India has begun its yearlong presidency of the Group of 20 (G20), taking over from Indonesia at a time of geopolitical tumult and uncertainty over post-pandemic economic recovery.
“Today, we do not need to fight for our survival – our era need not be one of war. Indeed, it must not be one,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a declaration published in Indian newspapers to mark the start of the G20 presidency on Thursday.
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What is the G20?
Formed in the wake of the financial crisis that swept through Southeast Asian economies in the late 1990s as a forum for finance ministers and central bank governors, the G20 was upgraded in 2007 to include heads of state and governments.
During and after the 2008 global financial crisis, the G20’s coordinated efforts helped tamp down panic and restore economic growth.
The grouping comprises 19 countries cutting across continents and the European Union, representing about 85 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).
The G20 also invites non-member countries, including Bangladesh, Singapore, Spain and Nigeria, besides international organisations such as the United Nations, World Health Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
What does the G20 presidency entail?
The G20 does not have a permanent secretariat, and one member takes over the presidency each year to steer the grouping’s agenda which is split into two tracks – one led by finance ministers and another by emissaries of leaders of member countries.
After India, Brazil will take over the presidency of the G20, followed by South Africa in 2025.
During its term, India will hold more than 200 meetings across some 50 cities involving ministers, officials and civil society, leading up to a marquee summit in the capital, New Delhi, in September 2023.
The summit will be attended by about 30 heads of state and government, from G20 members and invited countries.
What is G20’s upcoming agenda?
Modi has called for international cooperation to deal with global issues, outlining the country’s approach to the G20.
He said in a statement the challenges of “climate change, terrorism, and pandemics can be solved not by fighting each other, but only by acting together”.
Modi also underlined a need to “depoliticise the global supply of food, fertilisers and medical products, so that geo-political tensions do not lead to humanitarian crises”.
His statement reflects New Delhi’s stance that the conflict in Ukraine, triggered by a Russian invasion in February, must be resolved through dialogue and diplomacy.
Asked about Russia’s involvement in G20 during India’s presidency, a spokesperson for the Indian foreign ministry said as Russia was a G20 member, “we would expect them to be participating in this process … the grouping needs to speak with one voice, particularly on important issues that are affecting the world”.
What does G20 mean for India?
The timing of the summit, ahead of India’s general elections due in 2024, could help Modi in further build his reputation as a leader of international stature.
However, the current complex geopolitical and economic situation will make it a challenge for India and Modi to shape the international response to multiple crises.
Dhananjay Tripathi, who teaches international relations at New Delhi’s South Asian University told Al Jazeera the yearlong role will help India at a global stage but it also comes with a number of challenges.
“International relations post the pandemic are not very stable and one thing that is on the agenda is the post-COVID-19 recovery. Then there is the climate change issue which India is very much interested in. India can also play a vital role in role in the Russia-Ukraine crisis which it has already indicated,” he said.
This is a moment for India to transition from being a “rule-taker to being a rule-maker”, said Rajiv Bhatia and Manjeet Kripalani of Indian think-tank Gateway House.
“The country has not invested much in multilateral rule-making institutions like the G20, but it is never too late to start.”
Tripathi said the G20 presidency could bolster Modi’s image and “give him an opportunity to make some important interventions on a global stage”.
“India’s biggest challenge would be to ensure that stability returns to international relations and how to really articulate the concerns of developing countries. This is not easy as the world is getting more and more divided,” he added.