K.C. Singh | Modi 3.0 at G-7: Diplomacy tweaked on Ukraine, China

The Asian Age.  | K.C. Singh

Opinion, Columnists

Geopolitical Turbulence: G-7 Summit in Italy Highlights Rising Tensions and Global Realignments

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (PTI Image)

The annual Group of Seven summit, of the seven prominent global economies besides India and China, was held in Italy on June 13-15. The Leaders’ Communique issued on June 15 addresses the “pressing challenges of our times”. Ten other nations were invited, including India, more for display and networking, than any substantive contribution to the summit’s outcome.

The attendance by Pope Francis reflected the desire of the host, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, to underscore her right-wing commitment to family values and conservatism. As a result, the word “abortion” went missing from the communique. Ironically, the gathering of the most powerful group of nations economically also happened to be a conclave of those beleaguered at home politically. France and Germany had just witnessed the rout of ruling parties in European parliamentary elections, besides the success of far-right groups. In the United Kingdom, the ruling Conservative Party faces anticipated defeat at the hands of Labour in the elections on July 4. In France a snap poll to Parliament on June 30 and July 7 is expected to result in a win for the right-wing National Rally (RN).

The G-7 summit got undermined by more than domestic churn in member states, other than in Italy. The ongoing war in Ukraine and conflict in Gaza dominate any global discussion. The US has so far failed to force Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abandon his maximalist positions and implement a sustainable ceasefire. This is even harming the re-election campaign of US President Joe Biden. Ukraine dominated the summit’s proceedings with the headlines stolen by the presence of the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and a promise of $50 billion aid to Ukraine. That would be repaid from interest and earnings from the $300 billion frozen Russian funds. The US also announced a 10-year security pact with Ukraine, which if Donald Trump gets elected in November is likely to be scrapped.

The criticality of the Ukraine war to the trans-Atlantic alliance is obvious from the way two other meetings were structured immediately before and after the G-7 summit in Italy. On June 11 the Ukraine Recovery Conference met to discuss financing. And after the G-7 summit, a Global Peace Summit was held on June 15-16 in Geneva to rally support for Ukraine. Out of the 160 nations invited, only 90 odd attended.

Significantly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the sidelines of G-7. He was sending a signal of India remaining even-handed on the subject. India also sent its very experienced diplomat Pavan Kapoor, a former ambassador to Russia and now secretary at the MEA headquarters, to Geneva. He chose not to endorse the summit resolution, repeating the Indian stand that for diplomacy to succeed, Russia has to be at the table.

Realising that the G-7 would train its guns on Russia, President Vladimir Putin presented a peace proposal in advance. He suggested that the four eastern provinces of Ukraine, now partly held by Russia, and Crimea should be ceded to it. Also, he sought the demilitarisation of Ukraine and a commitment that it would not join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. This was rejected out of hand by Ukraine.

The G-7 communique lists the standard litany of subjects like the importance of democratic values, the UN Charter and a rules-based global order, engaging Africa, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), global food security, climate resilience, and so on. The Ukraine and Gaza conflicts also figure prominently. But the context of a deep political churn and rise of the far-right in Western nations and the growing strategic convergence of China, Russia and Iran are complicating the geostrategic choices.

Underlining this is the visit of President Vladimir Putin immediately after the G-7 summit to North Korea on June 18 and Vietnam on June 19-20. The first involves the purchase of ammunition and military equipment for the Ukraine conflict. However, in exchange Russia may end up parting with technology to increase the strategic nuclear and conventional military capability of a highly irresponsible and unpredictable nation.

China too has been flexing its muscles in the South China Sea. It may not prefer a more jingoistic North Korea, with which it shares a border. It wants it to remain a useful buffer, not an inciter of regional tensions, as China’s focus is on annexing Taiwan. Some analysts surmise that China would reach optimum military preparedness for a forcible occupation of Taiwan by 2027.

Thus, unsurprisingly, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman scoffed at the G-7, saying the group “does not represent the world”, adding that the “seven countries only account for 10 per cent of the world population, and year after year their share in the global economy keeps dropping”. Alleging that the G-7 had strayed from its raison d’être of coordinating for stability in the global economic environment, the spokesman concluded that the group had “become a political tool to perpetuate US and Western supremacy”.

The real problem confronting the United States and its allies is that institutions like the United Nations and World Trade Organisation have become fairly dysfunctional.

Globalisation and immigration have triggered an electoral rebellion in Western democracies. Sanctions and tariffs are globally creating new strategic walls for protectionist politics. Donald Trump’s resurrection increases the possibility of these forces gaining more currency and validation across the world.

The four-month jailing of former Trump economic adviser Peter Navarro, an arch protectionist, for contempt of Congress has implications. Because he was sentenced due to unwillingness to cooperate in the January 6, 2021 Capitol Hill insurrection inquiry, he is now a Trump favourite. His book The New MAGA Development expounds his vision which can be expected to be implemented if Donald Trump wins. He proposes, inter alia, a Reciprocal Trade Act which will empower the US government to impose tariffs that match those imposed by other nations on any US product.

The Narendra Modi government starts a fresh term amidst this chaotic scenario. Diplomacy shall be tested severely as self-interest dominates global geopolitics amidst a new Cold War.

Coalition politics should not hamper the government’s conduct of foreign policy, except perhaps the JD(U)’s interest in new dams in Nepal or the TDP’s focus on foreign investment. Prime Minister Modi’s warm exchange of messages with the President of Taiwan demonstrates that freedom. The government also permitted a high-level US delegation led by the House Foreign Affairs Committee chair and including former Speaker Nancy Pelosi to meet the Dalai Lama in McLeodganj on June 19. This has clearly signalled to China that India too can play the game of mixing provocation with diplomacy.