As the 2023 G20 New Delhi Summit comes to a close, CNAS experts highlight key takeaways and analyze the implications for U.S. national security and global prosperity.
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Lisa Curtis, Senior Fellow and Director, Indo-Pacific Security Program:
If the intent of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s decision to skip this year’s G20 Summit was to remove the sheen from the meeting that was being held in New Delhi, his effort was unsuccessful. The Summit produced a substantive 29-page joint declaration on issues like achieving balanced and sustainable economic growth, reinvigorating multilateral development banks, building digital public infrastructure, and empowering women and girls. This year’s Summit also saw the 55-member African Union join its ranks, marking a historical moment that will ensure the grouping is inclusive and representative of the concerns of developing nations. Another highlight of the weekend was an announcement of a new rail and shipping corridor connecting the Middle East, India, and Europe—a seeming counterpoint to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen referred to it as a “green and digital bridge across continents.”
In contrast to Xi’s absence, the presence of U.S. President Joe Biden at the Summit and a highly productive bilateral meeting between him and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi demonstrated U.S. support for India taking on a greater global leadership role and acting as a bridge to the global south. Their meeting resulted in a 29-paragraph joint statement highlighting the work of the Quad and bilateral progress on things like space, semiconductors, telecommunications, quantum technology, and co-production of jet engines.
The only disappointment from the Summit was the leaders’ failure to produce a strong statement in support of Ukrainian sovereignty. Unlike the last-minute victory at last year’s G20 Summit in Bali, where the leaders agreed to a relatively robust statement against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, this year’s declaration merely called on states to act in line with principles of the United Nation’s charter, without naming Russia. Rolling back language on Russia’s war in Ukraine was the price paid to produce a joint statement, something India pushed hard to achieve. Washington’s agreement to the backsliding is surprising and hopefully will not translate into an overall weakening in international support for Ukraine.
Jacob Stokes, Senior Fellow, Indo-Pacific Security Program:
Xi Jinping’s choice to skip the G20 meeting for the first time in his more than a decade as China’s leader has set off a round of speculation about why he would opt out. The basket of domestic challenges Xi faces—a stumbling economy, historic flooding in Hong Kong, and apparently some degree of political turmoil behind closed doors—were probably the decisive factors. A desire to dim India’s spotlight as host amid an ongoing dispute over their shared border; implicitly show solidarity with Vladimir Putin; and avoid, at least for now, meeting with Joe Biden likely solidified Xi’s decision to send Premier Li Qiang in his place. Plus, as “chairman of everything” who has consolidated control over nearly every aspect of Chinese governance and society, Xi has to delegate some responsibilities or risk the system becoming paralyzed in his absence.
Whatever the decision calculus, Xi passing on the G20 illustrates something fundamental about the current moment in China’s foreign policy. There was a time, including earlier in Xi’s reign, where the G20 meetings represented an attempt to carve out for China (and other emerging economies) a place at the high table of multilateral diplomacy commensurate with Beijing’s growing power. The very existence of the G20 signaled a willingness to accommodate China’s rise by inviting Beijing to work within the existing international order rather than seek to revise the system. In other words, it was an attempt to give Beijing what China claimed to want. That Xi no longer feels compelled to join the G20 meeting, if nothing else to seize opportunities, speaks volumes about his attitude toward multilateral fora where China is not first among equals or even more powerful, such as the BRICS. What Xi considers a power play, though, is likely to contribute to China’s relative isolation and exacerbate tensions with the leaders of major economies still meeting in New Delhi.
Nicholas Lokker, Research Associate, Transatlantic Security Program:
The absence of Vladimir Putin from a second consecutive G20 summit strikingly illustrates Russia’s isolation from the West following its 2022 invasion of Ukraine. At last year’s summit in Bali, G20 leaders signed a declaration stating that “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine” and its role in causing “immense human suffering”. Since then, Moscow’s persistent opposition to retaining this language has resulted in the failure to issue a joint communique at a single G20 ministerial meeting. With Xi Jinping joining Putin in staying away from this year’s summit, the G20 increasingly looks like a new front in the intensifying confrontation between two geopolitical blocs: the West and an authoritarian axis centered around Russia and China. At the same time, the absence of the Russian and Chinese leaders from New Delhi provides an opportunity to the United States and the European Union to reach out to the countries of the Global South, many of whom have been reluctant to come out strongly against Moscow’s war of aggression.
Hannah Kelley, Research Associate, Technology and National Security Program:
Recent years have thrown a spotlight on the critical connection between economic and national security, and underscored just how tied technological leadership is to both. Progress toward achieving the SDGs following this year's India-chaired G20 summit must therefore take the global innovation ecosystem into account. For the United States, this means strengthening trusted supply chains, boosting green tech and biotech research and development, and increasing minority access to STEM talent pipelines so that all can benefit from technological change. Residual economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia's continued war in Ukraine and China's increased use of gray zone provocations, and rapid developments in critical and emerging technologies make cooperation between the United States and its allies and partners not only desirable, but crucial to ensuring that democratic principles underpin this next chapter in history. I'm interested to see how these discussions continue to evolve in the coming months, and whether concrete action by likeminded G20 states toward securing that shared future can be achieved from this year's summit.
Sam Howell, Research Assistant, Technology and National Security Program:
The G20 Summit presents an excellent opportunity to bolster international cooperation on the development and use of emerging technologies. Last month, the G20 digital economy ministers agreed to a framework on digital public infrastructure. They also adopted new cyber security principles and a roadmap for measuring digital skills across countries. At the upcoming Summit, the G20 countries should leverage this momentum to pursue commitments on more divisive technology topics.
Quantum information science is a technology area that is particularly ripe for meaningful action by the G20 partners. As the world’s largest economies, the G20 partners have key roles to play in ensuring that the benefits of quantum technologies are equitably distributed and do not exacerbate existing global digital divides.
A handful of countries and major technology companies currently dominate the race to develop quantum technologies, which carry tremendous economic potential. This trend could result in stark divisions between countries, business, and individuals that can access quantum capabilities and services and those that cannot. To mitigate this outcome and lower barriers to entry, the G20 partners could expand quantum education initiatives, develop quantum cloud services, or advance ethical guidelines that facilitate responsible technology use.