Ghassan Charbel
Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Pictures from the G20 Summit

The features of the future of the world are not drawn in the corridors of the United Nations headquarters in New York. They are drawn on other tables... the table of the Group of Seven industrialized countries... the BRICS, and before that at the G20 summit.

The leaders of the most powerful countries, which influence both the present and the future, gather around the G20 summit table. They are at the top of the biggest arsenals and the strongest economies. The open war in Ukraine has brought attention back to arsenals, but the future of the world cannot be made with missiles and drones.

The real future is drawn by economic progress, growth, technological development and innovation. It is defined by fighting poverty and unemployment, promoting trade and facilitating the supply of goods, as well as saving the populations from destitution, marginalization, despair and failed management of available resources.

The New Delhi summit showed that the world is going through a transitional phase burdened by geopolitical challenges and economic rivalries, in an open battle of roles. The summit conveyed a collection of photos related to the Russian and Chinese absences and the remarkable presence of 3 players: the American, the Indian, and the Saudi.

The first picture sheds light on the absence of an important international player, named Vladimir Putin. His country is mired in a long war that destroyed the bridges that connected it to the West. A war that he neither seems able to resolve, nor ready to retreat from.

Putin was absent from a summit held in a country that was close to his, and which always relied on Russian weapons before it recently began to diversify its options.

The image of Russia coming from New Delhi reflected the role that is expected to retreat due to attrition in the war and the estrangement with the West. It is true that the summit statement was courteous to Russia on the issue of Ukraine, but that does not negate other facts, including that the Russian presence in major international meetings bears traces of Ukrainian failure.

The other picture is that of President Xi Jinping’s absence. In fact, the latter has attended the group’s gatherings since he assumed power in 2012. A few months ago, there was much talk that the New Delhi summit provided an opportunity for a meeting between Xi and President Joe Biden - a much-needed encounter in the post Ukraine war.

Was Xi absent because the conditions for a meeting of this kind are not ripe, or because the summit is being held on Indian soil, and between India and China lies a memory of clashes and border disputes?

Some people believe that Xi’s absence was due to his feeling that the West has taken a serious decision to transfer the frantic international competition to the Asian stadium itself, and intends to pump technology and investments into the veins of India, so that the “Indian dream” will be a fierce competitor to the “Chinese vision”.

Moreover, close countries, such as Japan and South Korea, are actively participating in the “Indian coup” against Chinese ambitions. Recently, Beijing has accused Washington of launching a “new Cold War”, in which it places China in the same box that it previously used to frame the Soviet Union.

The American picture coming from New Delhi is also expressive. It is clear that the world is heading towards multi-polarity, but the United States, which has been the sole leader of the world for three decades, still holds many power cards.

Asian consensuses that were woven in the past months seemed directed towards containing the Chinese rise. Despite the differences, these understandings looked similar to the process of encircling Russia by moving NATO pawns near its borders.

Joe Biden’s policy clearly aims to deprive China of the title of “world factory”, by betting on India and other Asian countries. It is not a coincidence he chose Vietnam as his next stop after India.

The picture coming from India does not need much explanation. The summit was the biggest moment in the career of Narendra Modi, who has led the country since 2014 and is eyeing a third term.

Modi has carefully managed India’s stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. He refrained from issuing condemnation statements, but consolidated the policy of opening windows with the West, and made a remarkable effort in the past period to avoid the BRICS group turning into a hostile platform.

Countries afraid of the rise of China are calling on India to step up to assume the role of an Asian genie, taking advantage of its population size and technological capabilities. Modi smartly handles offers and inducements.

The Arab picture emerging from the G20 summit is a new and bright one. The Arab challenge is no longer to adapt to a world created by others. It has gained the right to participate in shaping the future of the world, through the role of Saudi Arabia, which is the only Arab country in the G20.

Saudi Arabia’s success in recent years in building a model of progress, openness and responsibility within the framework of Vision 2030 has qualified it to forge strategic partnerships with major players, including America, China and India. This reality gave Saudi participation in the G20 an initiative-setter status.

It is no exaggeration to say that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s announcement in New Delhi, in the presence of a number of participating leaders, including Biden and Modi, constituted an important event.

He unveiled a transcontinental “green corridors” project, and signed a memorandum of understanding regarding an economic corridor linking India, the Middle East, and Europe to enhance economic interconnection, develop and rehabilitate infrastructure, and increase trade exchange between the parties.

The memorandum of understanding that Saudi Arabia signed with the United States showed that the world would witness an ambitious program to connect ports, expand railway networks, develop the digital economy, transfer data, and enhance trade exchange. Thus, the world will be in front of two major programs: the “Economic Corridor” with its economic and political significance, and the well-known Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative.

The G20 summit was a meaningful event. It categorically affirmed that the world is passing through a transitional period, due to economic competition and geopolitical challenges. It also emphasized that role-making requires a dynamic economy, sound policies, and great ambitions.