the past.
Delhi still wants to maintain its strategic role and growing influence and leadership position in the world by maintaining its long held strategic neutrality approach and playing the greater responsibility of bringing peace and stability.
This can only be achieved through focusing on the solutions and future progressive collective actions that will require actions, responsibilities and compromises on all sides, and Delhi wants to be seen as the power in that direction in playing the mediating role and not to contribute to the ongoing stalemate and potential escalation of conflict.
Russia is still critical for India’s future transition to global primacy, especially in food security and the vast potential it offers in energy and food assurances with its future advantage in the Siberian opening up with growing climate warming that will fasten the fertility and offerings of the Siberian plank in food cultivation capacity and resources.
The potential of the Arctic and the Northern Sea Route in which Russia has predominant influence also directly impacts the naval and geostrategic advantage of Delhi in the Indian Ocean, being the future next trade and geopolitical advantage and potential flashpoint, which will impact on the Indian Ocean’s worth.
India is cognisant that for it to be the leader in regional and global primacy, it will need to depend on short term urgent needs on its energy and oil resources, the need to fill the gap on its short term deficit in self-sufficiency in offensive power postures and capacity, and the inevitability of food security, all of which Russia plays a major role in supporting these fronts.
Unless and until India has achieved its self reliance on these, and with the historical friendship and support shown by Russia in its predecessor Soviet Union, Russia remains a needed player for India’s rise.
Russia is also needed to be on India’s side in future power play that will benefit India, in breaking the alliance between Moscow-Beijing and to isolate Beijing further militarily, by having Russia on the side of India in a potential all confrontation with China especially in the Himalayan border.
Moscow remains a future strategic advantage and asset to break China’s containment of India especially in rival states and neighbouring zones including Pakistan and Central Asia.
By taking the non-partisan and non-confrontational approach in balancing the power plays between both the West and Moscow-Beijing, Delhi is also signalling to others that it remains the ultimate playmaker and eventual emerging kingmaker with greater primacy and influence in having its own unique model and systemic value in its global leadership, with its One World, One Family and One Future mantra.
This is to spearhead a new doctrine and order that is based on equality, justice, inclusivity and balanced harmonisation of interests and common framework of peace, dialogue and stability in a balanced polarity, knowing that this distinctively sets India apart from China as the leader with the pillar and foundation on democratic principles and universal progressive values with trust and stability in a responsible and measured manner, as compared to Beijing’s hard power expansion through different tools with implications on peace and stability of the rules based order.
However, Delhi remains wise and strategic in acknowledging the realities of now and the future, and the fact and stark need remain that it needs the West for its long term demographics, economic, military and scientific resilience, and the Global South and Moscow-Beijing for short term gradual process of cementing India’s next global leadership.
The snub of Modi and Biden by Xi is to send a clear message to both India and America that he still commands a big enough internal capacity to steer China ahead in the competition with both powers.
For India, the snub by Xi is to send a message to Modi that there is no future long term hope or aspiration to make India the permanent regional ally or friend in combining joint strength to go up against the US and the West.
There have been calls and arguments for India to see China not as the inevitable next door rival, but the future perfect ally in securing India’s economic and joint climate and security interests, in sharing the leadership of the Global South.
For China, making amends with India solves many of Beijing’s problems, including border security, food security, technology development, economic sustainability and forming a joint bulwark against Western containment.
However, Beijing has deep mistrusts on Delhi and vice versa, and Xi’s absence is a message to India that China sees it as the forever Achilles heel that might derail Chinese 2049 Dream
Xi’s absence also is meant to snub Biden, to force greater overtures from the US in opening up more incentives on top of the recent shuttle diplomacy done by the Biden administration in sending Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasurer Yellen and Secretary of Commerce Raimondo in a flurry of moves in reengaging Beijing which have been described by some as being seen as weak and desperate.
The absence is meant to send a message that Beijing is unhappy with the mixed signals given by the Biden administration, in wanting to secure the economic relationship but at the same time continuing with the array of measures in squeezing Beijing’s technological and economic drive through the embargo and sanctions.
It is also to send a message to the rest of the Global South that Beijing and Xi specifically, remain the ultimate leader and saviour of the developing world.
However, Xi’s absence backfired, and India stood out as the worthy leader in the Global South and BRICS. Delhi serves as the vital bridge to the West and emerging as the eventual powerhouse in economic and key regional military supremacy with greater fallback options in different powers in both the US and Russia,something which China lacks.
A Win for the US
The US takes advantage of the power vacuum in Xi’s absence to make an integrated move in strengthening its concerted push in inking new defence deals with India, containing China’s BRI with the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, while excluding key China allies including Pakistan, and further strengthened Washington’s leadership and soft power sway.
The US strengthened partnerships with China’s neighbours and pushed for the protection of the status quo of a rules-based order and a normative setting based on the ingrained principles of democracy, justice, human rights and freedom, and respect for international law and sovereignty of nations.
Some have argued that it remains an embarrassing loss for the US, in not being able to get all on board in pressuring Russia, but the US secured a strategic short term win alongside India.
Biden hopes to rely on the string of new infrastructure and investments as a solid and trusted demonstration of the US commitment to the developing world, offering a better and more trusted alternative to China.
The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor and the Global Biofuels Alliance remain a strategic creation in what is deemed to be a knock-out blow to China’s BRI, acting as yet another brilliant move in checkmating Beijing’s economic and trade friendshoring efforts.
The Corridor serves as a vital geopolitical counterpunch in not only creating high paying jobs and in strengthening supply chains and food security, it provides another benchmark of Biden’s signature focus on the next frontier of a green economy and credible efforts to tackle climate change by investing in sustainable and future driven green energy. Investments in low middle income countries create a ripple effect, and this also further strengthens Washington’s soft power and economic image that is pillared on the value-based normative approach in building progressive development as opposed to China’s controversial debt-plaguing BRI model.
The US ended trade disputes with India, and Delhi scored a vital win in bringing in the African Union into the G20. Washington has also coordinated with Europe on key green energy investments in Africa in projects including the African Continental Power System Master Plan, alongside the EU’s Global Gateway strategy which are all countermoves in facing Beijing’s expansive global power sway.
By working together towards these strategic goals in capturing the next phase of clean energy growth, the EU and US hope to provide a credible and trusted development model of poverty reduction, fostering inclusive and sustainable economic growth, and mitigating climate change, as compared to the Chinese model of courting the continent.
India Cemented its Path for Primacy
India as the host of the G20 strategically managed the apparent division and tensions over the emerging two blocs, one representing the Global South and BRICS, in which Beijing and Moscow seem to be pulling the strings, and the other by a resilient Washington led West.
India is in its best condition and level of primacy now in its path towards presenting itself as the most potent force in the G20 and in the Global South that has both the hard and soft power capacities in leading the world, and also being the ultimate power with a value driven approach that is steadfast to its adherence to democratic principles, respect for human dignity, progressive governance and the sanctity of freedom and abidance by the established rule of law, all of these in which China is lacking in being seen as the credible leader in either the BRICS or the Global South movements.
It strategically strengthened its symbol and icon of democracy and freedom and universal status quo, by displaying its principle based model and a rules based order based on sanctity of the law, justice, equality and unyielding drive for ethical leadership, a very different mode as compared to Beijing.
It cemented the role of India as a trustworthy fulcrum and pillar in the widely debated emerging new world order of a bitterly divided world along the lines of systemic belief and geopolitical differences, in a way that is more intense than Cold War 1.0.
For now, India has the last laugh in the chess game of power tussle, and Delhi has the ultimate advantage of most of the power indicators in challenging or even replacing China as the regional hegemonic power, based in its internal socio-economic capacity and future ripening of demographics, local productivity, systemic governance model, scientific and technological advancement, food and energy security and resilience against climate impact, and hard and soft power capacities.
*Collins Chong Yew Keat is with Universiti Malaya, focuses on internationalisation and strategic management.*