Opinion & Analysis

Global leaders gather in Delhi amid heightened international tensions

Asia Media Centre Manager Graeme Acton is in Delhi this week to cover the Raisina Dialogue, a multilateral geopolitics, geo-economics conference organised by the Observer Research Foundation and India’s Ministry of External Affairs. He previews the issues on the agenda for the dialogue, which in 2023 coincides with India’s presidency of the G20.

India’s capital Delhi is a metropolis perhaps best described as “intense”, a sprawling mega-city of more than 30 million people, it is in constant flux, and always has something to surprise a western observer.

That intensity is likely to take on a new diplomatic and political dimension this week with the return of the Raisina Dialogue meeting at the plush Taj Palace Hotel.

Described as India’s premiere foreign affairs meeting, in 2023 it’s also a gathering of global leaders in a period of international tension not seen for decades.

The Raisina Dialogue has been a feature since 2016, providing a valuable platform for policymakers and experts to discuss the issues of the day. This year, of course, the subtext will be the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, and the broader implications for regional and global security.

Discussions at the conference in recent years have highlighted the importance of diplomatic engagement, regional cooperation, and multilateralism, and while the Ukraine conflict seems to be only worsening, the ability of this meeting to bring parties together should not be underestimated.

Outside Europe, for host nation India, Raisina is a major factor in its growing global influence, as it seeks to push its own interests and values. Its presidency of the G20 in 2023 only adds power to its arm, with the government of Narendra Modi also taking every opportunity to promote its own “world-leading” status domestically on billboards across the nation.

The rise of China and the relative decline of the USA are factors already explicitly impacting India’s foreign policy, and the meeting this week gives Delhi the opportunity to engage with numerous nations, continuing to build and communicate its own perspective on the emerging global order, its relationship with Russia, and its future aspirations for regions such as the Pacific.

A group of dignitaries including India's Prime minister Modi sitting in an auditorium clapping during the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi, January 2018.

Prime Minister Modi at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi, January 2018.

The Raisina gathering comes off the back of the recent G20 Finance Ministers’ meeting in Bengalaru, India’s high-tech southern hub, and coincides with a meeting of the Quad nations and the important G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Delhi this week.

Among other in the room for the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting will be ministers from the US, United Kingdom, Russia, France, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, France.

Italy’s Prime Minister Georgia Meloni will also be in Delhi as a special guest and keynote speaker at Raisina, while also holding talks with Prime Minister Modi.

Meloni will also line up with the US and Russia for bilateral meetings with India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, and will also find time for Indian President Droupadi Murmu.

PM Modi is expected to address the G20 meeting, keen to highlight his country’s increasing global influence. He’ll also be determined to avoid a split in the meeting between the G7/EU grouping, and Russia and its friends.

This week’s meeting is one of the biggest events ahead of the final G20 summit which will be held September 9-10 in Delhi, culminating in the G20 presidency passing to Brazil.

As for the actual Raisina Dialogue, this year for the first time ministers from the QUAD nations (US, UK, Japan and India) will appear in a forum together to discuss developments in the Indo-Pacific. A Quad summit is planned in Australia in coming months.

While US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will doubtless aim to use the Raisina meeting to consolidate support across the group for current US policy in Ukraine, the US might expect some awkward questions about proxy conflicts and perhaps even the money being made from the conflict by the US arms industry.

India though has its own unique and long-standing relationship with Russia, along with a more problematic India-Sino relationship. With China now weighing in on Ukraine with its own “peace plan” as a solution to the Ukraine conflict, India will again walk the line between its big neighbours, keen to at least hear Beijing out, but careful to not annoy Moscow, which remains the supplier of some 60% of arms to the country and is still the only member of the UN Security Council backing India’s view on the contested areas of Jammu and Kashmir.

Can the Raisina Dialogue be a productive international discussion on ending the war in Ukraine? Quite possibly.

The meeting has been characterised in recent years as a forum hosted and largely paid for by India, but which has largely ignored India’s core issues in lieu of debates over the likes of digital currencies, European politics, the Indo-Pacific and Covid-19.

As the Indian External Affairs Minister remarked during his recent visit to New Zealand: “Europe needs to understand its problems are not the world’s problems.”  In normal circumstances that might apply, but the apparent intervention of China in the Ukraine conflict perhaps takes things to another level.