G20 leaders open summit, granting permanent membership to the African Union.

On September 9th, in New Delhi, leaders representing the world’s 20 most powerful economies convened for their annual summit, where they made the significant decision to grant permanent membership to the African Union in a bid to enhance the G20’s inclusivity. However, the summit was marked by deep divisions regarding the conflict in Ukraine, with Western nations advocating for a strong condemnation of Russia, while others urged a focus on broader economic concerns.

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U.S. President Joe Biden and other G20 leaders arrived at the newly constructed $300 million Bharat Mandapam convention center, shaped like a conch, situated opposite a 16th-century stone fort in India’s capital. The city had taken extensive security measures, including the closure of businesses, shops, offices, and schools, as well as traffic restrictions, to ensure the smooth execution of this high-powered event.

Despite lengthy negotiations, a draft of the summit declaration showed that disagreements persisted over the wording related to the Ukraine conflict, leaving it up to the leaders to reach a compromise. Among the 75 agreed paragraphs, the section concerning the “geopolitical situation” remained blank.

President Biden aimed to push for increased climate action from major nations during the summit, given growing concerns about the lack of consensus on emissions reduction. The G20 countries collectively account for 80% of global emissions, making their stance crucial ahead of the COP 28 meeting in the United Arab Emirates.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, eager to bolster India’s standing as a major global power, announced the African Union’s inclusion in the G20, granting it a permanent seat alongside the European Union.

The summit was anticipated to be Western-centric, with notable absences, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, both represented by their officials. Attending leaders included German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman, and Japan’s Fumio Kishida.

Efforts to arrange a meeting between Presidents Xi and Biden had been ongoing for months but remained uncertain. The U.S. deputy national security adviser suggested that China might be shifting its focus from the G20 towards other groupings like BRICS, where it holds significant influence.

The ongoing struggle over language in the summit’s declarations stemmed from differences concerning the Ukraine conflict, with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov asserting that Moscow would block the final declaration unless it aligned with Russia’s stance on Ukraine and other global crises. The possibility of a unanimous agreement on a joint declaration remained uncertain, and it could include paragraphs reflecting the varying viewpoints of different countries or recording both agreement and dissent in a single paragraph.

In the absence of an agreement, India would have to issue a chair statement, marking the first time in two decades of G20 summits that a Leaders’ Declaration would not be produced. Such a declaration is considered the most effective way to record agreements reached and to hold countries accountable for their commitments. However, the divergence of opinions on the Ukraine conflict had hindered the issuance of even a single communique during ministerial meetings throughout India’s G20 presidency in that year.

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