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Development dilemmas of the South and G20 question

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President Vladimir Putin with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

With another G20 summit just around the corner, the poorest of poor countries are justified in posing the question to the world community: what’s in the summit for us by way of real development? The apparent inability of the most powerful political personalities among the G20 leadership to close ranks among themselves and project the image of an undivided, united grouping, adds to the urgency of this poser.

One of the most troubling developments in this connection is the reported inability of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend in person the summit to be convened in New Delhi this weekend. Instead, senior state personnel occupying the second tier of leadership of the respective countries are expected to stand in for their leaders. However, such adjustments could hardly rectify the damage caused to G20 unity on account of the absence of the Chinese and Russian Presidents.

The impression cannot be avoided that Realpolitik considerations are at the heart of these tensions within the G20. Issues growing out of the Russian invasion of Ukraine could be said to be further fueling power rivalries between East and West. However, it ought to have been clear to the impartial observer that East and West had got into an increasingly fractious relationship over the past 20 years and more, simply over the question of which power bloc would be exercising decisive power over the international political and economic order.

The latest détente process between East and West came to a close with the advent to power in Russia of Vladmir Putin. To express it concisely, ‘Making Russia great again’ seems to be the overall foreign policy aim of the Putin regime. Russian expansionist aims in the Crimea and the Ukraine, for example, made this quite clear.

The regime’s military overtures in the East European countries mentioned underscored Russia’s aim of reacquiring territory that it perceives to belong to it. In the wake of these developments, the arms race between East and West could be described as only escalating. Thus are compounded the issues between East and West.

The latter bloc has ended some of its major military commitments in the South and South-East Asian theatres, its pull-out from Afghanistan being a case in point, but its current military support for Ukraine, is concrete evidence that the West intends to continue to ‘fight fire with fire’ on the East-West confrontation front. Accordingly, there could be no let-up in the power struggle between East and West.

As is clear, tensions between China and the West are centering mainly on the economic sphere. The unrelenting trade wars between the sides are one proof of this. Of the two Eastern powers, China is the more subtle and sharp one because it realizes that in the final analysis economics drives politics.

Hence, China’s exertions to emerge superior to the US in the bilateral trade and commercial spheres. These realities ought to compel the West to adopt a more nuanced foreign policy approach towards China rather than seeing the latter as succumbing to the cruder pressure tactics adopted by the West towards its international adversaries over the decades.

Amidst these convulsive convolutions in current international politics, the poorest of the poor among Southern states would need to act with marked foresight and foreign policy dexterity. The weakest in the South cannot afford to be seen as aligning excessively with this or that major global power and their connected security formations. As indicated in this column over the past few weeks, they have no choice but to be Non-aligned.

That is, the weakest of the South are obliged to steer clear of these adversarial alliances and follow a policy of being cordial towards all major international actors with a view to acquiring their best economic and security interests. Rather than fall foul of powers that are seen to matter, the weak should view it as mandatory to engage the former in a most trouble-free, diplomatic manner and thereby secure their legitimate interests judiciously. This is Non-alignment in its essence.

At present it is the poorest countries of the world that are suffering the worst economic fallout from ongoing conflicts. The Ukrainian war is foremost among these contributors to the material impoverishment of the South, considering currently soaring food and energy prices. Clearly, given their poverty, the latter states cannot afford to align themselves with feuding big powers of either the East or West because they need the financial and material help of all well-wishers to survive. Thus, Non-alignment best serves Southern interests.

Far from being dead or obsolete, Non-alignment, in the view of this columnist, has come to its own in the present ‘world disorder’. It is relevant to indicate that Non-alignment by any other name, ‘smells as sweet’. Hopefully, there would be no hair-spitting on this score.

India, as the G20 chair, faces the challenge of keeping the formidable formation together. In this exercise it would need to address the self- interest of the states within the G20 fold. While China is handling its relations with the West with a degree of caution and restraint, the same could not be said of Russia which is showing signs of escalating its power struggle with the West in a relatively abrasive fashion.

As this is being written, President Putin has reportedly expressed willingness to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Besides other things, if true, this amounts to Russia aggravating military tensions on the Korean peninsula. If the principle of nuclear non-proliferation comes to be further undermined in the Far East, the observer should not be surprised.

China should consider it obligatory to call on its allies, North Korea and Russia, to see the wisdom of not allowing tensions in the region from getting out of hand. All relevant powers should see it to be in their interests to desist from following an adventurist course in the Far East. The US is as obliged as China to help out in de-escalating military tensions in the region.

To be specific, it is up to Swing States, such as India, to impress on the membership of G20, the importance of keeping in focus the economic wellbeing of the totality of countries. Currently, the conflict in Ukraine is contributing in a major way to keep world food and energy prices on the upswing. Concerted awareness-raising by the likes of India could perhaps convince the major world powers of the need to see an end to the Ukraine conflict by peaceful means and thereby stem rising international economic discontent

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