India’s G20 Chairmanship Will Champion The Global South’s Interests
India now has a credible chance to compete with China all across the Global South. Its socio-political model has proven itself much more adept at responding to the series of systemic crises over the past half-decade from the trade war to COVID and Ukraine due to its innate flexibility. This in turn enabled the world’s most populous developing country to thrive amidst chaos instead of being thrown into confusion by it like China was.
Indian Prime Minister Modi published an article last week detailing his country’s priorities as it assumes chairmanship of the G20. The official theme will be “One Earth, One Family, One Future”, which embodies the ancient concept of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”. In practice, this globally significant Great Power will champion the Global South’s interests seeing as how it’s the most populous developing country in the world and thus faces the same challenges as the vast majority of humanity.
This isn’t wishful thinking either since Prime Minister Modi already functioned as the Global South’s voice during his participation in last month’s G20 Summit in Bali. Furthermore, his recently published article explicitly declared that “Our G20 priorities will be shaped in consultation with not just our G20 partners, but also our fellow-travellers in the Global South, whose voice often goes unheard.” This is sensible since India’s interests are served by doing so, thus raising hopes of tangible accomplishments.
The premier explained that “we will seek to depoliticise the global supply of food, fertilisers and medical products, so that geopolitical tensions do not lead to humanitarian crises”, which is extremely urgent nowadays after the US-led West’s Golden Billion imposed sanctions upon Russia following the onset of its special operation and thus impeded its export of fertilizers, food, and fuel to the Global South. That said, it would be wrong to interpret this intent as anti-Western in any way.
After all, Prime Minister Modi also reiterated his famous saying from September’s meeting with President Putin on the sidelines of the SCO Summit in Samarkand when writing that “Today, we do not need to fight for our survival — our era need not be one of war. Indeed, it must not be one!” This pragmatic approach epitomizes the policy of principled neutrality that’s responsible for accelerating India’s rise as a globally significant Great Power across the past nine months.
By balancing between the Golden Billion and the jointly BRICS- & SCO-led Global South (or Global Majority as Russian experts have recently taken to describing it as) of which it’s a part, India ended up becoming the kingmaker in the New Cold War between them over the direction of the global systemic transition. Moreover, since “The Ukrainian Conflict Might Have Already Derailed China’s Superpower Trajectory”, India now has a credible chance to compete with it all across the Global South.
To be absolutely clear, India can’t match China’s infrastructure investments but it can compellingly present itself as a neutral balancing force in the global systemic transition and therefore appeal to developing countries as a pragmatic partner for relieving the zero-sum pressure put upon them by the American and Chinese superpowers to choose one or the other. By championing their interests at the G20 and serving as their voice in multilateral fora, India can emerge as the Global South’s leader.
China has hitherto presented itself as having assumed this role over the last decade, particularly by pointing to its Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) investments across this vast swath of humanity that helped millions escape from poverty, but that narrative has lost its luster over the past year. The reason is that few in the Global South actually regard the People’s Republic as their peer anymore since it’s clear that China is nowadays more akin to a developed country than a developing one, which is obvious to all.
By contrast, India still struggles with many of the same challenges as they do, which thus makes it a much more credible leader of the Global South than China despite lacking the excess capital that its neighbor has for ambitiously investing in their infrastructure. Coupled with the attractive example set by its policy of principled neutrality as well as the derailing of China’s superpower trajectory that’ll lead to the rollback of its BRI investments, India does indeed have a fighting chance to lead the Global South.
This insight enables observers to better understand the grand strategic goal that Prime Minister Modi sought to advance in his article about India’s G20 chairmanship when describing its form of governance. He wrote that “Our citizen-centric governance model takes care of even our most marginalised citizens, while nurturing the creative genius of our talented youth. We have tried to make national development not an exercise in top-down governance, but rather a citizen-led ‘people’s movement’.”
Cynics might have dismissed the aforesaid as self-serving rhetoric designed to bolster his country’s soft power standing across the Global South, yet there’s more to it than just that as evidenced by the premier later adding that “India’s experiences can provide insights for possible global solutions. During our G20 Presidency, we shall present India’s experiences, learnings and models as possible templates for others, particularly the developing world.”
Quite clearly, India is ready to seize the strategic moment brought about by its accelerated rise as a globally significant Great Power over the past nine months to present itself not just as the leader of the Global South, but also as a more realistic model for its peers to emulate than China. The People’s Republic has a unique socio-political model that effectively serves its own people’s interests but isn’t relevant for the vast majority of developing countries unlike India’s comparatively more flexible one.
Therein lies the primary difference between these two in that China’s comparatively more rigid system has clearly struggled to adapt to this decade’s “Age of Complexity”. That explains why its leadership is presently exploring the parameters of a New Détente with the US in order to temporarily relieve pressure upon their country while buying valuable time for recalibrating its long-term planning that was derailed by the trade war, COVID, and Ukraine, all of which were serious systemic crises.
India’s socio-political model has proven itself much more adept at responding to these aforementioned systemic crises due to its innate flexibility that thus enabled the world’s most populous developing country to thrive amidst chaos instead of being thrown into confusion by it like China was. Those who remain skeptical of this should bear in mind the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s (OECD) latest report showing that India grew twice as fast as China this year.
There’s no doubt that the Global South noticed this as well as the way in which India’s principled neutrality towards the New Cold War successfully relieved pressure upon it to make zero-sum choices that would inevitably occur at the expense of its objective national interests. Its chairmanship of the G20 therefore couldn’t have occurred at a more beneficial time for its grand strategic interests since this globally significant Great Power now has the chance to share its model with the whole world.
Prime Minister Modi’s closing words in his article imploring everyone to “work together to shape a new paradigm — of human-centric globalization” can thus be interpreted as India’s intent to supercharge its soft power across the Global South. Delhi envisages its developmental peers attempting to emulate its model and thus enabling their country to emerge as their informal leader in a way that its friendly Chinese competitor is simply incapable of doing due to the rigidity and uniqueness of its own model.
The unstated goal is to assemble a new Non-Aligned Movement (“Neo-NAM”) that’ll accelerate the global systemic transition from its present intermediary phase of bi-multipolarity defined by the Sino-American superpower duopoly to tripolarity prior to its final form of more complex multipolarity (“multiplexity”). This can only be accomplished by India leading the Global South by example as it’s sought to do and subsequently inspiring those dozens of countries to emulate its principled neutrality.
Upon that happening, a third pole of influence will inevitably arise for breaking through the global systemic transition’s bi-multipolar impasse that otherwise could have been indefinitely entrenched as the “new normal” in International Relations had it not been for the game-changing events of the past year. It’s this grand strategic goal that India intends to advance during its G20 chairmanship, which becomes clear after rereading Prime Minister Modi’s article with this global systemic context in mind.