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August - September 2009

Political News


by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee

The three-day summit ending 10th July 2009 in L’Aquila, the Italian earthquake-hit hillside town of the most developed industrialised democracies (G8) and the leading developing economies (G5) couldn’t have come at a better time for India. The Summit was appropriately described as the “Major Economies Forum”. It seemed tailor-made for India’s Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, acknowledged as the most learned economist attending the summit. With a fresh electoral mandate, free from the pressures of murky coalition politics and heading a strong central government in India, he was as sure-footed and assertive as one could imagine. He had the opportunity of playing a remarkably visible role as the spokesman of India’s national interests on the most important issues facing the 21st century.

The absence during the main deliberations of the Major Economies Forum of the Summit of China’s President Hu Jintao, who had to abruptly leave L’Aquila to return to China to oversee the campaign to bring under control the outbreak of the worst unrest among Muslim majority Uighers in the Autonomous Region of Xinjiang – the region is also known as Eastern Turkmenistan, left the field open to the Indian Prime Minister to stand under the spotlight of the global stage and speak on behalf of all of the major developing economies of the world.

The important thing to note was that there was no criticism of what he said at the Summit on behalf of India, by any country at the Conference. Such is the respect in which he is held in the world today.

While still in New Delhi on 7 July 2009 before leaving for L’Aquila, Prime Minister Singh in a statement called for a “global response” to the “global crisis” of the financial meltdown. He said that the slowdown in the advanced economies has affected our exports, strengthened protectionist sentiments and impacted credit and capital flows. The crisis was not one of our making, he said, but we had to bear its consequences. We would therefore like to see a concerted and well co-ordinated global response to address systemic failures and to stimulate the real economy.

He went on to say, “ In the long run we would like to see a much higher level of stability and sustainability in growth patterns of the developed world and in international financial governance”. He placed the G8 group of nations on notice that India would project its views on major global issues relating to the economic and financial crisis and its impact on development, food security, energy security, climate change, terrorism, international trade negotiations and reforms of international institutions.

By raising these issues, the Prime Minister was in fact fore-warning the G8 that India would not settle for anything less than a permanent seat in the UN Security Council and equal voting rights with the advanced economies in global financial governance in the IMF and the World Bank.

Before engaging the G8 on 9 July 2009, the Prime Minister had detailed discussions on 8 July with the G5 delegations from Brazil, China, Mexico and South Africa at the end of which, speaking to the press, he said that the developing economies had been the worst affected – he gave the example of high food prices - by the weakened global economy. “We discussed how we could contribute to strengthening the green shoots of recovery. It is only through an inclusive approach that a collective effort can be effectively made”.

The Prime Minister said, “As a responsible member of the international community India recognised its obligation to preserve the environment, but climate change could not be addressed by perpetuating poverty of the developing countries. We need to evolve a strategy of growth that brings about a higher standard of living without harming the environment.

G8 Summits were mostly talking shops before L’Aquila. But this time it was different. The presence of US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh made all the difference. For the first time a joint statement was issued at the end of the Summit of G8/G5. It was decided to conclude the Doha Round of trade talks under the WTO by 2010. At this juncture when the world is faced with an unprecedented economic crisis, forging multilateral trade protocols would certainly have a positive impact. It was also decided that the governing structures in the UN as also the world’s trading and economic institutions that frame rules of international banking and finance could no longer ignore the claims of the G5 of being legitimate participants at the high table. It is apparent that India’s case for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council has been made at long last. It also appeared that together India and China played a critical role in shoring up the international system by gaining a voice for G5 in the IMF and the World Bank. The details are set to be worked out in due course.

The issue of climate change had taken the centre stage in the G8 deliberations and appropriately it found a mention in the joint statement. The G8 developed nations agreed to cut CO2 emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. The developing nations would ensure that their carbon dioxide emissions should be restricted in such a manner that the atmospheric temperatures is not allowed to rise 2 degrees C above the pre-industrial times. Although a vague formulation, it was obvious that G5 including India had successfully resisted any obligatory quotas of CO2 emissions. According to known statistics the US produces 20 tons of CO2 emissions per capita while India produces less than 1 ton per capita. The two nations cannot therefore be equated in their responsibility in fixing the world’s climate. The G8 joint statement seemed to be a reasonable compromise that has the potential to protect the developmental needs of the emerging economies as indeed protect earth’s climate. As we all know that the last Climate Summit had produced what came to be known as the Kyoto Protocol, which failed to win the support of the US. The next Climate Summit is scheduled in Copenhagen in December 2009. With US President Barack Obama backing the climate change decisions made at the G8/G5 Summit in L’Aquila. It is clear that it will be a different ball game this time at the Copenhagen Summit in December 2009.

An important decision of the G8/G5 Summit was the formulation on terrorism. The joint statement described terrorism as one of the greatest challenges to global peace and security and denounced the scourge in all its forms and manifestations. All acts of terrorism – irrespective of who commits them – are criminal, inhumane and unjustifiable, regardless of motivation, especially when they indiscriminately target, kill and injure civilians. The G8 declaration said, “Suicide bombings and recruiting of the young or the disadvantaged to carry out such acts as well as abductions and the taking of hostages were repugnant acts and practices. We remain convinced that terrorism can be defeated effectively only through coordinated effort in the fields of information sharing and capacity building which shall include both short terms provision and long terms policies.” The joint statement called on nations to join and fully implement all universal counter-terrorism conventions and protocols. The declaration said that Afghanistan and Pakistan remained a top priority in the regional context as both were presented with grave challenges to their security and stability driven in large measure by the threat from violent extremists and terrorists. It was noted that the threat was sustained by narcotic trafficking, poverty and uneven economic development. The G8 reaffirmed its commitment to promoting stability and development in both countries and the wider region.

The policy formulations on terrorism were a matter of great significance to India, the leading victim of the menace. India has been trying to get an International Convention on Terrorism adopted at the United Nations but failed up until today, stuck on issues of definition of terrorism. Pakistan was the spoilsport insisting that the “armed struggle” of the “Kashmiri militants” on the soil of India was “freedom struggle” not terrorism. India has been insisting consistently that all killings and injuring of innocent civilians whatever the motivation, is terrorism and should be condemned and jointly fought at the global level. The G8/G5 formulation has finally brought clarity to the issue of terrorism at the global level.

The G8 block of advanced industrial nations persuaded by US President Barack Obama not unexpectedly took a stand to ban the transfer of nuclear enrichment and reprocessing items to countries that have not signed the NPT. India being a non-signatory to the NPT in principle falls in the category of those nations who will be denied the enrichment and reprocessing items. Faced with this daunting prospect, India in an attempt to put up a brave face said that New Delhi had received a “country specific clean waiver” from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as well as the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and therefore falls outside the scope of the ban. India has not yet signed any formal agreement with Russia for the supply of nuclear fuels. It may not be easy to get the supplies of nuclear fuels anymore following this G8 ban at least till the matter is clarified. India has also said that since it is not a member of G8, only part of the G5 outreach countries, it is not affected by the ban.

Not so controversial was the position taken by the rich countries is the commitment of $20 billion supporting agricultural development in poorer countries. G8 wants the developing economies to be self-sufficient in food production rather than rely on food hand-outs as was the case in the past under Public Law 480.

Dr Manmohan Singh had several “pull aside” bilateral meetings with world leaders including Gordon Brown, Nicholas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Silvio Berlusconi, Taro Aso and others.

The meeting with President Barack Obama was more formal. The Indian Prime Minister accepted an invitation from the US President to visit Washington later this year while the US President accepted the invitation of the Indian Prime Minister to visit New Delhi, which will take place early next year.

These two coming events, late in the order of priorities of the Obama Administration though they are, have together the potential to bring about some overall progress in the content of India-US strategic alliance, a process initiated with much gusto by the former President George W Bush.

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