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G-20 leaders open summit, admits African Union as permanent member

NEW DELHI – Leaders of the world’s 20 most powerful economies began an annual summit on Saturday in New Delhi by granting permanent membership to the African Union (AU) in an effort to make the Group of 20 (G-20) more representative.

But the bloc remained deeply divided over the war in Ukraine, with Western nations pushing for strong condemnation of Russia while others demanded that the group focus on broader economic issues.

United States President Joe Biden and other leaders of the G-20 were driven through deserted streets to a new, US$300 million (S$409 million) conch-shaped convention centre called Bharat Mandapam, opposite a 16th-century stone fort, for the two-day summit in India’s capital New Delhi.

Many businesses, shops, offices and schools have been closed in the city of 20 million, and traffic restricted as part of security measures to ensure the smooth running of the most high-powered meeting to be hosted by the country. Slums have been demolished and monkeys and stray dogs removed from the streets.

According to a draft of the summit declaration reviewed by Reuters, negotiators were unable to resolve disagreements over the wording on the war in Ukraine, leaving it to the leaders to reach a compromise if possible.

The 38-page draft that was circulated among members left the “geopolitical situation” paragraph blank, while it had agreed on the 75 other paragraphs.

Mr Biden will press for a higher level of climate action from major countries at the summit, a White House official said, as concerns grow about lack of consensus on cutting emissions.

The G-20 nations account for 80 per cent of global emissions and their views are being keenly watched ahead of the COP28 meeting in the United Arab Emirates.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking to burnish India’s credentials as a major power, announced the AU’s membership in the G-20 on par with the European Union.

Mr Modi, in his opening remarks at the summit, invited the AU, represented by chairman Azali Assoumani, to take a seat at the table of G-20 leaders as a permanent member.

The summit is expected to be dominated by the West and its allies. Chinese President Xi Jinping is skipping the meeting and has sent Premier Li Qiang instead, while Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will also be absent.

Mr Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Saudi Arabia’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman and Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, among others, are attending.

The summit had been seen as affording a venue for a possible meeting between Mr Xi and Mr Biden, following months of efforts by the two world powers to mend ties frayed by trade and geopolitical tensions.

“It’s incumbent upon the Chinese government to explain” why its leader “would or would not participate”, Mr Jon Finer, the US deputy national security adviser, told reporters in Delhi.

He said there was speculation that China is “giving up on G-20” in favour of groupings like Brics, where it is dominant.

Brics includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and has agreed to add another six new members –Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates – in a move aimed at accelerating its push to reshuffle a world order it sees as outdated.

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Struggling over language

G-20 sherpas, or country negotiators, have been struggling for days to agree on the language because of differences over the Ukraine war, hoping to get Russia on board to produce what is called the Leaders’ Declaration.

Russia is being represented by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and he has said he will block the final declaration unless it reflects Moscow’s position on Ukraine and other crises.

One source told Reuters a joint declaration may or may not come to a unanimous agreement. It could have different paragraphs stating the views of different countries. Or it could record agreement and dissent in one paragraph.

According to another senior source in one of the G-20 countries, the paragraph on the war on Ukraine had been agreed by Western countries and sent to Russia for its views.

The official said Russia had the option to accept Western countries’ views and give its dissent as part of the statement.

In the absence of an agreement, India will have to issue a chair statement, which would mean that G-20 for the first time in 20 years of summits will not have a declaration.

A Leaders’ Declaration “is by far the best way to record what has been agreed, so that countries can be held to account in the future by external parties, and so that government systems know what their leaders have signed up to and what they need to do internally”, said Mr Creon Butler, director for the global economy and finance programme at London’s Chatham House.

The differing views on the war have prevented agreement on even a single communique at ministerial meetings during India’s G-20 presidency so far, in 2023. REUTERS

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