G20 geopolitics: who wins and who loses

(To Gino Lanzara)

The G20, despite its undeniable, but perhaps not immediately understood, relevance, slipped through our fingers like Ganges water, overtaken by events which, despite their tragedy, did not fail to send out relevant political messages1, both from events which, certifying the decadence of stale footballing glories, have distracted the attention of most.

In fact, it was the last summit of 20, given that the African Union is now a permanent member of the group, which is a significant achievement as it brings the AU itself to the same political stature as the EU.

Let's rewind the tape and see what is in the final declaration, a legally non-binding document which nevertheless expresses and shares a common political position regarding the topics covered such as the economy, the debt exposures of developing countries, the environment, but also the war in Ukraine, the latter object of a generic stigmatization which, recommending abstention from threatening or using force for pursue the acquisition of territory against the territorial integrity and sovereignty or political independence of any State, forgets to refer to who started the war.

As already happened at Bali 2022, the threat made by Sergei Lavrov not to sign the declaration in case of explicit references to the role played by Moscow has, after obvious friction, had its effect, in a context in which India2, or Bharat3 if you prefer, he took away every opportunity in Kiev, to dedicate himself to the more strictly economic aspects, given that, moreover, in the previous ministerial meetings there was no possibility of reaching shared documents, an execrable eventuality for the final chapter historically never been devoid, at least officially, of the character of collegiality; it was no coincidence that the preparatory draft prepared by sherpa of the individual countries, contained an untouched page in the section dedicated to the war in Ukraine.

The friction between the USA and China is evident, as is the lack of global recognition, an element which has implied that both sides were held equally responsible, in a conflict, thus effectively devoid of clearly identifiable aggressors and those attacked. One can therefore imagine that the G20, driven by the USA, China and Russia, once again debated in search of geopolitical balances which now see the West in difficulty.

If on the one hand Ukraine condemned the final declaration, on the other this falls within the geopolitical and geoeconomic physiology of New Delhi which intended to dictate precise economic priorities by formally applying rules aimed at a focus on the economy and international cooperation. Moreover, in the context of the Ukrainian war, India cashes in by playing remittance; Since the invasion, New Delhi's refineries have stocked up on discounted Russian oil, which constituted 40% of imports; India therefore buys ural to resell it in the form of refined products in the West, a triangulation that finances Russia but which strengthens global supply by containing Western inflation, and prevents Russia from selling refined products with high added value.

It was the G20 of the combination of interconnected polycrises, inflation, interest rates, energy insecurity, the difficulties of Beijing's economy; it was the G20 of the great absentees: the first because he is at risk of arrest, the second both because he is against providing support to India's aggressive grandeur, and because, probably, forced by the latest internal debacles, to guard his own power. Time will tell if it was an affront to Modi, aspiring champion of the Global South4 in competition with China, or of an overriding political necessity, leaving Premier Li Qiang with the task of taking on the face of internal economic failures and to support the membership of the African Union, or an attempt to escape a broader and more competitive game, very different from the tamed one of the Brics, all economically undersized.

Despite the oleographic oriental aplomb, the government's China Institute of Contemporary International Relations5 accused Modi of sabotaging the summit to pursue national interests to the detriment of Chinese ones, and attempted in vain to elide, in the final statement, the reference to the G20 2026 hosted by the USA.  

The G20 has also certified thanks to several entente cordial the desire to encourage the emerging contacts between India and the USA, contacts which later materialized with the Master Ship Repair Agreement stipulated by the US Navy and the Indian Mazgaon Dock Shipbuilders, Ltd, which concretized the commitment both to establish New Delhi as a center for the maintenance and repair of American vehicles on advanced missions6, and to invest with more verve in Indian aeronautical maintenance structures. The greater operational capacity granted by Modi will allow the US Navy to acquire greater efficiency in the Indo Pacific, also from a QUAD perspective.

The G20, created in 1999 to facilitate coordination between world economies not participating in the G7, has in fact become complementary, including among its members also those of the antagonists BRICS where New Delhi stands out, after the G20 in an even more equidistant position between the West and China perhaps thanks to the illustrious absences7, strengthened by an economic growth rate that contrasts with the declining indices of Chinese finance, the expression of a country that still contains India but which fears its expansion, and is undeniably embarrassed by the difficult friendship without limits with Moscow, subject to Beijing's preponderance.

But the BRICS can, an unlikely re-edition of the then Non-aligned countries, worry the G20? Despite pious intentions dedollarizing8, it is worth remembering some data: the admission criteria to the club they are unclear; Jim O'Neill himself, former chief economist of Goldman Sachs, underlined how the new members should be something more than just economically interesting and demographically idle; geopolitics undermines the weak cohesion of the BRICS, the corner salon of the sons of the Dragon excluded from the G7, in competition with each other and afflicted by internal problems; despite the renminbi's rise, gold remains the main asset, and Beijing itself aims to acquire further quantities to reduce dollar reserves.

In not neglecting the Western perception of China as an element of geopolitical risk, a Sino-centrism stands out which is associated with the foreign policy instrument of the BRI, meanwhile for the elusive attempt by Beijing, a borrower and competitor of the World Bank, to exempt its infrastructure loans from the G20 moratorium agreement on debt recovery until the end of the year9, and then for the exit from the MoU by both Italy and Portugal, the European nation with the most extensive and longest history of agreements with China, a signal that Cold War determined by Russian aggression leads to a relationship between strategic choices and economic repercussions that is becoming increasingly closer and which cannot ignore the possibility of acts of economic retaliation. Judging by the trade exchanges, the exit from the BIS finds its reason for existing in an imbalance which, easily conceivable in theory even at first, has instead been set aside, following US coverage, just as the possibility of negotiate less binding agreements like those already stipulated between the Dragon10, France and Germany, contractually more skilled and unscrupulous.

Given that national interest remains the guiding star of all internal politics, it is difficult to understand those who are tearing their clothes over the Italian signing of the IMEC agreement11 PGII12, the largest multimodal economic and railway corridor between India and Europe transiting the Gulf, an alternative project to the BRI which, reaffirming the principle that the absent are always wrong, overwhelms Beijing's role in Central Asia; USA, India, UAE, Saudi Arabia then (maybe) Israel, therefore intend to connect the Indo Pacific, MO and Europe, with Jerusalem as an ideal partner as it is already a member of the I2U2 system13, with Egypt to be compensated for the loss of part of the Suez revenues but as a new ski jump towards Africa, and finally bypassing (perhaps) Iran. In fact, for the monarchies of the Gulf it is a metamorphosis that transforms them from energetic chrysalises to butterflies (hopefully not ephemeral in life) that are geopolitically relevant and with economies to be differentiated, in a regional context to be stabilized by relaunching the Abraham Accords.


Even in the G20, as usual, realpolitik triumphs; the members of the forum, having the increasingly pervasive Sino-American rivalry as a backdrop, attempt to pursue their interests thanks to segments linked to emerging markets (see the BRICS), with the aim of creating a barrier to the G7. This is a geopolitical fragmentation that tends to further weaken the UN and multilateral organizations.

In addition to India's statement, the final product it does not deviate from initial expectations, and offers ideas determined both by the various absences of two hegemons, and by the ongoing international and economic dynamics that characterize the Chinese financial moment, the Russian production war moment, the Western inflationary one. However, based on the success achieved by Modi, it can be said that the heavenly wisdom of Xi, has failed this time, given that this G20 could already be remembered as the year in which multipolarity actually asserted itself, and as the moment in which the need for Return of the King, or rather of planetary leadership.

Brazil and South Africa, presidents between 2024 and 2025, are aiming for the reform of the global system, preceded by Beijing's imperial sinocentrism; the problem, inherent in the BRICS, is that the rhetoric, as such, remains empty.

Presuming that the future G20 will focus on limited sets of issues is difficult, given that international trade and Artificial Intelligence, for example, simultaneously include aspects of national competitive interest and global significance, at a time when the trading system seems to be now fallen to pieces.

The USA seeks support, the BRICS expand the number of members but not the economic potential, India expands the G20 to the AU, an initiative which, upon closer inspection, limits the operation of a forum which can only act on the basis of consent. In short, the G20, now G21, is important and prestigious, but it would be wrong to expect it to become a panacea. For the moment, India has deservedly managed to showcase a global model of development perhaps capable of reducing the Sino-American bipolar fragmentation.

The situation regarding the IMF is less easy, where the global south believes that its economic weight is not correctly calculated in the distribution of quotas, and the World Trade Organization where, on the contrary, the G7 countries intend to put an end to the privileges improvidently granted to emerging markets and to make them assume greater responsibilities resulting from the greater economic weight achieved: this is where the G20 should intervene by granting more appropriate representation to the IMF and more suitable responsibilities to the WTO, thus preventing geoeconomic fractures. But it is a particularly difficult task in a context in which, despite representing 85% of global GDP, the G20 remains hostage to minilateral relations. What is certain is that the resources allocated to reducing the debt of developing countries are small, and that it seems like we are reading between the lines an objective and intolerable economic loss in the elimination of fossil fuels.

The G20 was also useful in better understanding the scope and meaning of populist jokes; according to the Brazilian Lula, geopolitics should not guide the G20 discussions; no one is interested in a divided G20; challenges can only be addressed jointly. Pure electoral propaganda, to which was added the promise, shortly afterwards reconsidered, not to proceed with any arrests of Russian leaders during the G20 Rio de Janeiro. This, said together with South Africa, places any principle of international law in the showcase of the pyrotechnic reading and writing faculty of the University of Goosetown; Too bad he was a head of state. In light of this, by extending the geopolitical concept, it remains extremely interesting, from a conceptual point of view, to understand what the so-called new global order should be in detail and, above all, how it should impose itself.

Our era is multipolar, multilateral, multivectorial, multialigned, and any possibility must be calculated by matrices imagining gradually overlapping plans and which make hypotheses on international relations immersed in an all too fluid environment14, characterized by double-breasted autocracies.

1 see Morocco and the selection of countries accepted as providers of assistance

2 First country in history to land a spacecraft on the south pole of the moon.

3 Bharat is not only the oldest Sanskrit term for India, but it is also one of the two official names listed in the Constitution.

4 The meeting between Erdogan and al Sisi should be analyzed from this perspective, the first bilateral meeting after 10 years of crisis in diplomatic relations.

5 It reports to the Ministry of State Security, the main spy agency

6 See joint statement following the meeting between Biden and Modi

7 Xi's absence was accompanied by the provocative publication of the national map of China, which placed the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh and the Aksai Chin plateau, over which there is an ongoing dispute, within Beijing's borders territorial Sino-Indian.

8 An interest in opting for the renminbi is also emerging outside BRICS. Settlement of the first Chinese currency-settled LNG trade between Beijing's state oil company and France's Total Energies through the Shanghai Petroleum and Natural Gas Exchange in March 2023 may pave the way for a global renminbi-based LNG market in Shanghai.

9 While the World Bank provides funds to the poorest borrowers, China uses low-cost financing from the same Bank to finance its own high-interest loans to other World Bank borrowers. Pakistan, South Africa and Ethiopia owe China far more than they owe the World Bank.

10 2004 Global Strategic Partnership; Italy was the only G7 country to have joined the BRI, while France has one global strategic partnership with Beijing in 2004; Germany has had one since 2014 comprehensive strategic partnership; the UK has one global comprehensive strategic partnership since 2015, featuring Chinese storytelling win-win.

11 Italy and India already share the Blue-Raman high-speed data cable and the MSC cargo sea route. Economic relevance aside, this extends the Mattei plan Italian to the Indian coasts, so Rome becomes a European crossroads, and Jerusalem a Middle Eastern crossroads from India to Europe.

12 Imec: Economic Corridor India Middle East Europe – EU, France, Germany, Italy, Mauritius, UAE, Saudi Arabia, USA, India; the corridor is double, bifurcating between an eastern section that connects India and the Gulf, and a northern one that connects the Gulf to Europe; - PGII Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment 

13 USA, UAE, India, Israel

14 China is replacing the BRI with the Global Development Initiative (GDI), the Global Security Initiative (GSI) and the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI)

Photo: G20 Secretariat, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India