NEW DELHI, India — The Group of 20 top world economies welcomed the African Union as a member at their annual summit Saturday, but their wording on the contentious issue of Russia’s war in Ukraine was limited to a call to avoid forcefully seizing territory or using nuclear weapons.
There had been doubt that an agreement could be adopted because of disagreements among members, most centrally on differences about the war.
The G20 final statement, released a day before the summit formally closes, was less sharply worded over the war than one issued during last year’s meeting in Bali and didn’t mention Russia’s invasion directly.
It said members reiterated their national positions and resolutions adopted at the United Nations, and called on all states must act in line with principles laid out in the U.N. Charter.
“In line with the U.N. Charter, all states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any state. The use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is inadmissible,” it said.
There was widespread support for adding the AU to the G20, making it the second regional bloc to become a permanent member after the European Union and adding momentum to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s drive to give a greater voice to the Global South.
The continent was thrust into the spotlight as well by the earthquake in Morocco, which happened while most of the delegates gathered in New Delhi were asleep. Modi offered condolences and support in his opening remarks.
“The entire world community is with Morocco in this difficult time and we are ready to provide them all possible assistance,” he said.
He told leaders they must find “concrete solutions” to the widespread challenges that he said stemmed from the “ups and downs in the global economy, the north and the south divide, the chasm between the east and the west,” and other issues like terrorism, cybersecurity, health and water security.
Modi addressed the delegates from behind a nameplate that listed his country not as India but as “Bharat,” an ancient Sanskrit name championed by his Hindu nationalist supporters.
With much of the world’s focus on Russia’s war in Ukraine, India wanted to direct more attention to addressing the needs of the developing world at the summit — though it’s impossible to decouple many issues, such as food and energy security, from the European conflict.
Despite months of objections from Russia and China over language referring to the war in Ukraine, the leaders were able to agree unanimously, according to Indian officials, to several paragraphs referring to the conflict.
The language was weaker than that of last year’s G20 summit in Bali, however, which quoted a U.N. resolution deploring “in the strongest terms the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine and demands its complete and unconditional withdrawal from the territory of Ukraine.”
The Bali declaration said further that: ”most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine and stressed it is causing immense human suffering and exacerbating existing fragilities in the global economy.”
Where the New Delhi statement “recalled” the statement in Bali and the U.N. resolution, it didn’t quote the strong language from them.
More than a fifth of G20 heads weren’t in New Delhi as the summit opened. The leaders of Russia and China opted not to come, ensuring no tough face-to-face conversations with their American and European counterparts. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez canceled his attendance after testing positive for COVID-19, and Mexico’s president decided to miss it, too. French President Emmanuel Macron arrived late, missing morning meetings after staying in Paris to watch the opening of the Rugby World Cup.
A series of preparatory meetings leading up to the summit failed to produce agreements, largely due to differences over Ukraine. Ending the weekend without such a statement would have tarnished the image Modi has tried to cultivate of India as a global problem solver.
Participants arriving in the Indian capital were greeted by streets cleared of traffic, and graced with fresh flowers and seemingly endless posters featuring slogans and Modi’s face. Security was intensely tight, with most journalists and the public kept far from the summit venue.
The G20 agenda featured issues critical to developing nations, including alternative fuels like hydrogen, resource efficiency, food security and developing a common framework for digital public infrastructure.
With so many other issues on the table, Human Rights Watch urged the G20 leaders not to let international disunity distract them at the summit.
Meenakshi Ganguly, deputy director of the organization’s Asia division, added that members should not “shy away from openly discussing challenges like gender discrimination, racism and other entrenched barriers to equality, including with host India, where civil and political rights have sharply deteriorated under the Modi administration.”
Hundreds of Tibetan exiles held a protest far from the summit venue to condemn Chinese participation in the event and urge leaders to discuss Sino-Tibetan relations.
On Friday evening, before the meeting got formally underway, Modi met with U.S. President Joe Biden. White House aide Kurt Campbell told reporters afterward that there was an “undeniable warmth and confidence between the two leaders.”
Leaders of the U.S., India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were working to finalize a joint infrastructure deal involving ship and rail transit between India and the Middle East to Turkey and beyond, in hopes it could be announced in New Delhi during the summit.
Campbell called the emerging deal a potentially “earth-shattering” project and said that “the strongest supporter of this initiative is India.” In the past, Campbell said, India’s leaders have had “almost a knee jerk reaction” to resist such massive multilateral projects.
U.S. administration officials sought to play down that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wasn’t invited to address the G20.
The Ukrainian leader has made regular appearances, virtual and in-person, at such international forums since the start of the war more than 18 months ago to rally allies to stay committed to supporting Ukraine.