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India reaches out to West Asia during G20, leaders from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman and UAE on the guest list

The G20 Summit in New Delhi

Apart from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, representatives from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Oman will take part in the G20 Summit in New Delhi. The participation of more Middle East nations in the meeting will add robust momentum to India’s West Asia outreach. All these countries are part of the Global South, that New Delhi is thematically highlighted as the target of development initiatives and a fulcrum around which future global relations will likely revolve.

Saudi Arabia is one of the key drivers of India’s relations with West Asia. Saudi-Indian ties began to see a new level of engagement in 2019 following Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to New Delhi and the establishment of a strategic cooperation council.

During Saudi Arabia’s presidency of the Group of 20 leading rich and developing nations in 2020, the two countries started to forge new partnerships and programmes. These further developed when India took over the presidency this year.

“Relations between the two nations were already growing and G20 has provided them another platform where new possibilities emerge for engagement on a range of issues,” Dr. Harsh V. Pant, vice president for studies and foreign policy at the Observer Research Foundation said. “The relations have gained momentum. I think the relations have acquired greater depth with the G20 process.”

When the working group meetings began in January, Saudi Arabia was engaged from the beginning, sending multiple high-level delegations, and also serving as patron and co-organizer of some key meetings — especially those contributing to policy related to sustainable development, food security, health, entrepreneurship, startups and technology.

“While one can look at energy, trade, defence relationship and security relationship, where the two sides have been cooperating, given the commonality of challenges … the G20 platform expands the area of operation for India and Saudi Arabia and allows new possibilities to emerge,” Pant said.

“This lays the foundation for a much more productive and broad-based engagement beyond the G20 … perhaps you will see a lot of activity on the range of fronts, because certainly groundwork has been laid.”

The G20 platform has also provided room for Indian tech entrepreneurs to contribute to these initiatives and for the exchange of knowledge and experience between the two countries. The G20 can in fact become a platform for greater Indo-Saudi cooperation at multilateral forums and through multilateral organisations.

Besides Saudi, the UAE is the strongest Indian partner in the Gulf. The UAE and India have long-established strong and robust strategic relations, rooted in cultural and economic ties that have developed over many years. The UAE is taking part in the G20 as India’s special guest. The G20 summit comes just two weeks after another significant global event, the BRICS grouping is expanding with the UAE becoming a full member in January 2024.

Based on this foundation, the UAE’s first ever comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) was signed with India in February last year, and came into force in May 2022. The two nations are launching a new era of economic and trade collaboration. The Dirham-Rupee Trade Agreement showcases both nations’ commitment to further enhancing ties and will encourage increased bilateral trade between UAE and India, accelerating progress toward the target of $100 billion in non-oil trade by 2030. Including oil, India-UAE trade was already at $85 billion in 2022, making the UAE India’s third-largest trading partner and India’s second-largest export destination.

In addition to close friend UAE, New Delhi has invited Egypt and Oman as India’s special guests to the summit and to the scores of other events being organised during our G20 presidency. Egypt’s participation will cap Cairo visits of Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in September and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in October 2022.

Egypt’s population of 110 million makes it the largest country in the Arab world, its importance enhanced by a geopolitical location astride Asia and Africa and by the presence of the Suez Canal as a crucial artery of global commerce. It has the largest standing army in the region, hosts the headquarters of the League of Arab States and has an extensive diplomatic footprint that enables it to punch above its weight. It may not share India’s position on UNSC reform but there is a strong convergence on fighting religious extremism and terrorism. For Egypt, India is both an old friend and a new rising power, a potential source of both technology and investment and a desirable partner in a multipolar world.

Oman is another destination that India is focusing to enhance its diplomatic and strategic heft. G20 Sherpa of Oman, Pankaj Khimji said on Friday that India is leading the race of digital transformation and is balancing both the developing and developed nations on very sensible issues of climate and energy transition.

He added, “The relationship between India and Oman is only going to get better. We have exchanged a lot of ideas. In the next six months, a lot of new initiatives will come to light. We have been bound together socially and culturally for over 5,000 years and economically for over 2,000 years”.