India’s G-20 and SCO Leadership: Challenges and Reality

India’s year-long presidency of the G-20 and leadership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) should not raise excessive expectations about the benefits that these summits can provide. The contemporary geopolitical atmosphere is marked by a high level of distrust, rising tensions, and the growing prospect of conflict. During its presidency, India must exercise extreme prudence.

An overview of the present global situation

  • Tensions and distrust between the US-led camp and the China/Russia-led camp constitute a global security risk.
  • China is on a huge diplomatic and geostrategic offensive throughout Asia, notably in West Asia, and is showing its naval and military power in the East and Southeast Asian seas.
  • China’s assault and efforts to broaden the arc of conflict with India pose concerns for India.
  • The situation in Ukraine is tense, with the US and its allies supplying advanced weaponry and training to Ukrainian military while Russia receives assistance from its allies.
  • India’s ties with Russia are not necessarily grounded in defence collaboration, and India is increasingly looking to the West, particularly the United States, for cutting-edge weaponry.
  • While holding the G-20 and SCO chair, India must tread carefully in order to balance the divergent demands of the two institutions and the Global South.

Causes of distrust between the two camps: the United States and China/Russia

  • Economic rivalry: The United States and China are competing for economic and technological superiority in domains such as artificial intelligence, 5G networks, and cybersecurity. This has caused friction between the two countries.
  • Military rivalry: The United States and China are also competing for military supremacy, with both countries extensively investing in their armed forces and developing modern weapon systems. This has raised fears of a future arms race between the two countries.
  • China has territorial conflicts with various countries in the region, including India, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. As a result, conflicts and worries about China’s expansionist policies have arisen.
  • Human rights violations: The United States and other Western countries have criticised China and Russia for violations of human rights, especially the treatment of Uighur Muslims in China and political dissidents in Russia. As a result, tensions have arisen between these countries and the West.
  • Political meddling: The United States has accused China and Russia of meddling in its political processes, notably the 2016 US presidential election. Concerns have been raised concerning the countries’ objectives and influence in other countries as a result of this.
  • Strategic competition: The United States and China/Russia have opposing views on the international order, resulting in strategic competition and tensions between them. The United States aspires to maintain the current order, whereas China and Russia seek to disrupt it and construct a new order that reflects their interests and values.
  • The pandemic of COVID-19: The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened relations between the United States and China, with both governments blaming the other for the outbreak’s spread.

Problems for India, particularly with China

  • Border wars: India and China have long-standing border disputes that have resulted in several battles over the years. Recent skirmishes in the Galwan Valley in June 2020 killed Indian and Chinese soldiers, significantly escalating tensions between the two countries.
  • China’s aggressiveness: Tensions between the two countries have risen as a result of China’s strong stance and expansionist tactics in the South and East China Seas, as well as its efforts to limit India’s influence in the Indian Ocean Region.
  • China’s regional initiatives: India is concerned about China’s regional initiatives, such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and the China-Indian Ocean Region Forum, because they may constrain India’s strategic and economic interests in the region.
  • China perceives India’s participation in the Quad (an informal strategic grouping comprising India, Australia, Japan, and the United States) as a danger to its regional goals and has openly criticised the grouping.
  • India is also concerned about China’s ability to engage in cyber warfare and hybrid tactics, such as the use of cyber tactics and the ‘politics of water’ by re-directing Himalayan rivers.

Other unrest in India’s immediate vicinity

  • Afghanistan: The situation in Afghanistan appears to be steadily worsening and is now beginning to affect nations on its periphery. India has lost all traction with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  • Pakistan: India-Pakistan ties are strained for a variety of reasons, including cross-border terrorism.
  • Sri Lanka: The political situation in Sri Lanka has been volatile in recent years, causing India anxiety.
  • Nepal’s political environment has been volatile in recent years, with numerous government changes and conflicts over the new constitution. India’s relations with Nepal have also been strained due to a variety of concerns, including border conflicts.
  • Myanmar: The military coup in Myanmar in February 2021 sparked significant demonstrations and bloodshed, raising concerns about India’s security in the region as well as its strategic interests.

Way forward

  • Identifying commonalities: India should concentrate on identifying areas of shared interest among the G-20, the SCO, and the Global South, such as sustainable development, climate change, and economic cooperation, and try to promote these goals in each forum.
  • Prioritising issues: India should prioritise issues critical to its national interests, such as regional security and economic development, and try to find solutions that are mutually acceptable to all parties.
  • Engaging with all parties: India should engage with all parties in every arena, including the big powers, to ensure that its voice is heard and its interests are considered.
  • Building coalitions: To promote its interests and priorities, India should try to build coalitions with like-minded countries within each forum, such as other developing countries.
  • Creating strategic alliances: To foster regional stability and cooperation, India should create strategic partnerships with key actors in each forum, such as China and Russia in the SCO.

@the end

India must be mindful of the ongoing issues it faces, temper the high expectations that come with presiding over the G-20 and the SCO, and move with caution. It must design a path that balances the opposing demands of the G-20 and the SCO, as well as the Global South. India should not declare that it has achieved its goal of becoming a worldwide power since there are numerous hurdles that must be overcome before India can realise its set goal.

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