Manmohan Singh with Vladimir Putin during the G20 summit at Konstantinovsky Palace, Strelna, near St Petersburg on Thursday. (PTI)
Strelna, Off St Petersburg, Sept. 5: The US brought the tremors of a distant war to this picturesque Baltic islet today and Indian sails lay a little knocked of wind as New Delhi’s effort to build consensus with BRICS leaders against US liquidity withdrawals floundered.
Three BRICS nations — Russia, China and South Africa — virtually vacated India’s concerns on adverse spillover effects of the US economic policies, saying the problems were for New Delhi to handle, not for the collective.
US President Barack Obama has arrived holding the world to an obligation on Syrian strikes several big nations gathered here are unwilling to undertake. “My credibility is not on the line, the world’s credibility on the line… the world had set the red lines when 98 per cent of the nations condemn the use of chemical weapons.”
Half his campaign in the US Congress won with the Senate’s endorsement, Obama is now at hair’s breadth distance from pressing the button on Syria.
Obama’s unyielding host, President Vladimir Putin, appears to be gritting harder at his jaws. “Any unilateral military action against Syria will be deemed an act of aggression,” he warned just before he welcomed G20 leaders at the majestic entrance to the Konstantinovsky Palace this afternoon. “There is no evidence they used chemical weapons.”
War rumbles are new to the G20 forum, purely economic of makeup, but with Obama and Putin stepping onto the same stage, it was bound to shake.
Bilateral atmospherics have been tense coming into this summit. The US underlined Obama did not intend meeting Putin one-on-one on the sidelines, an almost routine event at such multilaterals. The Russians made it clear they were going to leverage their status as the G20 hosts to signpost their opposition to US brinkmanship over Syria.
The only significant sideline that did unfold today was a mini-summit of BRICS leaders, where India failed to rally support for its call to restrain capital flow volatility triggered mainly by the US.
India claimed that BRICS leaders had “reiterated concerns expressed at the Durban Summit in March regarding the unintended negative spillovers of unconventional monetary policies of certain developed economies”.
The claim found no consonance in individual statements emerging from leaders of some other BRICS member-states, which seemed to be saying that India’s economic difficulties were essentially her own and she should take steps to tackle them.
Reuters quoted the Chinese Vice-Premier Zhu Guagyao as saying: “We see temporary difficulties of some BRICS countries, mainly as difficulties in terms of international balance of payments… the policy response to such difficulties include increasing interest rates and devaluing currencies.”
The Russian deputy finance minister, Sergei Storchak, appeared to brush aside the Indian effort to rally consensus saying the issues raised amounted to “individual problems not concerning BRICS as a whole”.
The South African finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, was downright dismissive: “We don’t know what the proposal is, this is India’s initiative to resolve India’s issues,” he was quoted as saying.
Asked whether discordant BRICS voices meant India lay isolated in its concerns over the negative impact of US monetary policies, foreign secretary Sujata Singh said: “I can only tell you what I heard and I heard all (BRICS) leaders expressing concern on unconventional monetary policies. Our official release says concerns were reiterated by BRICS leaders, it is a common position.”
Setting the stage for St Petersburg, India had raised the pitch to secure wider agreement between emerging economies on speaking out against unconventional monetary policies. Economic affairs secretary Arvind Mayaram had expressed the hope India’s position will find traction among BRICS and G20 nations and said: “There is no reason why our voice should not be heard. I do believe if our voices are strong and clear, we will be heard.”
The Indian reluctance to accept lack of consensus among BRICS notwithstanding, different voices emerging from the platform may well have belied Mayaram’s optimism. The Indian contingent remains optimistic, however, on being able to lobby G20 nations more effectively.
“Wait to hear what emerges from the G20 on the level of international co-operation among emerging economies on the adverse impact of unconventional monetary policies,” an official said, “The different voices could be misleading because their contexts they are responding to may be different.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself reiterated his fears over adverse impacts, telling G20 leaders at the commencement of the summit that “the world economy is not in good shape”. “There is some good news of a strengthening of growth in some industrialised countries, but it is not broad based… the G20 is the premier international forum for discussing international economic issues. I think we need to reflect on why we are having less success in restoring global growth than we had hoped.”
Global economic corrections in the part of developed nations isn’t a battle he is giving up on easily. His intended audience, though, may be engrossed on the grim prospect of a more immediate battle. It is unlikely Obama and Putin will part from Strelna agreed on Syria.