United States President Donald Trump’s proposal for a “G11” summit, by expanding the G7 grouping of the US and major European countries to include India, Australia, South Korea, and Russia, is being widely perceived as an “anti-Chinese” platform. The big question for India, then, is whether this invitation, if and when it is issued, should be accepted, given the country’s own current strained relations with its powerful northern neighbour. On balance, the answer should be yes, both in terms of serving India’s own geo-strategic interests and within the dynamics of the immediate and long-term India-China relationship.
Mr Trump, who had cancelled the G7 summit, originally scheduled for June at Camp David, on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, has declared this 45-year-old organisation “outdated” because he didn’t feel it “properly represents the world”. This is a valid assertion, given the realignments of global economic power over the past half-century. Certainly, the UK’s position after Brexit will weaken its already declining global heft, and Italy has slipped behind India in terms of gross domestic product
(GDP). But the exclusion of China, the world’s second-largest economy accounting for 15 per cent of global GDP, has raised questions about Mr Trump’s intentions, given the very personal role he has taken in ratcheting up tensions between the world’s two largest economies (the exclusion of Brazil, a larger economy than Russia, has also raised eyebrows). This exclusion, however, should not preclude India’s acceptance. China’s exclusion or inclusion is, after all, entirely the host country’s prerogative. And whatever Mr Trump’s intentions may be, a forum offering an opportunity for an exchange of views on issues that are important to India can be of considerable value. In particular, for example, such a G11 meeting could offer a useful occasion to discuss with some of the world’s most important leaders the impact of Covid-19 on the global economy and lay down the contours of a coordinated response.
It is possible that the question of India’s acceptance of any such invitation may be perceived as provoking China at a time when it is making aggressive inroads into Indian territory. This move, in turn, is seen as partial retaliation for the Indian government’s closer embrace of a US establishment, which has been increasingly hostile to China and for New Delhi’s April announcement subjecting investment from China to greater scrutiny. On the contrary, it is precisely because of these developments that the Indian foreign policy establishment should be receptive to invitations such as the one that Mr Trump is reportedly contemplating. It would have the virtue of transmitting the compelling message that no other country, no matter how powerful, can dictate India’s foreign policy. Indeed, being seen to be intimidated by China’s military muscle-flexing in Sikkim and Ladakh leaves India open to pressure from Beijing to, say, exclude deeper partnerships with Japan or Australia, both of which, together with the US, are part of the 13-year-old Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. India, too, is involved in groupings that exclude China, such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (though China, together with G7 countries and some others, is a dialogue partner), so accepting potential G11 membership should not be seen as a precedent-setting move, either.