India is 'right country' at 'right time' to hold G20 presidency: UK PM Rishi Sunak

Sunak hailed Narendra Modi's leadership over the last year

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak | AP British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak | AP

India's diversity and its extraordinary successes means it is the "right country" at the "right time" to hold the G20 presidency, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday, as he hailed Narendra Modi's leadership over the last year, noting that India's presidency of the bloc came when the world is facing innumerable challenges.

In an exclusive interview to PTI just days ahead of the G20 summit in Delhi on September 9-10, Sunak, the first Indian-origin prime minister of Britain, said the relationship between the UK and India will define the future of the two countries, even more than it is defining the present.

"This country's scale, diversity and its extraordinary successes means India is the right country at the right time to hold the G20 Presidency. I pay tribute to Prime Minister Modi's leadership over the last year and it's wonderful to see India showing such global leadership," he said. The prime minister's responses to PTI's questions were sent by email.

"We will also work closely with India through their Presidency of the G20 to address the biggest challenges the world is facing, from stabilising the global economy to dealing with climate change," Sunak said.

The British premier, PM Modi, US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Japanese PM Fumio Kishida and other G20 leaders are set to deliberate extensively on pressing global issues including consequences of the Ukraine war at the G20 summit.

"2023 is a huge year for India, from all the different G20 meetings taking place all over the country to the Cricket World Cup next month -- India is definitely home to the biggest global geopolitical events of the year!," he said.

The 43-year-old leader of the Conservative Party also referred to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and asserted that if Russian President Vladimir Putin is allowed to invade a sovereign neighbour with impunity, then it will have "terrible consequences" for the entire world.

"As two major world democracies, our people define and drive us. That is why the UK is focused on supporting Ukraine to defend itself and defeat this illegal and unprovoked Russian invasion," he said.

"As a free and democratic country, Ukraine has the right to determine its own future. If Putin is allowed to invade a sovereign neighbour with impunity it will have terrible consequences for the entire world."

The British premier said nobody wants peace more than the Ukrainians, but it is Putin who has the power to end the war "tomorrow" by withdrawing his troops.

"Until he does, we will help the vulnerable in Ukraine and around the world deal with the terrible consequences of Putin's war, including the spike in the global price of food and energy caused by his manipulation of markets and attacks on grain supplies," he asserted.

Sunak's comments came as India faces the uphill task of building a consensus on the text to refer to the Ukraine crisis in the G20 leaders' declaration.

Both Russia and China had agreed to the two paragraphs on the Ukraine conflict in last year's Bali declaration, but they backtracked from it this year creating difficulties for India.

"India has taken on the Presidency of the G20 at a time when the world is facing multiple challenges," Sunak said.

"In the last twelve months we've seen sharp rise in inflation and economic instability, we've witnessed the outbreak of conflict in Sudan, military coups in Niger and Gabon, and the ongoing repression of human rights in Afghanistan and elsewhere," he added.

Sunak said he is looking forward to meeting Prime Minister Modi and deliberate on how collaboration between India and the UK helps in dealing with various global challenges.

"When I meet Prime Minister Modi again this week it will be an opportunity to speak about some of the global challenges we face, and the huge role that the UK and India have to play in addressing them," he said.

On the possible outcome of the G20 summit, Sunak said: "We will have to wait and see what the summit outcomes will be. The UK certainly is here to support India's efforts in achieving a successful summit."

In the interview, Sunak extensively delved into various aspects of India-UK ties including cultural and people-to-people links.

He said what makes the UK-India relationship "truly unique" is the "Living Bridge" between the countries which includes a 1.6 million-strong Indian diaspora in the UK, and which connects "our people across culture, education, food, sport and more."

"The relationship between the UK and India will define the future of our two countries, even more than it is defining the present," he said.

"Recognising the close links and aligned interests of our countries, two years ago we agreed to the 2030 Roadmap' which was an historic commitment to bring our countries, economies and people closer together."

At the summit between Prime Minister Modi and then British PM Boris Johnson, the two sides had adopted a 10-year roadmap to expand ties in the key areas of trade and economy, defence and security, climate change and people-to-people connections among others.

The India-UK relationship was elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership during the bilateral virtual summit in May 2021.

"We have already achieved so much under this roadmap, including the mutual recognition of higher education qualifications, new visa routes for young professionals, and billions in new investment deals including British firms like Tesco, Deliveroo and Revolut establishing or expanding their presence in India, creating thousands of new jobs," Sunak said.

On defence and strategic ties, he said the UK Navy, Army and Air Force have all carried out exercises with their Indian counterparts, increasing "our ability to work together to tackle shared threats." In the areas of science and technology, Sunak said, both sides are making significant progress.

"As science and technology superpowers, shared UK-India expertise is pushing the boundaries of innovation for global good," he said.

"Together, we delivered a Covid-19 vaccine; researched at Oxford University with UK Government financial support, developed by AstraZeneca, and manufactured at scale by India's Serum Institute," he said.

"From preventing pandemics to unravelling the human genome the UK and India are working together to tackle the challenges of tomorrow, today," he added.

Sunak also mentioned the India-UK trade engagement and cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

"India is already on track to be the third largest economy in the world within ten years. That is why India is such an important partner in this region and more generally," he said.

"I absolutely see more for the UK and India to do together in the Indo-Pacific, building on the impressive cooperation that has already taken place across trade, defence and security under the 2030 Roadmap," the British prime minister said.

Sunak also talked about Britain's 2021 foreign policy strategy, which underlined the strategic importance of the Indo-Pacific to the UK and the world.

"That's something we have confirmed this year when we published a refreshed version of the policy our commitment to the Indo-Pacific isn't going anywhere, just as this region isn't going anywhere," he said.

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