Sep 8, 2023 - World

Biden, Modi, MBS: What to watch at this year's G20 summit in India

Workers decorate a G20 installation at the International Media Center (IMC) on the eve of the two-day G20 summit in New Delhi on September 8, 2023.

A G20 installation at the International Media Center on the eve of the G20 summit in New Delhi. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden is joining other leaders of the world's biggest economies this weekend for the G20 summit, hosted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, India.

Why it matters: Deepening divisions over Ukraine, rising China-U.S. tensions and a couple of expected no-shows risk derailing efforts to find a consensus on a joint declaration at the end of the summit. Still, the G20 promises to touch on a number of important issues as it seeks to set the global agenda.

Here's what to know — and to watch:

The no-shows: Xi and Putin

It's no surprise that Russian President Vladimir Putin is skipping this year's summit (he didn't attend last year's gathering either). Since launching his invasion of Ukraine, he has rarely traveled outside of Russia. Doing so — especially after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant earlier this year — would risk arrest, Axios' world editor Laurin-Whitney Gottbrath writes.

  • But Chinese President Xi Jinping is also expected to stay home, sending Premier Li Qiang instead. It's the first time since Xi took power a decade ago that he's skipping the gathering.
  • Between the lines: Xi did not skip last month's BRICS summit — a gathering of emerging economies that seek to provide an alternative to the Western-led world order.

A Biden-Modi opportunity

Xi's expected absence will give Biden — and Modi — a bigger opening to push their agendas, Axios China author Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian and Axios Closer co-author Hope King write.

For Biden: Atop the White House's list of priorities is bringing Bidenomics to the rest of the world.

  • The U.S. president plans to use the summit to push for a lending program for developing countries, White House officials said — a move to counter China's Belt and Road Initiative, which has seen billions of dollars in infrastructure projects for developing countries in the last decade.
  • The White House is asking Congress for $3.3 billion in new funding to help expand the World Bank's financing, as well as authorization to lend to two IMF trust funds.
  • Those actions would "support the mobilization of $200 billion of new financing for developing countries" backed by allies, the administration estimates.

Zoom out: The Biden administration this week released the text of a new Indo-Pacific supply chain agreement with a group of 14 countries that does not include China.

  • Revealing the full text of the agreement the week of both the G20 and ASEAN summits highlights the administration's effort to demonstrate the U.S. can still pull together a bloc of countries to achieve multilateral goals.

For Modi: The Indian prime minister has presented the summit as evidence of India's growing global leadership — and how New Delhi can be a bridge between the West and the Global South.

  • "Our G20 presidency strives to bridge divides, dismantle barriers and sow seeds of collaboration that nourish a world where unity prevails over discord, shared destiny eclipses isolation," Modi wrote in the Economic Times this week.
  • "As G20 president, we had pledged to make the global table larger, ensuring that every voice is heard and every country contributes," he added.

Ukraine to top the agenda

India has insisted that Ukraine won't overshadow its efforts to keep the needs of the Global South atop the G20 agenda, but that may be hard as the war rages on, Laurin-Whitney writes.

  • Ukraine's counteroffensive has moved at a slow pace, though Kyiv has reported gradual gains in recent weeks.
  • "We know that there will be continued focus on how the G20 deals with Russia's illegal and ongoing war in Ukraine," White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters this week.
  • "The reality is that Russia's illegal war has had devastating social and economic consequences, and the poorest countries on the planet are bearing the brunt of that," he added.

The big picture: Russia's pullout of the Black Sea Grain Initiative has sent certain food prices soaring — compounding the crises the world's most vulnerable countries and communities already faced.

  • British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will announce at the G20 that the U.K. will host a global food insecurity summit in November, his office said on Friday.

Biden-MBS meeting?

President Biden has been weighing meeting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on the sidelines of the summit, Axios political reporter Barak Ravid reports.

  • The White House said earlier this week that it had no announcements on any bilateral meetings, but it also didn't rule one with MBS out.
  • If such a meeting takes place, it's expected to give a significant push to the talks the White House has been holding on reaching a potential mega-deal between the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel.

UN's "urgent appeal" on climate

One thing to watch is the level of consensus — or lack thereof — on climate and renewable energy targets ahead of major UN climate talks late this year, Axios Generate co-author Ben Geman writes.

  • Also on our radar: how members finesse potential discussion of carbon capture tech, given differing views on its role in the climate toolkit, and the future of fossil fuels more broadly.
  • UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Friday urged G20 powers — responsible for 80% of global emissions — to take more action on climate.
  • "I come to the G20 with a simple but urgent appeal: We cannot go on like this. We must come together and act together for the common good," Guterres told reporters in New Delhi.

Artificial intelligence common ground

India's G20 presidency has given Modi a platform to call for a global framework for the ethical use of AI, and we'll be watching how much airtime the topic gets during the summit, Axios managing editor Alison Snyder writes.

  • AI and other emerging technologies are shifting economies, fueling a global competition for scientists and engineers, and could transform geopolitical power.
  • India itself is in the midst of drafting a national program for AI.
  • But an ethical framework to cover the world poses a host of questions — about the risks, safety, standards, security and norms around the use of AI — that would have to be hashed out by nations, industries and global organizations.

Possible major railway announcement

Biden and the leaders of India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates hope to announce a major joint infrastructure deal on Saturday that will connect Gulf and Arab countries via a network of railways, Barak scooped this week.

  • It will also connect to India through shipping lanes from ports in the region.
  • The project is one of the key initiatives the White House is pushing in the Middle East as China's influence in the region grows.
  • The White House has cautioned, however, that a final agreement is still being worked out.

Joint communiqué chances

Given the divisions, particularly around Ukraine, the chances of the leaders coming to a consensus on a joint communiqué at the end of the summit appear to be low, Laurin-Whitney notes.

  • If they fail, it will be the first time that G20 leaders won't issue a joint declaration.
  • Similar divisions were seen at last year's G20 in Bali, Indonesia. The compromise was language that stated that "most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine," but "there were other views" as well.

Yes, but: Russia and China have rejected drafts for this year's declaration using the same language, AP reported.

The bottom line: Indian officials were optimistic Friday that a joint communiqué would be issued at the end of the summit. Failing to do so would deal a serious blow to India and Modi's ambition to be seen as a bigger global power.

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