The meeting in Cornwall of the world’s leading industrialised nations shows there are significant synergies between the G-7 agenda and the Modi government’s stance on health, the Indo Pacific, global warming and infrastructure.
The Narendra Modi government has several reasons to be happy with the G-7 summit at Cornwall in the UK. Many of its concerns on issues like the Indo Pacific, health security, global warming and infrastructure, among others, have been taken on board by the leaders of the world’s leading industrialised nations.
This will, in all likelihood, result in many of these now being treated as issues which the world must pool in its resources to resolve or combat. Modi will, thus, come away from the summit secure in the knowledge that his is no longer the sole or one of the few voice(s) in the wilderness.
The UK, as the host of this year’s summit, has said it will focus on four priorities under the theme “Build Back Better” under its presidency. These are leading the global fight against the Covid-19 virus and strengthening resilience against future pandemics; promoting free and fair trade to generate future prosperity; tackling climate change and preserving the planet’s biodiversity; and championing shared values and open societies.
US President Joe Biden proposed a fifth focus area – the Build Back Better World (B3W) infrastructure initiative to build infrastructure projects across the world in a manner that is transparent and non-exploitative.
Taken together, the theme and the focus areas reiterated the necessity for democracies and open societies to come together for the greatest common good.
India, a guest at this year’s G-7 Summit at the invitation of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the host, has key stakes in all of these issues and has been, in fact, among the leading global voices espousing many of them.
Addressing the summit virtually, Modi highlighted India’s civilisational commitment to democracy, liberty and freedom and said India is a “natural ally of the G-7” nations in defending these shared values from threats like authoritarianism, terrorism and violent extremism, disinformation and economic coercion, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said.
This is particularly important at a time when many countries, including democracies, are struggling to find a balance between the freedoms promised to their citizens and the security challenges posed by terrorism, authoritarianism and disinformation.
For example, many of the world’s leading democracies, including India, are caught in a battle with technology / Internet giants over information, access and transparency. There can be distortions and this can emerge as a strategic challenge. But it is the hallmark of democracies that governments engage transparently with all stakeholders to iron out the glitches have emerged.
At the summit, the G-7 leaders underlined their commitment to a free, open and a rules-based Indo-Pacific and resolved to collaborate with partners in the region. This is an extremely important development for India and other countries in the region.
Till recently, the Indo Pacific seemed like the pet project of the Quad members – India, the US, Japan and Australia. The European powers seemed to consider it new nomenclature meant to exclude and contain China.
But with the UK and France pivoting significantly to the Indo Pacific, the G-7 statement is a clear indication to the regional powers and the world at large that the Quad members are no longer whistling alone in the woods and that this region, which accounts for 50 per cent of global trade, is a part of the global commons and is a geography in which every country in the world has a stake.
Without taking any names, the G-7 has sent out an important strategic message to countries that have been making unilateral and unsubstantiated claims over portions of the Indo-Pacific that are part of international waters. The Quad argument has suddenly found many more receptive ears.
Modi’s emphasis on “One Earth, One Health” was an appeal for the world to come together to fight the devastation wrought by Covid-19 but reading between the lines, one could see a focus on his other great passion – climate change.
The global health challenge and climate change, sometimes related but often treated separately, need global efforts, appropriate funding mechanisms and multinational technological interventions to mitigate and resolve.
Modi committed India’s support for the collective endeavours to improve the global health governance systems even as he appreciated the support of the G-7 and other guest countries in tackling the pandemic back home.
He also called upon the developed countries to keep open supply chains for vaccines and their raw materials, which are critical for quickly ramping up vaccine production in India and some other countries even as he reiterated India's willingness to share its experience and expertise with other developing countries.
The issue of IPR waivers on vaccine technologies, however, will have to be discussed and debated at the WTO; the G-7 is not the appropriate forum for this.
Biden’s proposal for a B3W as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was perhaps the most daring vision yet outlined for infrastructure development by the democratic bloc.
Although the fine print is still sketchy, it will have to be a partnership based on trust and transparency if it is to stand out in contrast to the highly exploitative Chinese model.
India, which has steadfastly opposed the BRI, has said it will consider the B3W proposal, which could be the first step towards a rethink of globalisation as a people-centric model of development – something that India has long campaigned for.
Thus, this G-7 summit has several takeaways that are positive for India.