As competition between major powers creates global economic uncertainty with a disproportionate impact on the Global South, Secretary of State S Jaishankar is directing diplomatic attention to “global urgent needs” such as food, energy, fertilizer, health, debt and trade concerns, people familiar with development said.
At major engagements on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, people said the minister was particularly concerned with issues affecting a majority of the world’s population.
As India emerges as a champion of the Global South and its position on the aftermath of the war in Ukraine gains momentum, Jaishankar is working to strengthen strategic partnerships.
The first India-France-United Arab Emirates (UAE) ministerial meeting took place on Monday. Jaishankar set the stage for India’s G20 presidency and met the foreign minister of Indonesia, who holds the presidency this year. And he has been working to deepen ties with a number of countries in Africa and Latin America – regions whose strategic importance to India’s calculus is growing, the people added.
India believes that the world’s largest multilateral diplomatic theatre, the UNGA, needs to focus on issues that affect the majority of the world’s population but have no place in the international system. This was reflected in Jaishankar’s meeting with General Assembly (PGA) President Csaba Korosi on Monday and is expected to figure in his talks with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and his address to the UN General Assembly on Saturday.
“India believes that the global agenda should be much more focused on the truly urgent needs of the international community. These include concerns about food security, energy security, fertilizers, public health, debt and trade disruption. There is a growing sense in the world that these issues are not getting their fair share of attention,” said people aware of the matter.
India sees PGA Korosi, a former Hungarian diplomat who served as director of environmental sustainability in the Hungarian president’s office, as having a “strong commitment to social development” and hopes he will steer UN processes in that direction.
After meeting Korosi, Jaishankar tweeted: “Congratulations on his priorities for #UNGA77. Assured him of India’s fullest support. Discussed the criticality of the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) agenda for global progress. Shared Indian experiences in this regard. Reaffirmed India’s deep commitment to multilateralism.”
The need to focus on development-related issues was also seen in Jaishankar’s talks with his counterparts from other countries including Egypt, Indonesia and Cuba on Monday and is expected to be a key theme in talks with leaders of Ghana, the Comoros and Nicaragua, which are scheduled for later Tuesday.
The minister’s cooperation with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla centered on India’s large credit line to Cuba to purchase rice, but also future cooperation on these pressing needs. “Cuba is expected to chair the G77, which is pretty much the global South grouping that pervades many UN processes. Therefore, they will be our partners on many development issues,” said people aware of the matter.
At the same time, India is also focusing on strengthening relationships with strategic and economic partners, including through new innovative formats.
On Monday, Jaishankar attended the first India-France-UAE ministerial meeting. He tweeted: “A productive first India-UAE-France trilateral ministerial meeting. Active exchange of ideas between strategic partners and UNSC members.”
In justifying the new grouping, the people quoted above suggested that this was another example of the more contemporary form of international diplomacy. “We are three different countries, but we are strategic partners. We talked about what the similarities are. We know there’s enough and we need to figure out how to specify and flesh out those commonalities so that’s the path going forward… We’re very comfortable with each other.”
The new trilateral mechanism is another addition to the emerging informal institutional architecture in the region, alongside others such as Quad (India, Japan, United States and Australia) and I2U2 (India, Israel, United States and United Arab Emirates). On Thursday, India-France-Australia will also hold their ministerial trilateral, bringing to life a mechanism that had become inactive after France-Australia ties slacked under the AUKUS security pact.
That France is a common link in both Trilaterals stems from the fact that Paris has become New Delhi’s closest friend in the West across domains; Minister Jaishankar will also attend a dinner hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday.
India’s involvement in these groupings stems from its understanding that while previous groupings were regional in nature and based on geographic proximity, newer groupings will span regions based on common interests.
Noting the importance of the Trilaterals, Darshana Baruah, the director of the Indian Ocean Initiative at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC, said, “This is a mechanism that will help all three countries leverage each other’s strengths use and provide an effective way for collaboration. France has a traditional military partnership with the United Arab Emirates; India has very strong bilateral ties with both France and the United Arab Emirates, in the case of the latter on strategy, energy and diaspora. The UAE’s strategic location makes it crucial. The Trilaterals can open doors for excellent cooperation across the maritime sphere.”
In the spirit of deepening ties with old and new partners, Jaishankar also met Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who expressed Egypt’s willingness to host PM Narendra Modi at COP-27. The two ministers met on the same day that Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh was in Egypt, symbolizing a growing political and security understanding. Both sides also agree on the need to bring the world’s attention back to urgent needs, people familiar with the matter said.
After the meeting, Jaishankar tweeted, “Our bilateral defense, trade and investment ties are growing rapidly. Cooperation in new initiatives such as green hydrogen and ammonia and in the education sector will further strengthen them. Discuss our close collaboration at the UN and NAM. Acknowledges the value that Egypt’s participation in next year’s G20 will bring.”
India’s focus on the G20 was most evident during Jaishankar’s meeting with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi at the Indian Permanent Mission in New York.
After the meeting, Jaishankar tweeted: “So nice to meet my friend Retno in New York. Discussed our commitment to make the Indonesian G20 Presidency a success. Also exchange views on Myanmar.”
The one-on-one meeting – at the request of the Indonesian side – focused on the current status of the G20 and the challenges.
The people quoted above said that it is important for India that the Indonesian Presidency be successful as India would take the baton from them. “The meeting was dedicated to where the G20 is going and how to align the world on the world’s most pressing issues.”
India acknowledges that this has been a tough year as Indonesia has had to navigate great power competition – even bringing the US and EU countries and Russia into the same physical space is a challenge. But Delhi believes it is up to Indonesia to judge how it handles it, and the current G20 leader has navigated a difficult year with skill and deserves credit. “Our question is what the results will be. We have to look at the baton that will be passed to us,” said people overhearing the discussions.