NEW DELHI (AFP) : The African Union joined the Group of 20 leading economies at its summit on Saturday, giving the continent broader representation in the often-divided bloc as host Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to portray his country as a voice for the Global South.
“With everyone’s approval, I request the African Union head to take his seat as a permanent G20 member,” Modi said in his opening address, banging a ceremonial gavel.
Modi, who has painted the summit as India’s diplomatic coming of age and is pushing for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, said it turned the grouping into a “people’s G20”.
The African Union at full strength has 55 members but six junta-ruled nations are currently suspended. Collectively, it has a GDP of $3 trillion with some 1.4 billion people.
As the G20, the grouping included 19 countries and the European Union, representing 85 percent of the world GDP, with South Africa its only member state from the continent.
“As a continent, we look forward to further advancing our aspirations on the global stage using the G20 platform,” Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is at the summit, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The G20 was conceived in the throes of the 2008 financial crisis as a way to manage the global economy, but finding consensus among members has been increasingly difficult in recent years.
The AU membership could be among the most tangible outcomes from the summit, with Modi trying to forge consensus on a host of contentious issues and key G20 members deeply divided over Russia’s war in Ukraine and how to pay for climate change.
– Infrastructure plan –
G20 partners will unveil ambitious plans Saturday for a railway and ports project to bolster trade between India, the Middle East and Europe, the United States said.
It is a modern-day Spice Route that could more closely bind three regions that account for about a third of the global economy, and represent an alternative to China’s vast investment in global infrastructure.
Washington, Saudi Arabia, the EU, UAE and others will sign an agreement on the sidelines of the G20 summit to explore the scheme, officials said.
The agreement comes with Washington actively engaging with Riyadh, a major oil producer and security partner, as it encourages the kingdom to normalise ties with Israel.
Jon Finer, US deputy national security advisor, said the announcement came after “months of careful diplomacy, quiet, careful diplomacy, bilaterally and in multilateral settings”.
This project “has enormous potential”, he said. “But exactly how long it takes, I don’t know.”
The project is still in the early stages, with participants studying how best to link India’s vast 1.4 billion population and quick-growing economy with markets to the west, at the same time as bolstering regional integration.
Michael Kugelman, South Asia Institute director at The Wilson Center, said the plan could be a significant response to China’s much-vaunted Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that has spread Chinese influence, investments and commerce across Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America.
“If finalised, it would be a game changer that strengthens connectivity between India and the Middle East and would aim to counter BRI,” Kugelman posted on X.
The plans will include data, rail, electricity and hydrogen pipeline links, EU officials told AFP.
– Xi absence –
Chinese leader Xi Jinping is skipping the summit, sending his number two, Premier Li Qiang, to India instead in a move that called into question the meeting’s importance.
No official reason was given for Xi’s absence but the Asian giants have been at loggerheads over a border dispute and other issues, while Beijing is seeking to make US-led groupings such as the G20 more amenable to its own interests.
Russia’s seat was taken by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with diplomatic opprobrium and war crimes charges keeping the country’s leader Vladimir Putin from the summit.
United Nations chief Antonio Guterres warned Friday of growing global divisions, insisting countries must assume responsibility regardless of “whether it’s the president or the prime minister or the vice president” who is in New Delhi.
The backdrop to the talks could hardly be starker: the European Union’s climate monitor has said this year is likely to be the hottest in human history, with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva calling it an “unprecedented climate emergency” on Saturday.
G20 countries account for around 85 percent of global climate warming emissions, making action in the forum crucial for real progress.