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August - September 2004

Political News

Proposed Expansion of G8: Opportunity Knocks for India

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee

India has been struggling long and hard to find a place in the sun. Recognition may be round the corner but it is not time yet for congratulations and celebrations. Deliberations are underway and the final decision to extend the invitation to the high table still seems some way away.

The most powerful industrialised nations of the world known as the Group of Eight or G-8 during their recent Summit held in the second week of June 2004 at Sea Island in Savanah, Georgia, USA considered certain proposals for possible inclusion of India and China into their fold , reflecting their growing importance in global affairs.

Canada's Prime Minister Paul Martin floated the idea of a G-20 meeting in addition to the annual G-8 Summit. A Canadian official said " The G-8 needs to acknowledge that global power and influence are not uniquely in the hands of the G-8 ". The Canadian Prime Minister held out the possibility of a G-20 meeting as early as the first quarter of next year.

Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi went further and said that the G-8 leaders were in fact considering inviting India and China into the G-8. To quote Berlusconi " It does not make much sense for us to talk about the economy of the future without the presence of the two countries that are protagonists on the world stage ". He went on to add that the leaders had discussed the strength and the rapid expansion of the Chinese economy …. It is a huge consumer market and the idea was put forward to call China and India to join the G-8 making it, the G-9 or G-10".

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair added his voice by saying that there is " certainly a case for including countries like China and India ". According to him the debate was ongoing about the format of a re-structured G-8. " We have already begun the process of outreach and I am sure that will continue ". Revelations by the three G-8 leaders in bits and pieces on the question of re-structuring G-8 add up at best to a confused and somewhat ambivalent picture.

Going by the Italian PM's statements, one cannot not quite figure out what actually the G-8's thinking is on the issue of the expansion of the Club. Will it be G-9 or G-10 ? It is possible that both China and India may be invited. Alternatively the invitation may be extended to only one of them. In the event that both are invited, will China choose to stay out ? Identifying with the numerically larger number of developing nations in the UN , Beijing may find it more politically beneficial in terms of spheres of influence than joining the rich man's club. On the other hand, the power and prestige that membership of the G-9 or G-10 will confer on China is something that Beijing cannot turn a blind eye to.

India may be a different story. Given the constraints of a multiparty coalition in a parliamentary system of government, who knows, with the influence of the Left Front so predominant over the UPA Government at the Centre, India may decline the offer to join the rich man's club. Remaining identified with the third world may be ideologically more comfortable and electorally more beneficial to the assortment of Communists and Socialists that rule India today. It will be interesting to watch what stand PM Manmohan Singh's will take on such an ideological issue, should it come to pass.

If the Canadian PM's statement is any guide, he may like to see the coming into being of a parallel grouping of G-20 developing nations holding Summits at the same time as the G-8 and be available for mutual consultations. If he has his way , India and China will be included in this grouping of G-20. The British PM has not spelled out anything concrete except to disclose that ideas of expanding the grouping are under discussion.

It is interesting to note that the French President Jacque Chirac, who had taken personal initiative as the host of the G-8 Summit held last year in Evian in France to invite President Hu Jin Tao of China and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee of India, remained silent this time round. The common ground between them was that both Hu Jin Tao and Vajpayee had opposed the President Bush's War on Iraq as did Jacque Chirac and the invitation to India and China might have been Chirac's way of saying " thank you " to the two leaders. It must have been a disappointment to both President Hu and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not to be included in the invitation list to G-8 Summit 2004 in Georgia.

Significantly there was no word from this year's Summit-host US President George W Bush on this subject at all. Is he opposed to the idea ? My suspicion is that when, not one but three leaders at the Summit - Blair, Berlusconi and Martin -publicly spoke of possible changes in the format of the G-8 even before any decision was taken , it was perhaps their way of putting pressure on President Bush to drop his objections, if any, and fall in line with the rest. The only hope for India and China is that President George W Bush , so long a committed unilateralist - a go it alone neo-con ideologue - has since converted himself into a multilateralist, prepared to work with partners and allies within the international system.

The fact however remains that such critical decisions like expansion in the membership of international bodies take a long time to materialise. Take the case of the re-structuring of the UN Security Council. The deliberations are going on for years and there is no light yet at the end of the tunnel.

Why the G-8 want China and India into their fold ?

As former US President Bill Clinton had said in another context : " It is the economy, stupid ". The Chinese economy has already reached a near super-power status, its GDP being three times the size of India . China's GDP stands at $ 1.5 trillion whereas India's is $ 650 billion and rising fast . China's forex reserves are hovering around $ 375 billion whereas India's has
just passed the $120 billion mark in a sustained upward trajectory. India's growth rate has been an average of 7 percent per annum while China's has been a sustained 8 to 9 percent per annum for a long time.

The demand for automobiles in China has shot up to such phenomenal proportions that, demand for oil that goes along with it, has created an unprecedented turmoil in the international oil market with steep price rises despite increases in production quotas. In this New Delhi is not lagging much behind either. India is already on the way to becoming the world's largest manufacturing hub of small sized cars. In information technology, bio-technology and pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, entertainment industry like cinema , in textiles and fashions and so on , India has an edge over China. India's greatest strength lies in the fact that it is the largest established and functioning secular democracy in the world. The population between Indian and China add up to 2.5 billion out of the total world population of 6 billion. With an increasingly affluent and expanding middle class, who can deny or ignore the hard fact that between these two countries they constitute the world's largest consumer market.

The G-8 need India and China just as these two countries need the G-8 . In whatever shape or form the coming together of India , China and the G-8 may take place, it is only a matter of time and will be to their mutual benefit.

The former Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee during his historic visit to China last year (2003) had said that in order to make the 21st century the Asian century, which was an idea visualised by China's former paramount leader Deng Xiao Ping, it was absolutely necessary for India and China to come together and work together.

More recently , at an international seminar held in Beijing in mid-June 2004 to mark the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the Panchsheel - the 5 principles of peaceful co-existence - former Indian President K.R.Narayanan said in his key-note address that India and China, co-founders of the Panchsheel, must work together to reform the UN and expand the Security Council making it more representative of humanity as a whole including representation on it of the great and populous and democratic developing countries of the world to ensure a viable world order. The time has come for China to break its silence on the subject.

If India is able to find a place in G-10 as it must in due time, it will surely hasten securing its rightful place as a permanent member of the UN Security Council , a goal which New Delhi cherishes most.

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