Sep 7, 2023, 6:27am EDT

Modi’s moment

REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

Sign up for Semafor Principals: What the White House is reading. Read it now.

Title icon

The News

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will get his turn in the spotlight as New Delhi hosts leaders of the world’s largest economies at the Group of 20 summit this upcoming weekend.

Attendees including President Joe Biden, who leaves Thursday and has sought to deepen U.S.-India ties as a means to counter China. Biden and Modi will meet separately on Friday before the larger gathering gets underway.

Title icon

Morgan’s view

For Modi, it’s a moment for India to assert itself on the world stage, after a high-profile state visit to the U.S. and the BRICS summit. Modi’s government has spent tens of millions of dollars cleaning up New Delhi — demolishing places that housed the poor in the process — and is prepared to go to extreme lengths to keep monkeys away from the gathering.

The meeting will test India’s ability to move beyond being a powerful geopolitical swing vote and to build consensus among national leaders. There are divisions over language in the joint communique about Russia’s war in Ukraine. And in an interview with AFP, Simon Stiell, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, downplayed expectations for agreements on climate coming out of the meeting, which will pave the way for COP28 later this year.

India is “at a pivot point,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a Biden ally and member of the Foreign Relations Committee, told Semafor.


But China’s Xi Jinping plans to skip the gathering, which could limit progress on big issues and robs Biden of face-to-face time with his Chinese counterpart at a time when his administration is trying to assuage tensions.

Coons said he hoped officials would discuss pitfalls to expanding BRICS, which India objected to out of concern the group would become too pro-China.

“It’s my hope that at the G-20 there will be some pointed conversations about why that’s not necessarily in the best interest of the Global South and how it is that other G-20 countries can and should take engagement with the Global South in a more positive direction,” he said.

Title icon

Room for Disagreement

The absence of both Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin could also further empower the U.S., “showcase China’s failings” and “confirm Russia’s status as a pariah,” writes David Andelman in CNN. Other pressing issues, like global poverty, could receive more focus, he writes.

Title icon


  • An invitation to a G20 dinner called India by its Sanskrit name “Bharat,” touching off a heated debate over the country’s name and fueling speculation Modi’s government would move to officially change it.
  • Biden is planning to use the G20 to push for World Bank reforms and more multilateral development bank lending to tackle issues like climate change, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters earlier this week.