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August - September 2007

Political News

The 33rd G-8 Summit: “Dialogue Partners” India & China on the Sidelines

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee

Hosted by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the 33rd Summit of the world’s richest, the most powerful and advanced industrialised democracies, the Group of Eight, for short known as G8, was held in the Baltic Sea, German resort town of Heiligendamm, from 6 to 9 June, 2007.

The first such summit was held in 1975 in Rambouillet in France hosted by Valery Giscard d’Estaing who was then the President of the Republic of France. The original membership comprised the US, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Canada and Japan. The group came to be known as G7. Between them they produced 60 percent of the world’s GDP. Later Russia, an emerging economic powerhouse, fuelled by its vast oil and gas resources and propped up by soaring prices, was included in the grouping. The initial reluctance on the part of G7 to unreservedly embrace Russia - a past adversary, albeit under a different description called the Soviet Union, of the cold war days - was evident from the status given to it. It was G7 +1. It took a few years for Russia to become a full-fledged member after which it came to be known as G8.

The G8 is not a formal organisation like the UN, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the ASEAN or the SAARC. It has no Secretariat as such, no elections are held to appoint a President or a Secretary General, nor is there budgetary support from the member nations to pay for the expenses. An annual G8 Summit is held by rotation in member countries in resort towns specially chosen for their topographical inaccessibility. When the G8 is in session the resorts are cordoned off by impenetrable security. The host nation meets the expenses.

The leaders engage themselves in some sort of a “fireside chat” as between family members and discuss the burning issues of the day. Decisions are taken on the basis of a consensus and a communiqué is issued at the end of the Summit, which at best provides guidelines to policy-making but are not binding on any body. As the G8 leaders confabulate, the rest of the world watch and analyse the implications of what is going on at the Summit. The world is thus neatly divided between the “haves” and the “have nots”.

Gradually the G8 leaders realised that the world is a much bigger place than the exclusive confines of the group of eight nations. There are other giant sized nations driven by sustained fast-track GDP growth who have arrived on the scene and who can no longer be ignored. They are the developing economies, not yet full-fledged members of the Rich Man’s Club. They are seen as a third category of nations – the “have not enoughs”.

The world has changed phenomenally since the first G7 Summit in 1975. Thirty-three years down the line, the GDP of the original G7 nations has shrunk from 60 percent to only 40 percent, while the remaining 60 percent of global GDP is produced elsewhere, show-casing a silent revolution underway and an ongoing reversal of the roles. The main contributors to this dramatic development are the BRICs group of nations comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China.

India and China - Dialogue Partners in G8 Summits

Noting their unprecedented economic progress, the G8 leadership invited the two Asian giants India and China to join the confabulations at the G8 Summits in the consultation process. Invited by the French President Jacques Chirac, the Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the Chinese President Hu Jintao attended the G8 Summit at Evian in France in 2004. Welcomed first as one-off observers, China and India were incorporated into the regular consultation process. These two nations have now become full-fledged “ Dialogue Partners ” at the G8 Summits. Subsequently Brazil, Mexico and South Africa were included in the expanding consultation process. Since they are all developing economies, between them China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, have formed a pressure group within the G8 consultation process calling themselves as G5. To a suggestion that the time had come for the G5 developing nations, also described as the “ Outreach Five ”, be taken on board as full members and G8 expanded to G13, was rejected by a back-room consensus but articulated by the Summit host Chancellor Angela Merkel. “ Sorry! Not for the moment ” was the message on demand. Instead the G5 were told that they will be brought into something called the “Heiligendamm Process”, which will involve regular meetings and consultations between the advanced industrialised nations and the fast track emerging economies. By thus rejecting the case of the Outreach 5 nations for full membership, it was obvious that the G8 leaders clung determinedly to the exclusive nature of their club. Incidentally, the decision to keep them out is no different from the much needed but stalled reform process for an expanded UN Security Council which the Permanent 5 or the Privileged 5 - which includes China - don’t want it to see happen.

India and China beginning with the G8 Summit in Evian in France through Gleneagles in Scotland and so on, have traditionally taken the opportunities to have their own summit level talks on the side lines. The opportunity provided by the Heiligendamm Summit could not therefore be missed. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India and President Hu Jintao of China, aided by respective high level delegations, met in Berlin on 8 June 2007 and discussed the desirability of finding an amicable fast track solution to the vexed and long running border dispute between the two Asian neighbours. This was needed to help realise the full potential of bilateral trade and investment for mutual benefit. According to reports both leaders agreed to progress the matter a bit more expeditiously than has so far been the case. For India and China, their very own Summit could turn out to be the most substantive part of their participation, independent of and on the sidelines of the Heiligendamm Process. More than anything else the meeting helped deepen mutual understanding between the top leadership of both nations.

Highlights of the Heiligendamm Summit

At the G8 Summit of 2007 the world leaders came face to face with three of the most challenging issues of the day.

Firstly it was the cold-war style US-Russia spat on strategic issues which has the potential of triggering a menacing arms race between the two former adversaries and Secondly there were the two headline hogging issues of the day namely 1. Setting limits on the high carbon gas emissions, said to be responsible for the dramatic climate change, which is expected to cause catastrophic consequences for the future of planet earth and mankind and 2. The provision of Western assistance to African nations in their fight against the blights of the widespread prevalence of AIDs and Malaria.
US provocation to station a Missile Defence Shield in Eastern Europe close to Russia’s borders and Moscow’s sharp response to it.

The US President George W Bush had earlier announced his intention to station a US missile defence shield in Eastern Europe to repel, as he claimed, Iranian rockets. In fact according to reports actual deployment of the missile system may have already started. Moscow’s real fears are that while the US is putatively targeting a “rogue state” like Iran, who is yet to have its first nuclear weapon, it is in fact secretly aiming at Russia. Close to Russia’s borders, the Czech Republic will be playing host to the radar station and Poland will have the interceptors. Both are former Warsaw pact nations. Reportedly there was no prior consultation with Russia on this issue. It was a clumsy provocation, which infuriated President Vladimir Putin, the leader of now resurgent Russia. He accused the US of “imperialism” and threatened, perhaps not so diplomatically, to target Russian nuclear weapons at Europe if the so called “star wars system” went ahead. It caused unnecessary alarm in Europe. On 29 May 2007 a Russian advanced intercontinental missile with multiple warheads flew. “Russia tests missile to pierce US shield” screamed headlines in world’s serious newspapers the next day announcing an “offensive” breakthrough. It proved an old military doctrine of how offence-defence cycles reinforce each other to predictable consequences. It says that every warrior’s improvement in defence is followed by a breakthrough in offence by the adversary, leading to new counter-measures ever more lethal.

The Russian Ambassador in London, Yuri Fedotov was quoted by The Sunday Times as saying: Russia rejected the US contention that its missile system was purely defensive. He said “ In military and strategic doctrine, a shield is always accompanied by a sword. You cannot separate them. That is why Russia is obliged to take necessary counter measures.” He went on to say “ partnerships should be on equal footing not the partnership of the horseman and the horse.”

At the G8 Summit, Putin was more conciliatory offering a deal to the US President to host part of the missile system’s radar network at a site in Azerbaijan instead of Europe. To which Bush’s reply was that he would be happy to discuss this and other issues with him ( Putin ) at his family home in Kennebunkport, Maine in the US in early July 2007. The world will wish them good luck and God speed in solving their mutual problems.

Irrespective of the above offer, the Russian President Putin maintained his pressure on the Summit by telling British Prime Minister Blair in his one-to-one meeting with him that he was “sick” of the West’s recent treatment of his country. He was not just annoyed by the missile defence system deployed so near his country’s borders, he was also upset at the American and British support for the anti-Russian Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

Blair warned Putin that the language and the nature of his threats may impact on the flow of Western investments in Russia, which it urgently needs to sustain fast-track growth of its economy.

Russia is the only major country still outside the WTO. At an International Economic Forum in St Petersburg – a Russian version of Davos - held almost immediately after the G8 Summit ended in Heiligendamm, President Putin displaying his nation’s hurt, made a radical suggestion that the time might have come for an alternative process outside the WTO to be considered so that the developing countries get their unheard voices heard. The WTO in his view subtly supports the protectionist tendencies of the richer nations more than the free-trade aspirations of the poorer nations. This cannot go on for too long. The world will keenly watch what happens to this idea.

Taking a cue from the aforesaid suggestion, will the world also begin looking at another more radical idea of an alternative UN where the side-tracked nations will have a more effective say in a more democratic and multilateral governance of the world ? In the background of the rising mistrust of the international system, I would not rule out that possibility. The trigger will be the stalled reform process of the UN system.

As of now the cold-war rhetoric between the US and Russia seems to have abated somewhat. It must end soon. A globalised and integrated world system cannot afford a new cold war belligerence. Where is the ideology to support it, except the whims and fancies of certain powerful world leaders? The rising stars of the new economic order have challenged the unilateralist sole superpower the US. In such a backdrop, the world has to come to terms with a multi polar new world order. It is the only alternative available before the nations of the world.

The initiative for such a re-ordering of power equations can come only through the UN system not the G8. Will the new Secretary General Ban Ki Moon take the bull by its horns and a set a process rolling. But will he? Or can he ? There is perhaps a need for a Yalta or a Potsdam type conference of a select group of world leaders to sort out the current mess and help bring stability to the international system. As the leader of the Non Aligned Movement, India may be well placed to call such a historic conference within the framework of the UN.

It is however of utmost importance that India keeps away from the Great Power cold-war rhetoric currently underway. Taking side with one of the contending powers will irreparably hurt India’s position with the other and its allies, which it cannot afford in the present phase of its economic development.

As it is, in the background of the lack of progress in the talks on the 123 Agreement on civilian nuclear co-operation with the US and the on-going consultations on forging a Grand Asian Alliance between Russia, China and India, the G8 may be feeling uncomfortable with India, an old friend of Moscow. The world has not failed to notice that neither India nor China were seriously involved in the consultation process by the Western leaders in the Summit which has just ended. The opposition parties in India have noted that George W Bush’s “pull aside” meeting with Manmohan Singh did not last more than a few minutes, which meant lack of any “forward movement” on the civilian nuclear co-operation. The Indian PM’s G8 visit was dubbed by the opposition as “ a complete waste of time ”. Worse the visit did not yield any results on the important issue of climate change. The G8 communiqué was drafted without India having any say in it.

Compromise Proposals on the burning issue of Climate Change facing the world.

Both the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel claimed that the G8 pact on climate change named as The Baltic Pact was a breakthrough. The US – world’s biggest polluter - was persuaded to take part in global talks for cutting carbon emissions for the first time since the Kyoto Protocol was formulated seven years ago. Washington had rejected the Kyoto Protocol on carbon emission cuts for fear of endangering American competitiveness compared to China. Merkel wanted binding cuts in carbon emissions but there was no agreement on her proposal. As a compromise solution, Bush made a counter proposal calling for a Climate Change Conference next autumn under the aegis of the UN, which would be part of efforts to reach a global agreement. He also allowed the 50 percent emissions cut target by 2050 on 1990 figures to be shared by leading industrialised countries to appear in the final G8 communique. The US insisted that its agreement was dependent on India and China, two other major polluters, also signing up to progress the UN process.

Aid to Africa

G8 leaders agreed on an aggregate cumulative figure of $ 60 billion in aid for Africa to help fighting during the next five years the twin scourges of AIDs and Malaria rampant in that continent. The above figure includes the amount of $25 billion earmarked for the purpose by Tony Blair two years ago at Gleneagles. These figures are targets and not pledges or commitments. It is not known how the aid when available will be disbursed to the people for whom it is meant. It is reported that during the last decade at least $40 billion was given to African Governments as development assistance. Almost the entire amount evaporated into the thin air misappropriated by the politicians and the mafia, hardly anything reaching the poor and the needy. One cannot over-emphasise the utmost need to evolve a cast iron mechanism to ensure a leak-proof disbursement of the aid to the most deserving among the people in the African Continent.

The 34th G8 Summit will be held next year in 2008 in Japan. It will be Shinzo Abbe’s turn to host the meet. The two notable absentees at the 2008 Summit will be British Prime Minister Tony Blair who stepped down from office on June 27, 2007 and Russian President Vladimir Putin who will relinquish office by the end of the year 2007. People may or may not agree with their views but nobody can deny that they are charismatic figures. They will be retired but are not tired. The spot light will remain on them. I wishes them the very best of luck in their retirement.

The writer is the author of “India’s Security Dilemmas, Pakistan and Bangladesh” published in September 2006 by Anthem Press New Delhi.

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