G-8 Summit: Not Just Because Its There

Updated: May 23 2003, 05:30am hrs
When George Leigh Mallory, who made the first recorded, albeit aborted, attempt at climbing Mount Everest, was asked why he tried he replied famously: because its there. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee could well say the same thing if asked why hes headed to France next week to make his way up the G-8 Summit.

G-8 was fast becoming an anachronism, an outdated club of self-important nations in a rapidly globalising world. Imagine a group that has often been described in the media as the boardroom of the world including Italy and Canada and excluding China and India! Little wonder that a seasoned American diplomat like Richard Holbrooke, who may well have become the United States (US) Secretary of State if Al Gore had become U.S. President, took the view that it was time to wind up G-8.

That the G-8 have been defensive about their stilted composition is clear even from their website (www.g8.fr). Offering replies to a few FAQs about G-8, the website poses the question Why eight and not more or less but puzzlingly shies away from answering it! The one defence the website offers for G-8 may sound a bit odd in the post-Gulf War II world. It says G-8 plays a real and important role, because it has a huge cooperative and driving capacity and because a good understanding among G-8 members is vital to the smooth running of the major international organisations. Go tell that to the beleaguered United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan!

Partly in recognition of its growing irrelevance in an increasingly globalised world marked by new centres of economic power and partly because of Frances desire to cock a snook at American unilateralism and underscore the reality of the emerging multipolar world, Paris decided to invite a clutch of emerging economies including Brazil, China, India and South Africa to the Evian Summit next week. For G-8 to truly ensure the smooth running of international organisations and the global economy it must become at least the G-10, with China and India on board on a permanent basis.

That said, we must be honest enough to recognise that India is a step behind China on most economic criteria that will be used to judge G-8 membership qualifications and, therefore, runs the risk of finding G-8 becoming G-9 before it is willing to become G-10! Perhaps neither the trans-Atlantic powers nor Japan would like that and therefore will prefer China and India walking in together rather than sequentially.

Even so, Mr Vajpayee and our political leadership must remain alive to the fact that there is homework yet to be done on the economic side to sit at a global high table like G-8 because membership there is defined more by global economic capabilities than population size or political, diplomatic and strategic power.

Given what defines G-8, Prime Minister Vajpayee must go prepared to talk business, trade and economics. Not just terrorism and environment. True, the G-8 have widened their concerns in recent years to worry about weapons of mass destruction (WMD), poverty, environment and human rights. There has always been an emphasis on democracy in G-8s self-image. Russia was invited only after it became a democracy, though China has not been asked to pass that test yet! India must not allow any dilution of that part of G-8s agenda. The group must remain wedded to its core principles of free enterprise and democracy.

However, Mr Vajpayee must resist the temptation of scoring points on such aspects of G-8 agenda where India shines more brightly than China. Rather, he must accept the fact that G-8 is a summit of the worlds more powerful and open economies, it was conceived as such in the midst of a global economic crisis in the 1970s and it remained pre-occupied with global finance, energy flows, debt crises and free trade.

Given this background, Mr Vajpayee must project Indias commitment to building a more robust and open economy, to greater interaction with other industrial and developing nations and to internal economic reform and modernisation. It is Indias economic performance and promise that G-8 will want to hear about. Indias commitment to multilateral trade agreements, to global rules of the game in the market for goods, services, finance and capital.

While Mr Vajpayee has been a foreign policy Prime Minister his interests even on the diplomatic side have remained largely confined to geo-political and diplomatic challenges rather than the economic ones. At the Evian Summit Mr Vajpayee may run the risk of losing his audiences attention if he only speaks about terrorism and WMD.

He must focus greater attention on Indias economic record and his economic agenda and how India remains a credible voice of the developing world in multilateral economic fora. The G-8s Okinawa Summit called for a Global Information Society, a cause India must embrace and show its record of achievement on this front.

Indias current robust external economic profile and our record in the services sector should enable Mr Vajpayee to self-confidently take on the obligations and opportunities of globalisation. Demanding adherence to principles of multilateralism even by the developed economies, while committing India to these, rather than adopt defensive postures, whining and complaining about the big bad world, as many in the Sangh Parivar would like to do.

G-8s Evian Summit will be the first major international debut of Chinas Hu Jintao who goes there after being marred by Sars. China remains the toast of such conclaves and Mr Hu may well overshadow Mr Vajpayee if he talks business while Mr Vajpayee worries about terrorism. It is, therefore, imperative that Mr Vajpayee talks business and means business. His policy Sherpas must prepare him accordingly for this summit. Then alone would going to the Evian Summit make sense. If not, it would amount to a lot of huffing and puffing for no good reason.