By Kevin Liptak, CNN
Leaders gathered here for the annual Group of 20 summit managed to agree on a joint statement laying out shared views on climate change and economic development but showed the fractures within the group by stopping short of explicitly condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Diplomats had been working furiously to draft a final joint statement in the lead-up to the summit but hit snags on language to describe the Ukraine war. The eventual compromise statement amounted to a coup for the summit’s host, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but still reflected a position far softer those the United States and its Western allies have adopted individually.
US President Joe Biden was hoping to convince the world’s largest economies to rally behind Ukraine during his two-night stay in India for the summit. He also pressed his case for American investment in the developing world.
On Saturday, as the summit was still underway, the leaders agreed to the joint declaration acknowledging the situation in Ukraine while not papering over the group’s major divides.
“All states must refrain from the threat or use of force to seek territorial acquisition,” the declaration read, without explicitly singling out Russia for its invasion. The document also stated opposition to the use of nuclear weapons and highlighted the economic effects of the war.
In a reflection of the deep fractures among the G20 nations, the statement acknowledged “there were different views and assessments of the situation.”
The declaration earned the praise of the United States. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan called the statement a “significant milestone for India’s chairmanship and a vote of confidence that the G20 can come together to address a pressing range of issues.”
“The G20 statement includes a set of consequential paragraphs on the war in Ukraine. And from our perspective, it does a very good job of standing up for the principle that states cannot use force to seek territorial acquisition,” Sullivan said.
Still, the language differed from last year’s G20 declaration, which stated “most members strongly condemned the war in Ukraine.”
Russia, as a member of the G20, would have to agree on any consensus statement on Ukraine. Russia and China had resisted stronger language in a final statement, making any kind of agreement difficult. No G20 summit has concluded without a joint declaration of some type.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleg Nikolenko criticized the declaration.
“Ukraine is grateful to its partners who tried to include strong wording in the text,” he wrote on Facebook. “At the same time, the G20 has nothing to be proud of in the part about Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Obviously, the participation of the Ukrainian side would have allowed the participants to better understand the situation. The principle of ‘nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine’ remains as key as ever.”
The absence at the summit of two of Biden’s chief global rivals — Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin — provided opportunities for Biden to make a more affirmative case at the summit, White House officials said as the gathering was getting underway in New Delhi.
Biden said Saturday he would have welcomed the presence of his Chinese counterpart at the summit, but that positive outcomes were still possible.
“It would be nice to have him here but, no, the summit is going well,” Biden said when questioned about the impact of Xi’s absence.
Biden was hoping to use the gathering to portray the United States as a credible counterweight to China’s economic outreach.
He announced new plans with partner nations in Europe, the Middle East and Asia to construct a major new transit corridor connecting the regions, a challenge to Beijing’s own efforts at expanding global trade.
And he unveiled new reforms and investments in the World Bank, which the White House says could unlock hundreds of billions of dollars in grants and loans for the developing world – providing an alternative to China’s economic ambitions in those regions.
Biden was welcomed by the summit’s host, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with a smile and a warm handshake.
“India calls upon the world to come together to transform the global trust deficit into one of trust and reliance. This is the time for all of us to move together,” Modi said as the gathering got underway.
“Be it the divide between North and South, the distance between the East and West, management of food and fuel, terrorism, cyber security, health, energy or water security, we must find a solid solution to this for future generations,” he added.
It was a message of unity at a markedly fractured moment for the grouping.
While Biden has enjoyed ample success at other summits convincing fellow leaders to step up their military support for Ukraine and tighten their punishment of Russia, many nations, particularly in the Global South, haven’t been as convinced.
They view the billions of dollars in Western assistance pouring into Ukraine skeptically, and have sought a more balanced relationship with Moscow.
Biden’s aides say the president welcomes the opportunity to continue making the case for Ukraine, including to audiences that aren’t necessarily on the same page.
“Part of what makes the G20 an appealing format for the United States is it gives us a chance to interact with and work with and take constructive steps with a wider range of countries, including some, frankly, that we don’t see eye to eye with on every issue,” US deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told reporters on Saturday.
An alternative to China’s Belt and Road?
Biden hopes to use new announcements on new infrastructure and investments as demonstration of US commitment to the developing world, and a better option for partnership than China.
He announced the launch of a new economic corridor that will connect India, the Middle East and Europe on Saturday. The plans could potentially transform global trade and directly challenge China’s own sprawling overseas development initiative, known as the Belt and Road, which has poured billions of dollars into infrastructure projects each year.
Biden along with the leaders of India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the European Union signed a memorandum of understanding laying out the new project on Saturday.
While the project will include building integrated infrastructure, the president said it was “far from just laying tracks,” speaking with a group of global leaders that included the United Kingdom, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.
“It’s about creating jobs, increasing trade, strengthening supply chains, boosting connectivity, laying foundations that will strengthen commerce and food security for people across multiple countries,” Biden said. “This is a game changing regional investment and … huge steps forward.”
“When we invest in low middle income countries, all countries benefit,” Biden added. “When we invest in emerging economies, all economies benefit, and when we invest in the future of people anywhere, people everywhere benefit.”
The plans could pose a challenge to China’s Belt and Road initiative, which the US says uses coercive lending practices for infrastructure projects in developing countries, an accusation Beijing has repeatedly denied. Biden’s proposals on World Bank reform similarly aim to offer a better deal to emerging economies.
During his remarks at the event, Biden singled out particular leaders to thank – including bin Salman. The leaders shook hands afterward, a decidedly different approach than the fist bump Biden offered the prince during a visit to Saudi Arabia last summer.
Speaking to reporters in India ahead of the announcement, Sullivan said the project was about “strategically layering transformative investments across multiple sectors across multiple countries, basically to leverage the broader effects of boosting economic development, securing supply chains and bolstering regional connectivity.”
He called it a “big deal, and important moment, and a milestone,” that would “translate to a concrete outcome.”
Without Xi attending, Biden had the implicit opportunity to demonstrate sustained American commitment while questioning China’s. American officials said Saturday it wasn’t clear to them why Xi decided to skip the G20 for the first time.
“I’m not sure we have a clear answer to that question, but really it’s incumbent upon the Chinese government to explain why a leader would or would not participate,” Finer said.