Voice of Global South Summit, a signpost to next G20 Summit

Published on Jan 17, 2023 04:25 PM IST

This article has been authored by Rajiv Bhatia, Distinguished Fellow Gateway House and a former Ambassador.

The G20 summit will be the biggest multilateral event held in India in four decades, the last being the 7th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1983 (ANI)(HT File)
The G20 summit will be the biggest multilateral event held in India in four decades, the last being the 7th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1983 (ANI)(HT File)
ByHindustan Times

While defining the thrust of India's G20 presidency, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has often talked about India serving as “the voice of the Global South.” Acting on this concept, the government took the decision to convene a virtual summit of developing countries on 12–13 January 2023 and christened it as the “Voice of the Global South Summit.” It was projected as the largest digital conference of the Leaders and Ministers of the developing world.

India’s goal was to consult developing countries not represented in G20, on their developmental priorities and what they expected India to achieve through its presidency. The idea was to ensure that developing countries feel better engaged with the G20 process and, in turn, G20 could produce better results to promote “human-centric-development.” No previous host of the G20 summit had conceived of calling such a conference before.

When the news broke out regarding the planned summit, the media was curious about one point: will Pakistan and China be invited? The answer became known soon. The question of inviting Pakistan did not arise, given its adversarial attitude towards India. China and other emerging economies were not invited to this summit, for India has been holding multiple consultations with them as part of the continuing G20 process.

A total of 125 nations took part in the digital conference. The geographical breakup was: 29 countries from Latin America and the Caribbean, 47 countries from Africa, 7 countries from Europe, 31 countries from Asia, and 11 countries from Oceania. Of them, 11 countries participated at the Leaders’ level at the inaugural session and 7 countries took part in deliberations at the concluding session, both chaired by PM Narendra Modi.

The conference comprised a total of 10 sessions. Besides the two Leaders’ sessions, eight Ministerial-level thematic sessions were held, involving the Ministers of Finance, Trade, Environment, Energy, Health, and Education. Two sessions were meant for the Foreign Ministers where the focus was on the priorities of the Global South, and their suggestions for India as the G20 president.

Meticulous research showed that valuable inputs were provided by important foreign participants. For example, President Nyusi of Mozambique emphasised the need for concerted international efforts to focus global attention on promoting the interests of the developing world. President Buhari of Nigeria drew attention to the huge debt burden that had derailed many countries’ development plans. Developing countries should put forward “a common agenda” to present “our collective demands to the Global North.”

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh presented a package of six proposals: maintaining world peace and stability; creating a new paradigm to tackle inequality holistically in accord with SDGs; special financing for the most vulnerable nations; bridging digital divides; ensuring that all human beings, including Myanmar’s Rohingya refugees sheltered in Bangladesh, have an equal right to lead a decent life; and strengthening South-South and tripartite cooperation to ensure global human development.

Presenting India’s perspective PM Modi empathised that the Global South wanted “a globalisation that brings prosperity and well-being to humanity as a whole.” He added that ‘a human-centric globalisation’ was required. He solemnly assured his guests that “India's G20 Presidency will attempt to voice the views of the Global South on these important issues.”

The summit’s outcome was tangible. The main points of agreement were:

  • Significance of South-South cooperation and the imperative of collectively shaping the global agenda;
  • That in the health sector, there will be an emphasis on traditional medicine, developing regional hubs for healthcare, and the need to deploy digital health solutions;
  • That in education, all can benefit from sharing our best practices in vocational training and using technology for distance education;
  • That in finance, the deployment of digital public goods can increase financial inclusion in developing countries at a great scale;
  • On the need to invest more in connectivity infrastructure;
  • That the developing countries believe that the developed world has not fulfilled its obligations on climate finance and technology;
  • On the importance of controlling emissions in production and moving away from ‘use and throw consumption’, towards more environmentally sustainable styles.

PM Modi also announced five new initiatives by India: i) Arogya Maitri (Wellness Friendship), ii) Global South Center of Excellence, iii) Global South Science and Technology Initiative, iv) Global South Young Diplomats Forum, and v) Global South Scholarships. Details will be worked out soon.

As a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and G77, India has been aware of the needs of the Global South. A senior official in the G20 Secretariat told this author that the real aim of the summit was to obtain in greater detail information about their needs at the micro level and the latest thinking of their highest-level representatives.

An important driving impulse was that India sought to assert its competitive position vis-à-vis China. The spectacular success in persuading 125 developing nations to participate showed that India's equity with them is intact, despite a perception in some quarters that, in the past decade, India moved away from the NAM and much closer to the developed West. The summit also enabled New Delhi to convincingly project itself as a vital player on the international stage. India can now impart a Global South-favoured focus to its G20 presidency.

Terming the summit “a unique beginning”, Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra stressed that its key feature was “the need for articulating the voice of the Global South in international institutions and for reforming them for a balanced representation of the developing countries.” He promised “the strongest endeavours” by the government to channel their ideas, priorities and concerns into the G20 process, piloted by India.

This article has been authored by Rajiv Bhatia, Distinguished Fellow Gateway House and a former Ambassador.

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