G20 Summit 2023: Indian Diplomacy Trumps Distrust Through Unprecedented Bilaterals

| Anhad Jakhmola
  • The monumental effort that went into the G20’s success left a mark on the entire international community with almost every country praising the Indian Prime Minister and his team for pulling off what was considered an insurmountable task.
  • The G20 summit and India’s bilateral engagements showed that while India safeguarded its own interests, it ensured justice for the Global North and the Global South by addressing their issues in equal measure.

The G20 was a successful event as India ensured a perfect balance between its elevated position in the emerging world order and saving the relevance of the G20 as a group. The highlight was the inclusion of the African Union in the group. The monumental effort that went into the G20’s success left a mark on the entire international community with almost every country praising the Indian Prime Minister and his team for pulling off what was considered an insurmountable task. Reports suggest that even the Chinese and the Russian delegates were convinced a day prior to the declaration being adopted and passed. Brazil, the next chair of the G20, stated that the summit was taken to an unprecedented level by India. President Lula was impressed by the number of engagements in various states of India and reiterated his desire to emulate the same kind of engagements in every province of Brazil.

While the summit was the obvious centre of attention, India’s bilateral meetings continued with the same rigour. On Saturday, hours before the declaration was adopted, India and the UK had a bilateral, followed by Japan, Germany and Italy. The next day, on Sunday, India held a working lunch meeting with France and met Turkey, UAE, Nigeria, South Korea, Comoros, Brazil, the European Union, the European Commission and a small meeting with Canada. On Monday, India held bilateral talks with Saudi Arabia. There were back-to-back events that showed that the diplomatic engagements do not stop at the doors of large groups only as it is guided by India’s own interests and its motivation to lend a helping hand to smaller countries too.

While every member nation had its own understanding of world affairs, India ensured that none were contrary to its interests. It is important to note that the Russian Foreign Minister called this declaration a ‘breakthrough session’ and said that the G20 summit was also a reminder to the West that the interests of the Global South cannot be ignored anymore. His submission was based on the last summit where the West had turned the summit over the issue of Ukraine and could not find a consensus to pass a declaration. Therefore, this vote of confidence over the New Delhi declaration was important as Russia and China had refused to sign the declaration in Bali, Indonesia last year. To get both Russia and China to agree on such a declaration was indeed a difficult task but Indian diplomacy did a spectacular job in ensuring a consensus. No other country other than India today enjoys the trust of both Russia and the United States of America.

The Bilaterals During the G20 conference

Let us take a look at the discussion between these nations.

India – United Kingdom Meet 

Rishi Sunak was visiting India for the first time in a capacity of a Prime Minister. The MEA issued a press release, stating confidence in the progress of the Indo-UK Comprehensive Strategic Partnership which is of importance to the two leaders. The statement also mentioned ‘Roadmap 2030, especially in the areas of the economy, defence, security, technology, green technology, climate change, health and mobility sectors.

The two leaders also discussed the amount of progress made on the issue of signing a Free Trade Agreement between the two nations at the earliest.  With 13 rounds of talk so far, there was hope expressed around its culmination. The Indian PM also invited PM Rishi Sunak for a bilateral visit at an early date that will be agreed by both sides while discussing international and regional issues that interest both nations as well. It’s important to note that the bilateral trade between the two nations has hit 20.36 billion for the year 2022-2023 as reported by the Mint.

India – Japan Meet

India and Japan consider themselves close allies since even before independence as historical linkages have always been present there. Both leaders, Prime Minister Modi and Fumio Kishida expressed steadfast support to enhance citizen outreach between them as well as enhance cooperation in commerce as well and encouraging more investment in terms of private companies in India. It’s important to note that Japan is India’s 13th largest trading partner and India is the 18th largest for Japan. 

Both nations are ardent believers of a ‘Free and open Indo-Pacific’ region. This has been a common area of interest given the fact that both Japan and India share a common rival in the form of China. Both countries have increased their defence budget recently, something that worries China as well. Hence, it is anything but natural that Japan and India will have similar interests when it comes to the Indo-Pacific as well as Asian diplomatic engagement. Recently, when China released the new edition of their territorial maps, India alongside Japan rejected it in union with other Asian countries. 

India – Italy Meet 

With 75 years of diplomatic relations being established between the two nations, PM Modi met PM Giorgia Meloni and talked over the cooperation in trade, commerce, defence and technology. The PM also thanked his Italian counterpart for supporting India’s presidency in the G20 as well as joining the Global Biofuel Alliance and the India-Middle East – Europe Economic Corridor, two important initiatives that were announced in this year’s summit. Both leaders also noted the need for cooperation between the G7 and the G20 to tackle global issues robustly. The Italian head of state had earlier visited India during the Raisina Dialogue in March 2023.

There have been talks about the Italians communicating to the Chinese delegation on the issue of their involvement in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). If reports are to be believed, they have expressed their desire to exit the BRI as they joined the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor. Whether this will result in something concrete or not remains to be seen but there is no denying that the Indian side has had some influence over the decision of Italy. Hence, this would be considered a good sign of India’s push for constant bilateral engagements.

India – Germany Meet 

Prime Minister Modi met with the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on the 10th of September. The German leader congratulated India on the success of the G20 summit while expressing gratitude for India’s G20 presidency. Both nations expressed satisfaction at their progress in the strategic partnership they shared and spoke about enhancing cooperation in areas of defence, green, sustainable development, critical minerals, education etc. The German Chancellor was visiting India for the second time this year and the Prime Minister invited the Chancellor for another bilateral meeting next year. 

Both leaders had discussed the subject of international and regional interests. It is well-known that Germany has been vocal over the issue of Ukraine and has always wanted to push countries to speak in the same way as they and most Western allies have. Not only has India kept their language In the session but managed to get a consensus over this declaration. By far, this highlights the importance of hardball played by the Indian delegation. 

India – Nigeria Meet

The Nigerian President was welcomed by the Indian Prime Minister to the G20 summit. The Nigerian President expressed his gratitude for the inclusion of the African Union in the G20 and for promoting the interest of the global South. The Nigerian head of state had come earlier before the Summit commenced to invite investment in his country. There was progress in discussions around trade, investment, defence, agriculture, millet, technology and cultural exchanges as well. 

The Nigerian President, Bola Tinubu came to India amidst uncertainty around his election and political crisis in Nigeria. Making progress in the bilateral with India will only benefit his position in his country. Whether that amounts to something tangible remains to be seen. 

India – Comoros Meet 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the President of Comoros, Mr Azali Assoumani who was also representing the African Union in the G20 summit. Both leaders expressed their confidence in the inclusion of the African Union as well as India’s efforts to push African interests as well as the interests of the global South. The leaders furthermore spoke on increasing cooperation on maritime security, capacity building and development partnerships. 

Prime Minister Modi called Comoros an important country for India’s Sagarmala project. The highlight of this particular engagement was when the President, in an interview, stated how he was almost in tears of joy when the Indian Prime Minister started the summit by inviting the African Union to the High table. The president remarked that this was a deeply emotional moment not just for the African Continent as a whole but for the collective global South as well. 

India – Türkiye Meet 

Perhaps one of the most surprising engagements was with Türkiye as President Erdoğan met Prime Minister Modi on the last day. Both countries discussed the progress of their cooperation in multiple sectors like economic cooperation, and bilateral trade as well as deliberated over international and regional issues of concern between them. 

India is Türkiye’s largest trading partner from South Asia with 12.3 billion volumes of trade. Both nations are active mediators in the Russian-Ukraine conflict and have continuously engaged both sides as well as calling for diplomatic engagement to end the crisis. Hence, both nations recognise their areas of convergence and interest quite well. 

India and Türkiye have had their moments of confrontation over Kashmir and Pakistan. Recently, the two countries came head-to-head over the Azerbaijan – Armenia crisis but it was surprising when Erdogan supported India’s inclusion in the UN Security Council as a permanent member. He further reiterated the need to keep the UNSC on a rotational basis. India was one of the first countries to assist Turkey when a devastating earthquake killed nearly 50,000 people. 

India – Brazil Meet

The Prime Minister passed the presidency of the G20 to the Brazilian president and held a meeting after the summit. Both leaders expressed confidence in enhancing and working on aspects like peace, cooperation, sustainable development etc. Both countries also spoke about supporting each other’s permanent membership in the UN Security Council. 

Both nations wished to increase awareness from G20, G7 and G4 to work in cohesiveness. India and Brazil also signed a cooperation in bioenergy. Both countries decided to engage more and raise the importance of climate change and welcomed the start of an Indo-Brazil Business Forum. There was constant engagement by Brazilian associates in almost all events and that was expressed by the Indian PM to President Lula.

India – France Meet 

One of the most important meetings of the G20 bilateral engagement was the working lunch between the Indian PM and the French President. There is a reason that it was kept specially for him as Indo-French ties have considerably risen under Emmanuel and PM Modi. The collaboration on the design, development and production of advanced defence systems was discussed between the two. In the joint statement, Emmanuel Macron made a special reference to how important this bilateral relationship was given the kind of uncertainty that is present today. Both leaders emphasized the success of Indo-French collaboration to address regional and global challenges.

Issues around climate change, digital infrastructure, space, nuclear, and defence were highlighted with a positive direction by both leaders. Both leaders expressed their effort to continue the message of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ during these testing times. The synergy between the two leaders was observed which could only lead to an enhancement of their relationship. Both France and India understand their respective terms of understanding when it comes to the Indo-Pacific region.

India – UAE, EU / EC Meet

The Indian delegation had planned to meet the UAE side. However, the Indian PM met European Council chief Mr Charles Michel and European Union President, Ms Ursula von der Leyen. Discussions were around the Indo-EU strategic Partnership,  the EU-India summit and the Free Trade Agreement. Issues like climate change were addressed too.

The leaders also joined the India-Middle East- Europe Economic Corridor and discussed in length its importance and the kind of impact it will have in the region. Solar power collaboration was also on the agenda of the bilateral meeting. 

India – South Korea Meet

Prime Minister Modi met President Yoon Suk Yeol who congratulated the Prime Minister on India’s G20 Presidency. He also congratulated on the success of the Chandrayaan mission. Both leaders reviewed the progress in various areas including trade and investment, defence production, semiconductors and EV battery technology as reported by ANI.

They also exchanged views on regional and global issues, especially around the Indo-Pacific and the importance of freedom of navigation which is a counter to China’s aggressive diplomacy in Asia. Both nations hold the same view with regards to the Chinese strategy and that brings them closer to possible strategic planning.

India – Canada meet 

The last bilateral engagement on the 10th of September has been the talk of the town due to the Indian side expressing severe discomfort over the lack of addressing the Khalistani issue in Canada by the Trudeau administration. Reuters even ran a report which stated that the Indian PM had indeed scolded his Canadian counterpart and that this was a sign of trouble between the two. Discussions around trade did feature but it was the strong concerns issued by the Indian government that was more visible than anything.

To make matters worse, Trudeau gave a weird explanation of freedom of expression for a rally where an effigy of former Indian PM Indira Gandhi was displayed. If that wasn’t enough, his plane encountered a technical snag, making him wait till the 12th of September. Reports suggest that the Canadian President was an isolated figure cut off from most of the leaders at the G20 summit.

India – Saudi Arabia Meet

India wrapped up its important engagement with the bilateral meeting with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Announcing a summit, the leaders co-chaired the first summit-level meeting of the India-Saudi Arabia Strategic Partnership Council (SPC). This summit was started in 2019 and focused on ties across various dimensions such as trade, investment, security and defence. Such an engagement will only strengthen ties further.

Multiple areas of cooperation such as energy, defence, security, education, technology, transportation, healthcare, tourism and culture were identified in the talks between the two leaders. Prime Minister Modi praised the crown prince and highlighted the importance of Saudi Arabia as a strategic trade partner for India’s new diplomatic engagement. The Saudi prince thanked India and its G20 presidency as a successful event that will help countries outgrow the fragmented situation in the present. Besides France, the bilateral with Saudi Arabia was perhaps one of the most important highlights of this summit.


The G20 summit and India’s bilateral engagements showed that while India safeguarded its own interests, it ensured equal justice for the Global North and the Global South by addressing their issues in equal measure. The importance of Türkiye’s support to India’s UNSC membership while establishing a crucial accord with the Saudis was a true hallmark of successful diplomacy in the West Asian region. Another important aspect is that India has maintained good relations with Iran too. India also holds regular engagements with the Palestinians and the Israelis which shows that India is emerging as a natural neutral partner wherever relations are strained across the globe. Nations trust Indian diplomacy which is of incredible value for them as well as India.

China had repeatedly tried to undermine India’s position and it was no different at this summit too. Given China’s shenanigans, numerous news articles expressed a lack of confidence in the G20 over the summit declaration, more so when the lack of consensus at last year’s summit was still afresh. But as soon as Russia approved the declaration, the Chinese had no choice and agreed to avoid being isolated. Xi Jinping thought he could undermine India and the G20 by not attending the summit but it didn’t as intended. On the contrary, the West managed to get a favourable declaration with limited mention of Ukraine, to which Russia did not object. India once again provided the bridge for this to happen. While it remains to be seen how much of the declaration will be followed on the ground, it is nevertheless an embodiment of India’s skilful diplomacy which was successful in garnering a critical consensus in a fragmented world.

(Anhad Jakhmola is a postgraduate scholar in international relations. He has his undergraduate degree in history and is pursuing his Ph.D. in Defence and Strategic Studies. He is a columnist for many portals and is a keen public speaker in debates and discussions. Views expressed are author’s own)

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