India and The Global South in The Global Agenda

Published on 9th April 2024

Without the advancement of the Global South, we are not going to see planetary progress. But this global conversation, by its very nature, is constantly distracted. Some crisis happens, some big event happens, some other agenda comes in place, and the global conversation then wobbles. It goes off track. People lose that sense of focus about what are the priorities. So one of the big achievements of our G20 presidency was, that after some experience with a very polarized, divided world, which was very much, I would say, focused on one particular region, we were able to bring back the attention of the G20. We were able to bring back the attention of the world. We were able to bring back the attention of the Global South on the issues that really count today. And those issues are those of sustainable development goals, of clean and green growth, of woman-led development, of health, energy and food security, of digital public infrastructure, indeed, of our way of life and of our planet's future, and of the fact that the growth of the majority of this planet should not be traded against arguments of the well-being of the planet. Both are possible if only we fashion our policies correctly.

Now, one part of the debate is, what is actually the global agenda? I gave you some examples. And these examples actually point us in a certain direction. They point us in the direction, obviously, of progress, where every society, in a manner in which it is itself comfortable, is able to advance, where prosperity is not the privilege of a few, where growth is robust, is sustainable, is green, where there is security, where there is stability, and where, as I said, the basic needs of food, of health, of energy are met, where climate action advances, along with climate justice and where the focus of the world, as it rightfully should be, must remain on Agenda 2030.

And I can tell you that for me, perhaps, really an objective assessment of our own G20 presidency was when I went at the end of September to New York and I heard from the Secretary General of the United Nations, his appreciation that once again the conversation was on the right issues.

The simple principle that must guide global governance, global conversations, global debates is a conviction that no one should be left behind. And when we speak about no one being left behind, I think the welfare of Africa is particularly important. In fact, I would say the rise of Africa is even more crucial because in a changing global order, we have seen growth in continents once they got decolonized. That growth over a period of time created a rebalancing, a political rebalancing and economic rebalancing. And that rebalancing today is creating a world of a multi-polar nature where, middle powers and perhaps others too, regional organizations would have a fairer and more equitable say in how the world is run. So the global agenda in many ways today, is about restoring the world to its natural diversity. Because the world was diverse, the world is diverse, it was distorted by the period of western domination. And in a post-colonial world today, restoring that natural diversity is actually our collective objective.

Now, what are the challenges to that process? One, of course, is while many of us attained independence, we have all built our nations and societies. The reality is also that the old domination has not let go. But in different ways, it may not be the imperialism of the 19th and early 20th century, but in different ways today, many of those who dominated the world for the last 200 to 300 years, continue to do so with new instruments, with new regimes, with different techniques.

How do we contest that, how do we overcome that, how do we make sure the world is a fairer place? That is challenge number one. Challenge number two is of a more recent vintage. We have for the last three decades spoken about globalization. Globalization has been a changer. Some people argue that there was always globalization, people always moved from one place to another. That is correct. After all, people moved from Africa to other parts of the world, that's how the globe became the globe. But globalization today has a very specific sense. It is a combination of economics, of interdependence, of interpenetration, of a shared common dependence on technology, of a degree of mobility that we have never experienced before.

Now, while globalization has had many positive results, it has also undeniably led to very deep economic concentrations. That much of the world today depends on production of a few geographies. Now, it worked when we believed that the entire world could be run in the manner in which Japanese cars are produced in Nagoya, that everything came just in time to meet the requirements of the day. We were wrong, but we didn't know it. And then COVID came. And COVID brought home to every one of us that the most basic things of our life, we were often dependent on suppliers and producers from far away. Not just dependent on them, as we discovered during COVID, we were hostage to them. That many of us struggled with masks and gloves and PPEs and ventilators and basic medicines and vaccines. We struggled for food.

So, one of the big takeaways from the COVID experience is that our world today needs to be de-risked from the over concentration. That if you speak about a more balanced world, a more democratic world, democratic is not just political democratic. It is not just the rights of different nations. Democratic also means every region, sometimes every large country, must have within its own grasp, the basics of its production, so that it is economically and socially secure. This is our challenge number two.

Challenge number three, of course, is the setting of narratives. And I spoke about the old domination. The old domination today doesn't tell you what to do with a stick. The old domination will tell you what to do through social media, through regular media, through devising what is politically correct, to setting standards. And this narrative setting is actually a very powerful force today in international relations. There is thinking, there are ideologies, there are regimes which are raised up, brought down, made irrelevant, brought to the center through narrative setting.

In all of this, of course, we have the challenges of the polarization of the world. We in India know it particularly strongly and recently because we struggled with it during our G20 presidency. That a conflict, such as one taking place in Ukraine, has polarized the East and the West. That developmental issues have polarized the North and the South. So, how do we today talk of a global agenda when the globe itself is so divided? That is a challenge in itself.

There are, of course, the traditional, what are called global issues. These are challenges which threaten every nation but are bigger than what could be contained within the borders. So, it could be terrorism, a challenge which I know Nigeria had to experience in its own way like we have had to in a different way. Or maritime security, piracy, challenges, of course, of climate events that we are seeing more and more frequently. So, these are some of the challenges that we have to overcome if we have to really get along with the global agenda. Some, as I said, are traditional. Some have evolved. Some are more recent.

When I spoke about globalization and concentration, a different challenge emerging out of that is how globalization itself has been weaponized. That today, currency is a weapon. Trade is a weapon. Tourism is a weapon. That dominant players, they may be dominant as producers. They may be dominant as consumers. That they often, with very little hesitation, leverage their market shares on the global system for their particular national purpose.

And of course, underlying all of this, is a challenge that we know very, very well, which is a world order that was devised in 1945, when the members of the United Nations were roughly 25% of what they are today. And that world order continues obstinately, because those who are in the driving seat don't want to create more seats for other people to be at that engine. So, these are really the global agenda challenges which in different ways are obstacles for achieving what we actually all, implicitly or explicitly, have arrived at as our objectives.

Now in this topic and even otherwise, I think you would all be conscious that we have started using the word Global South more frequently, more loudly, I would say more effectively. And you know you are effective when there is an industry questioning that there is a Global South, that people write columns saying, you know, what is this term Global South? It doesn't make any sense, you know, why are they doing it? So when people start protesting at what you are doing, you know it's working.

So, what is the Global South? Because all of us are asked that question, particularly from people who are not the Global South. If you are from the Global South, you have no problem understanding it. It's intuitive. So, I would say Global South, most of all, is a mindset. Those who have it, have it. Those who don't have it will never get it. But it is a mindset which has some core principles. These are principles from our habits, from our political culture, from the way we have practiced international relations over the last 60, 70, 80 years. For example, non-intervention, for example, non-interference or being non-judgmental or non-alliance. But I have given you four nons’, so let me give you a positive definition.

Global South is finally about solidarity. Global South means having a heart. Global South means willing to share. So when people say, okay, you know, tell me how does this Global South work? I give them an example from our own experience. I tell people, look, in my country we were still vaccinating people when we started supplying vaccines to 100 countries in the world. And I compare it to the Global North where there were countries sitting on vaccines eight times the number of their population and they wouldn't give it to a small island next to them. That is the difference to me between Global South and Global North.

So, how does the Global South today deal with the Global North, with the global agenda? I think in many ways by obviously being empathetic, by understanding the problems, by being respectful, by recognizing that every country has its sovereignty, every country has its culture, every country has its tradition and solutions must be found in a way in which they are not imposed, that they are organically owned by the society which is actually going to be implementing that solution. An important part of that is beyond politics, beyond economics, beyond technology, to also remember who we are and to factor in culture, traditions, heritage because these are part of our DNA. We all are more comfortable with certain solutions and certain methods because that is part of our culture. So, I would define Global South and the manner in which the Global South works as a mix of all of this, of political consideration, of economic sharing, of technology spread, but of cultural sensitivity.

What can India do with the Global South? Professor Akinyemi says that the more the world changes, the more it remains the same. Maybe. But let me tell you what has changed in India. The lunar landing. The fact that we could produce vaccines on such a massive scale, not just for our needs but for the world at large. Not just produce vaccines, invent vaccines. Or if one looks today at technology, the fact that there is a 5G stack in telecom, there's an India stack when it comes to digital infrastructure. On food security, we are actually rediscovering our traditions and propagating millets, because millets is very much part of our tradition and one which all of us have unfortunately diluted, both to our own cost and to that of the planet. So, the question, what has changed? I would say in all objectivity today, India can and is contributing more. India is in many ways a demonstrator or a laboratory or an application of change, of progress. And because the capacities have grown, the capabilities have grown, but the willingness has always been there. Today our ability to share has increased.

We are Global South. We should be sharing. We should be doing good. We should be helping each other. Okay, nice words. What does it mean in reality? I'll give you seven or eight examples. One, I would say where India can really make a difference in respect of Global South is on digital public infrastructure. That the biggest change which has happened in India in the last decade, and believe me you have to come to India to see what I would describe as a veritable revolution, is the fact that we have created a digital backbone and on that digital backbone today, there are delivery of programs and benefits to citizens on a scale, efficiency and honesty which could not have been imagined earlier; where actually two-thirds of the population can get food without it being pilfered, where loans are given to a third of the population without somebody taking a cut, where those who are really in need of health support can demonstrate their eligibility and get free or subsidized health services, where today 200 million people have actually in the last decade, since 2014, 200 million people have got new homes. So, the scale of what has happened in terms of once you leverage the digital system as a governance system is something which we believe can be a very, very important contribution to the Global South and one obviously in which we are willing to be a technology partner and supporter.

I spoke about vaccines, but health issues did not go away once COVID received it, and if you look around the world, one of the biggest challenges which countries face is the cost of the health system. These are not just developing countries, developed countries have a huge problem with the health system, many of them can't afford, their citizens are outside the health system because of the cost. Today, again we have tried to create nationally for 1.4 billion people a system of low-cost medicines which is primarily based on generics where through bulk purchases, through making it accessible on a large scale, we are able to dramatically reduce the cost. These are called people's pharmacy, and this is really, I would say, this is not rocket science. It is a good example of political will, inventory management and a feeling for those who are vulnerable, who could not afford medicine otherwise.

We spoke about space. The lunar landing was one demonstration. But again, space is a domain which holds so much possibilities for development. That from space, and you know, it could be space, but again…I talk of a much lower orbit technology, drones, that application of space assets, after use of drones today, have again, tremendous implications for our daily life. Or indeed, you know, the support which we give to each other. India today has executed 600 projects in 78 countries across the world, as part of that Global South solidarity.

I mention all this because it's one thing to speak about solidarity, to refer to cooperation, and we are all genuine in that expression of sentiment. And we are all genuine in that expression of sentiment. But what has changed is, today the ability to translate that sentiment into practical activity, into assets, into solutions, that in a large part of the Global South, certainly I would say from the east coast of Africa, probably till the west coast of Australia, we are today a first responder. If something happens, more likely than not, you will see Indian forces out there among the first to go.

So to me, Global South is actually a movement whose spirit, whose sentiment, whose commitment needs to be harnessed for the betterment of the world in very, very practical ways. And I certainly hope that in this manner, through existing bodies, through mechanisms like G20, through a process like the Voice of the Global South Summit, through South-South cooperation, through bilateral relationships, that we can find ways by which we share experiences, where we reinforce each other, in many ways we actually complement our capabilities.

By Dr. Subrahmanyam  Jaishankar

Minister of External Affairs of the Government of India


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