Ukraine and US-China relations: a high-tension Foreign Ministers G20 in New Delhi

Elizabeth Smith

The war in Ukraine and the growing tensions between the United States and China, but also India’s attempt to maintain a neutral stance on the ongoing conflict, will be the focus of the talks that G20 foreign ministers will have in New Delhi on March 1st and 2nd.

Narendra Modi’s government hopes that the crisis between Kiev and Moscow will not dominate the event, although it is at the top of the agenda. Issues such as climate change and Third World debt will be placed on the table and widely debated, a local source disclosed.

Foreign Ministers G20, Russo-Ukrainian war in the spotlight

But certainly, the premises do not bode well for wide digressions. Especially since the ministerial follows just days after a similar meeting of finance holders in Bangalore, the conclusions of which were far from comforting.

On that occasion, in fact, the ministers failed to reach consensus on a joint statement-which Beijing and Moscow refused to sign-agreeing on a summary document after differences over the demand for the Russians to withdraw from the occupied territories.

An outcome, on the other hand, that mirrors that of the last G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, last November, when the host country was left with no alternative but to acknowledge differences.

The G20 diplomacy chiefs will meet a week after the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which to date has left more than 300,000 dead and wounded. The meeting is expected to be attended by Russian Minister Sergei Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Britain’s James Cleverly, while China is expected to send its foreign minister, Qin Gang.

Russia-Ukraine war, India maintains a neutral position

Overall, representatives from 40 countries, including non-G20 members invited by India and some leaders of multilateral organizations, will gather in the Indian capital. A meeting of the foreign ministers of the Quad countries – the United States, India, Australia and Japan – is also scheduled on the sidelines.

The United States and its allies have so far committed more than $130 billion in military and civilian aid to Ukraine and have asked non-Western partners to limit or, in some cases, cut off relations with Russia.

India has tried to maintain a neutral stance throughout the conflict. Delhi boasts historic friendly relations with Moscow. But, it has long cultivated good relations with the United States and the European Union. Which are actively supporting Kiev against the Kremlin.

The ambiguous Chinese position

Blinken will, according to diplomatic sources, “emphasize the damage Russia’s war of aggression has caused”. And encourage other nations to redouble their appeals to Russia to end the war.

Important, in this regard, will be the response of China. Which, has just submitted a 12-point peace plan that has been greeted with great distrust by the West.

Still yesterday, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said China has “clearly” sided with Russia. And has been “anything but an honest broker” in efforts to bring peace to Ukraine. Although Beijing has “attempted to maintain this appearance of neutrality,” it has provided Russia with “diplomatic support, political support, economic support, rhetorical support,” Price told reporters.

The U.S. spokesman then explained that the United States does not yet believe that China has provided lethal assistance to Russia, but did not rule out that it might do so in the future, with “potentially dire and tragic” consequences.

A possibility, however, ruled out, at least for the moment, by Ukrainian intelligence chief Kyrylo Bodanov. “I don’t think China will accept the transfer of weapons to Russia. Also, I don’t see any sign that such things are being discussed. I am the head of intelligence and I rely, with all due respect, not on individual people’s opinions. But only on facts. And I see no such facts,” he said.

G20 in India, second focus on U.S.-China relations

Dividing Washington and Beijing, on the other hand, is not only the assessment of the conflict in Ukraine. Tensions between the two countries have also risen in recent weeks because of alleged Chinese spy balloons that were spotted in the U.S. and some allied countries.

China claimed it was a civilian research device that accidentally went off course. And called the U.S. response “excessive.” The dispute prompted Blinken to postpone a planned visit to Beijing. While senior Chinese diplomat and former minister Wang Yi called the U.S. handling of the matter “unimaginable” and “hysterical.”

And to make matters worse, in the past few hours China has accused Washington of “endangering” peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. This, after a U.S. P-8A Poseidon military patrol and reconnaissance aircraft flew over the area.

For all these reasons, according to Anil Wadhwa, a former Indian diplomat and analyst at the Vivekananda International Foundation in New Delhi, “it is unlikely that the G20 foreign ministers can agree on a common language that suggests ways and mechanisms to deal with the situation in Ukraine.”

Climate change and Third World debt, the other issues of the G20 summit

In part so as not to turn the meeting into yet another G20 misstep, Narendra Modi’s government wants to shift the meeting’s focus to different issues. Such as climate change and the debt of developing nations.

It is “New Delhi’s intention to continue to sound the voice of the Global South. And to raise issues relevant to the region,” an Indian Foreign Ministry official pointed out. The ministers, thus, will have a chance to address the major global challenges of the moment. Among these, rising food and energy prices, rising debt, and poor economic recovery after the pandemic.

But counterterrorism, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief will also remain a focus during the summit. As well as the assessment of new economic and security challenges.

In short, “India will try to divert the agenda from Ukraine to the original G20 mandate. Which is development and economics,” warned former Indian ambassador and professor at OP Jindal Global University, Jitendra Nath Misra. “But it may not succeed.”

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