G20, Brics and changing global power relations


The great German historian of the nineteenth century Leopold von Ranke described the past as “the history of power”. The American historian William Woodruff recently wrote that it is not morality or international law that determines the outcome of world affairs, but the changing distribution of organized power. Even a thousand years ago, the Roman historian Tacitus referred to power as “the most fragrant of all passions”.

The struggle for power and the ability of countries, peoples and power blocs to have a dominating influence on world affairs tends to go through cycles of more intense and less intense phases. What is clear is that the table is currently set for one of the most extensive periods of power struggle in world history. While the West is trying to cling to its waning power and influence, it is precisely giants such as China and India and emerging powers in Asia, the Middle East and Africa that are strongly entering the power game.

This coming weekend dozens of world leaders, including the heads of state of the USA, Japan, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the EU and numerous European countries such as Germany, France and Italy will gather at the impressive Pragati Maidan conference center in New Delhi , the capital of India, gather for the annual G20 summit.

Who will be there, and who will not be there, says more about the current global power struggle than what will be discussed at the summit itself.

Xi and Putin absent

The G20 summit follows less than three weeks after the Brics summit that took place in Johannesburg. While the Brics summit was attended and dominated by President Xi Jinping of China, Xi surprised a few days ago by announcing that he would not be attending the G20 summit in India.

Meeting with other world leaders for two days in the shadow of Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India and currently one of the most popular heads of state in the world, was probably one too many for Xi. Since he became president of China more than a decade ago, it will be the first time that Xi does not attend the summit.

While the run-up to the Brics summit was at one stage overshadowed by the question of President Vladimir Putin of Russia’s attendance and even possible arrests, Putin decided, as in Indonesia last year, not to attend the G20 summit in India not. This decision was actually completely to be expected and passed almost without fuss.

Putin is currently more isolated than most of his supporters would like to admit. Neither Xi nor even the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, was prepared to really stick his neck out in an attempt to get Putin to the Brics summit. With the G20 summit, it is clear that Modi has long made sure that Putin is not present.

As world leaders travel to India this week, Putin plans to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un next week in Russia’s far east, in Vladivostok. Putin’s overseas trips are currently largely limited to visits to countries in Central and East Asia that fall heavily under the influence of the Russians.

Even the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan, traveled to Russia a few days ago to negotiate with Putin on grain exports from Ukraine, instead of welcoming Putin to Turkey, which was seen as a symbol of friendship by Turkey’s Western allies. can be.

China and the Brics agenda

Turkey, currently one of the most influential countries in the world and in particular in the Middle East and Asia, like India, plays a fine game in the global power struggle. The Turks’ absence from the Brics summit was clearly a calculated decision by Erdogan about the pros and cons of association with a grouping of increasingly autocratic anti-Western countries.

This also explains why Modi was initially opposed to the expansion of Brics. Ultimately, Modi chose to step back into the background at the Brics summit. Modi was smart enough to know that the Brics summit would ultimately yield few results beneficial to India. India’s participation in Brics is merely to remind the West that India cannot be bought or controlled.

However, for President Xi of China, Brics has a completely different advantage. Where a leader like Modi views India’s global power role as strongly economic, and most Western leaders still approach global power from a liberal-democratic point of view of open and free societies with a high premium on human rights, Xi is strongly ideologically driven.

The inclusion of countries such as Iran, the United Arab Emirates and possibly even Saudi Arabia within Brics is for Xi a victory of closed, authoritarian development states in the fight against open and free democracies.

Modi’s big event

While Putin and Xi will not be in New Delhi this weekend, more than forty leaders of the world’s largest economies, but also most influential regional powers, will be present.

Apart from the members of the G20, Modi also invited the heads of state of numerous non-members from Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe to the summit. For India and Modi, the summit is a golden opportunity to confirm this country’s growing stature as one of the most important and influential global powers.

Modi is ready with a message to each of these leaders. For India and Modi, the summit represents a unique look at global affairs, and especially global economic challenges. India is the world’s largest democracy, but also an extremely imperfect, even messy democracy where Hindu nationalism with a complex system of hierarchy and an even more complex economy stands with one leg in the past and another in the future.

India has recently overtaken China as the most populous country in the world. Among the G20 countries, India is currently showing the strongest economic growth with impressive progress being made in the development of infrastructure, technology and basic services. The fact that shortly before the G20 summit the Indian space program succeeded in carrying out a successful landing on the south pole of the Moon and that India is therefore the first country in the world to do so, must be a bonus for Modi.

India’s game of non-alignment

While Chinese migrants are increasingly viewed with skepticism and even loathing in the US and Europe, the cream of Indian immigrants with sophisticated skills is sought after. Modi fully realizes that the solution to his country’s enormous socio-societal challenges lies in sustained economic growth above 5%.

To achieve this, a fine balance of good relations with the advanced democracies and giant markets of the democratic West, the closed, autocratic, resource-rich Middle East and some parts of Africa, and its diverse, fast-growing neighbors is essential.

Since Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine in February last year, Modi has played the game of true non-alignment with finesse. While India’s imports from Russia have nearly doubled, with crude oil and fertilizers leading the way in helping to power the Indian economy, India has also deepened its strategic defense cooperation with the West, and in particular the US, the UK and Australia. Markets in Japan and China are equally important, as are markets in the Middle East and Africa.

Tension between India and China

Last week’s unceremonious annual launch by a Chinese state department of what Xi and the Chinese Communist Party labeled as the correct map of China confirmed the extent of tensions between China and India. On this map, a substantial part of northeastern India, including the state of Arunachal Pradesh and the disputed Aksai Chin plateau, is included as part of China.

When the Indian government reacted rather unhappily, the Chinese’s response was that India should stop overreacting. So Xi’s decision not to attend the G20 summit makes a lot of sense.

The Chinese and Indian experience of history is dramatically different. Chinese culture is overwhelmingly dominated by the importance of Chinese history. There is probably no other country in the world where history plays such a big role in thinking about the future.

China has arguably the longest continuous tradition of formal historiography in the world, with this historiography often focusing heavily on the decisions, speeches and thinking of Chinese rulers. President Xi’s overwhelming obsession with the history of a China larger than the current geographical border lines of his country, and a historical China where the ruler’s words become the only written guideline for the future, therefore makes more sense than Western diplomats often understand.

In contrast, India, although in many respects as strong a historical community as the Chinese, is poor in historical historiography and there is a dramatically lower need among the Indian population to link the Indian future to a clear Indian history.

Modi’s pragmatism, especially economic pragmatism, therefore stands in stark contrast to Xi’s relentless ambition to exercise control over the thoughts and actions of every Chinese citizen, even those living abroad. It is precisely for this reason that more and more questions arise about China’s ability to eventually dethrone the US as the most powerful economic, political and military global player.

It is also a valid question whether India can fulfill this role instead. While the US and Europe, along with other Western players such as Canada and Australia, continue to dominate the global power struggle, the unprecedented poverty of political leadership, perhaps even the most acute leadership poverty ever, is the single driving force for ideas in which the West will finally lose its position of power. will cede to countries in Asia.

Modi wants to make sure that China does not replace the US as the most powerful global player. This will pose significant security threats, but also economic threats to India. So expect this year’s G20 summit in New Delhi to be an extension of the current global power struggle.

For now, Modi is excellently positioned to use the summit to his advantage, but in a world rich with increasingly unpredictable role players, one must accept that the G20 summit is only one move in a much larger, more difficult and strategically masterful power game by countries and leaders will be looking for power and influence.

In closing

Globalization has accelerated the intertwining of multifaceted realities and truths, the interdependence of nations and regions, and a growing struggle for sophisticated technology, knowledge, resources and markets at an unprecedented pace in world history.

There is no longer a monopoly on what is the truth, the most desirable and the best answers to global challenges such as conflict, poverty and man’s destructive effects on the environment. Precisely because of this, a more multilateral, global power order, without a single dominating global power, is not only an increasingly likely future scenario, but also a more workable solution to the perpetual global power struggle that has caused so much war and destruction over the centuries and millennia.

Meanwhile, a future over the short to medium term, characterized by uncertainty, renewed power struggle, weak leadership and the abuse of countries with resources but without substantial influence (just think of our own country here), is indeed our front country.