India assumed the presidency of the G20 in December 2022 and is set to host the G20 Summit in 2023 after year-long deliberations on macroeconomic issues and inter-alia trade, sustainable development, health, agriculture, energy, environment, and climate change. Spearheading the G20 at a time when the world looks at a sustained exit from the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, India sees this as an opportunity as well as a responsibility. During its presidency, India aims to leverage the wide and balanced representation of both developed and developing countries that is unique to the G20 for securing global and regional equitable and sustainable growth.
Harsh Vardhan Shringla
Chief Coordinator for India’s G20 Presidency and former Foreign Secretary of India
Founded in 1999 after the Asian Financial Crisis as a forum for finance ministers and central bank governors, this Group of Twenty, has evolved with time. In 2008, after it succeeded in averting the possibility of an economic depression by launching the largest and most coordinated global economic stimulus, it became a “premier forum for international economic cooperation.” Currently, it represents 85 per cent of global GDP, over 75 per cent of global trade, and about two-thirds of the world’s population. Therefore its relevance to any aspirational and forward-looking region or country forum can hardly be overstated.
Similarly, charting the journey of ASEAN through decades, one comes across the statement made by the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Narciso Ramos, right after the signing of the ASEAN Declaration in which he highlighted the state of the “fragmented economies of Southeast Asia,” and hoped that ASEAN “could marshal the still untapped potentials of this rich region through more substantial united action.” After nearly six decades, ASEAN has proven to be one of the most successful inter- governmental organisations in the developing world today. Therefore, bearing commonalities in the thought behind their inception, the G20 and ASEAN can collaborate and explore synergies to advance the genuine cause of inclusive and sustainable development.
The current troika of the G20 is composed of the previous, present, and successive chairs, i.e. Indonesia, India, and Brazil, respectively. Among these, Indonesia is a founding Member State, while Brazil is a Sectoral Dialogue Partner of ASEAN. As the troika is designed to extend seamless continuity to the G20 agenda, India’s G20 presidency provides an invaluable window for ASEAN Member States to put their concerns and priorities on the high table as the geo-economic and climate change-induced uncertainties which are hurdles to achieving a sustainable, prosperous, and inclusive future for the region.
Additionally, many of ASEAN’s Dialogue Partners, such as Australia, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Russia, the UK, the USA, and the European Union, are also G20 members, giving them yet another platform to align their bilateral engagements within a larger perspective suitably. Additionally, India has invited Singapore, an ASEAN Member State, as a guest country to the G20 Summit while extending an invitation to the ASEAN Secretariat and its institutions even when the current ASEAN Chair, Indonesia, is a G20 member. India aims to deliver an inclusive G20 presidency and articulate the concerns of the Global South, especially in ensuring food, fuel, and fertilizer security long with obtaining adequate climate finance to expedite our energy transitions.
Since India began its formal engagement with ASEAN in 1992 in the capacity of a Sectoral Dialogue Partner, the partnership has only deepened with cooperation on multiple fronts, ultimately leading to the elevation of the previously existing Strategic Partnership to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership at the ASEAN- India Commemorative Summit last year, which also marked the 30th anniversary of ASEAN-India relations.
During this Summit, the Vice President of India, Jagdeep Dhankar, noted that the partnership with ASEAN is the key pillar of India’s Act East Policy while also highlighting the importance of ASEAN-India cooperation in the face of multiple global challenges. India is a country with a vast coastline overlooking the Indian Ocean and most members of ASEAN are also littoral states; the ASEAN-India partnership naturally develops a maritime thrust. As a partner, India is cognizant as well as empathetic towards the cause of the ASEAN Member States and their sensitivities. The ASEAN-India cooperation was further strengthened during the Summit by outlining areas of utmost significance.
As the outcome of the Summit delineated broadly, there are five essential areas in which the ASEAN- India partnership warrants immense focus, having acknowledged that the immediate challenges before us can be tackled only by global collaboration and cooperation. The first and most important among these focus areas is to advance maritime cooperation in areas of maritime security, disaster management, emergency response and relief, as well as through the implementation of projects under the ASEAN Outlook on Indo-Pacific and Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative. Secondly, given the interlinking and interdependence among economies, we need to prioritise strengthening cooperation in areas such as cyber security, and digital economy fintech cooperation, including exploring the inter-operability of digital financial systems. Thirdly, with increasing vulnerability to climate change- induced calamities, which hamper our developmental journey despite a far lower share of historical emissions, we need to enhance cooperation in the field of sustainable development. There must be a renewed focus on new and emerging technologies, in areas such as renewable energy, smart agriculture, smart cities, healthcare, and cooperation in the space sector.
The fourth dimension of our partnership focuses on promoting the revival of tourism and enhancing youth-centric activities to promote people to people connectivity. Apart from giving a boost to the economy, a thriving tourism sector enables the world to understand and engage with our rich history and culture while marketing our local food, textile, and craft products whilst also showcasing our indigenously developed technologies and developmental milestones. As both India and the ASEAN Member States are home to a large percentage of the youth population, we need to actively facilitate avenues for cultural engagement to foster meaningful ties for the future. As chair of the G20, India called on its youth to act as cultural ambassadors and participate in a range of events to make their voices heard. To kickstart the year, India held a University Connect programme where there were substantive discussions with young students on their expectations and views on India’s chairmanship. Lastly, we need to use all the ways, across all the forums of consequence, to address regional and global issues of common concern to promote peace, stability and prosperity in the region.
All the areas mentioned above find strong resonance in the key priorities that India has outlined for its G20 presidency: green development, climate finance and lifestyle for environment (LiFE); accelerated, inclusive and resilient growth; accelerating progress on the sustainable development goals; technological transformation and digital public infrastructure; multilateral institutions for the 21st century; and, women-led development. India firmly believes that its own experience in developing and leveraging home-grown digital public goods and using them for financial inclusion and socio-economic transformation can benefit other aspiring members of the developing world in accelerating progress. Significantly, India considers ASEAN to be a fruitful partner in its developmental journey, and therefore, the Government of India has created three funds to support cooperation activities between ASEAN and India (i) ASEAN-India Cooperation Fund (AIF), (ii) ASEAN-India Green Fund (AIGF), and ASEAN-India Science and Technology Development Fund (AISTDF).
To demonstrate India’s commitment to highlighting issues of the developing world within the framework of the G20, India held the largest-ever virtual gathering of the Leaders and Ministers of the developing world, Voice of the Global South Summit, in January 2023. A total of 125 nations participated. Notably, Cambodia, Thailand, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Myanmar, Timor-Leste, the Philippines, and the Lao PDR participated in different sessions of the summit. Addressing participants at the summit, the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi called for “human-centric globalisation” and said “we want a globalisation that brings prosperity and well-being to humanity as a whole.”
India’s G20 presidency is an opportunity to initiate meaningful dialogue and distil strong action points accommodating the concerns of the developing world, especially when the current troika is composed of developing countries and can promise sustained action. The strong cultural, economic, diplomatic, maritime, and security ties between the Member States of ASEAN and India, both individually and collectively, call for constructive and active engagement by ASEAN and India in the context of its G20 presidency amidst heightened conflicts in the geopolitical order.
To conclude, the idea of a peaceful world, devoid of any conflict, which lies at the heart of the theme of India’s G20 presidency, “One Earth, One Family, One Future,” envisions the whole world as one family living in harmony with each other. And as has been proven time and again by various events that jolted the world, this spirit of a universal sense of oneness is the only lo ical path towards a prosperous world.