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Ukraine war, US-China tensions to dominate G20 foreign ministers meet

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend the ASEAN East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, August 5, 2022. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

By: Pramod Thomas

FOREIGN ministers from around the world meet in New Delhi this week in the shadow of Russia’s war in Ukraine and spiralling US-China tensions, with host India hoping that issues like climate change and Third World debt are not overlooked.

The March 1-2 meeting of the G20 foreign ministers will be held days after a meeting of finance chiefs of the bloc in Bengaluru, where they wrangled over condemning Russia for the war, failed to reach a consensus on a joint statement and settled instead for a summary document.

The outcome was similar to a G20 summit meeting in Bali last November, when host Indonesia also issued a final declaration acknowledging differences.

Last July, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov walked out of a G20 foreign ministers’ meeting, also in Bali, after the West strongly denounced the war.

The New Delhi meeting will be attended by Lavrov, US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Britain’s James Cleverly, while China is expected to send its foreign minister, Qin Gang. In all, representatives of 40 countries, including non-G20 members invited by India, and multilateral organisations will attend.

The G20 bloc includes the wealthy G7 democracies, as well as Russia, China, India, Australia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia among other countries.

A meeting of foreign ministers of the Quad countries – the US, India, Australia and Japan – is also scheduled to be held on the sidelines.

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government wants to steer the focus of this week’s meeting to issues like climate change and the debt of developing nations, said an Indian foreign ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.

India does not want Ukraine to dominate the event, but it will be top of the agenda, said the official. It is New Delhi’s “intention to continue playing the voice of the Global South and raising issues pertinent to the region,” the official added.

Blinken will highlight US efforts to address food and energy security issues affecting developing nations, said Ramin Toloui, the US assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs.

The U.S. top diplomat also will “underscore the damage that Russia’s war of aggression has caused” and encourage other nations to redouble calls for Russia to end the war, Toloui told reporters ahead of Blinken’s travel to the meeting.

The foreign ministers’ meeting will also be watched for how tensions between Washington and Beijing play out, including over the Ukraine war.

China, along with Russia, declined to sign the summary statement of the finance chiefs in Bengaluru.

Earlier on Monday, China accused the United States of “endangering” peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait after a U.S. P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance military plane flew through the sensitive waterway.

Strained relations

Ties between the world’s two largest economies have been strained this month after the US military shot down what it says was a Chinese spy balloon that flew over the US. China says the balloon was a civilian research vessel that was accidentally blown off course, calling the US response an over-reaction.

The row prompted Blinken to postpone a planned visit to Beijing.

China’s top diplomat Wang Yi called the US handling of the balloon incident “unimaginable” and “hysterical”.

New Delhi has sought to walk a delicate neutral line on the Russia-Ukraine war.

While Modi has told Russian president Vladimir Putin that it was not a time for war, India has refused to blame Moscow for the conflict, seeking a diplomatic solution and sharply boosting its purchases of Russian oil.

Differences over the conflict will be played out again at this week’s meeting, said Anil Wadhwa, a former Indian diplomat and distinguished fellow at New Delhi’s Vivekananda International Foundation.

“It is unlikely that G20 foreign ministers can agree on common language suggesting ways and mechanisms to deal with the situation in Ukraine,” he said.

“The reasons are many but the most important issue is that the situation in Ukraine has become extremely fluid.”

(Reuters)

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