NEW DELHI: India pulled off a spectacular balancing act at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, where the spotlight was on the fissures between various nations who could not even agree to disagree.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi met leaders of opposing camps in bilateral and trilateral settings on the sidelines of the summit, firmly positioning India as a neutral guest at the world's top table.
His first meeting upon arrival Thursday was with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, or MBS, who has been linked to the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. The only Arab leader at the gathering, MBS was cold-shouldered by several European leaders as well as by Justin Trudeau of Canada.
But several other leaders, including Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia, went out of their way to greet and meet the young Saudi leader. US President Donald Trump, despite having defended MBS earlier, kept his interaction minimal.
Apart from a bilateral meeting with Xi, where the two sides hailed the thaw in relations during their fourth meeting this year, Modi also joined two significant trilateral meetings on the margins of the G20. One was the first trilateral with Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the other with Presidents Xi and Putin in the second trilateral held after a 12-year gap. While the first meeting
Trump, who had imposed sanctions on Russia for its alleged interference in US elections, cancelled a planned meeting with Putin after Russian ships seized three Ukrainian vessels near Crimea. The US and China have been locked in a bitter trade war which shows no signs of abating. And though Xi and Abe met earlier this year to sort out some differences, the two nations have been traditional rivals for ages.
"These meetings put India in a unique position in the international arena, and often allows us to act as quiet intermediaries between rival nations," said one official. "But it also comes from the experience of having walked a diplomatic tightrope for years between Israel and the Arab world, both of which are critical for India," he said. "India is seen as an honest interlocutor by both sides."
Another official, however, warned that India might face a situation where push comes to shove, and asked to clearly choose between two rival nations or groups. "For instance, when George W Bush, who passed away earlier this morning, told the world that either you are with us or against us (in the war or terror), it forced a lot of nations to make very difficult choices."