As UN gathers, India set to raise Global South’s issues

Updated on Sep 21, 2022 12:30 AM IST

As competition between great powers generates global economic uncertainty with a disproportionate impact on the global south, external affairs minister S Jaishankar is steering diplomatic attention on “global pressing needs” such as food, energy, fertiliser, health, debt and trade concerns, people familiar with the development said.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar participates in the India-UAE-France trilateral Ministerial meeting with counterparts Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Catherine Colonna, in New York on Tuesday. (S Jaishankar Twitter)
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar participates in the India-UAE-France trilateral Ministerial meeting with counterparts Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Catherine Colonna, in New York on Tuesday. (S Jaishankar Twitter)
By, New York

As competition between great powers generates global economic uncertainty with a disproportionate impact on the global south, external affairs minister S Jaishankar is steering diplomatic attention on “global pressing needs” such as food, energy, fertiliser, health, debt and trade concerns, people familiar with the development said.

During extensive engagements on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, the people said that the minister has been focusing particularly on issues that affect a majority of the world’s population.

At the same time, as India emerges a champion of the global south and its position about the consequences of the war in Ukraine gets more traction, Jaishankar is also working on cementing strategic partnerships.

The first ministerial of the India-France-United Arab Emirates (UAE) was held on Monday. Preparing the stage for India’s G20 presidency, Jaishankar met the foreign minister of Indonesia, which is this year’s chair. And he has been working on deepening ties with a range of countries in Africa and Latin America — regions whose strategic importance to India’s calculus is growing, the people added.

Development focus

India believes that the world’s biggest multilateral diplomatic theatre, UNGA, must focus on issues that affect the majority of the world’s population but haven’t got their due in the international system. This was reflected in Jaishankar’s meeting with the President of the General Assembly (PGA), Csaba Korosi, on Monday and is expected to figure in his conversations with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, and his address to the UN General Assembly on Saturday.

“India believes that the global agenda should focus much more on the genuine pressing needs of the international community. These include food security concerns, energy security concerns, fertiliser concerns, health concerns, debt concerns, trade disruption concerns. There is a growing sense in the world that these issues are not getting their fair share of attention,” said people aware of the matter.

India sees PGA Korosi, a former Hungarian diplomat who served as the director of environment sustainability in the office of the president of Hungary, as having a “strong social development commitment” and hopes that he would steer UN processes in this direction.

After the meeting with Korosi, Jaishankar tweeted, “Congratulated him on his priorities for #UNGA77. Assured him of India’s fullest support. Discussed the criticality of SDG (sustainable development goals) agenda for global progress. Shared Indian experiences in that regard. Reiterated India’s deep commitment to multilateralism.”

The need to focus on development related concerns also figured in Jaishankar’s conversations with his counterparts from other countries including Egypt, Indonesia and Cuba on Monday and is expected to be a key theme in discussions with leaders of Ghana, Comoros, Nicaragua scheduled for later on Tuesday.

The minister’s engagement with Cuba’s foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla revolved around India’s extensive line of credit to Cuba to buy rice, but also future collaboration on these pressing needs. “Cuba is expected to take over as the chair of the G77, which is pretty much the global south grouping that permeates through a lot of UN processes. So on a lot of development issues, they will be our partners,” said people aware of the matter.

Strategic relationships

At the same time, India is also focusing on strengthening ties with strategic and economic partners, including through new innovative formats.

On Monday, Jaishankar participated in the first India-France-UAE ministerial. He tweeted, “A productive first trilateral ministerial meeting of India-UAE-France. Active exchange of ideas between strategic partners and UNSC members.”

Explaining the rationale of the new grouping, the people quoted above suggested that this was yet another instance of the more contemporary form of international diplomacy. “We are three different countries but we are strategic partners . We discussed what are the areas of commonality. We know there are enough and we have to work out how to specify and concretise these commonalities so then that becomes the way of going forward…We are very comfortable with each other.”

The new trilateral mechanism is yet another addition to the emerging informal institutional architecture in the region, along with others such as Quad (India, Japan, United States and Australia) and I2U2 (India, Israel, US and UAE). On Thursday, India-France-Australia will also hold their ministerial trilateral, giving life to a mechanism that had become dormant after France and Australia’s ties dipped following the AUKUS security pact.

The fact that France is a common link in both trilaterals emerges from the fact that Paris has emerged as New Delhi’s closest friend in the west across domains; minister Jaishankar will also attend a dinner hosted by the French president Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday.

India’s participation in these groupings stems from its understanding that while past groupings were regional in nature, based on geographical contiguity, newer groupings will span across regions based on common interests.

Pointing to the significance of the trilateral, Darshana Baruah, the head of the Indian Ocean Initiative at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC said, “This is a mechanism that will help all three countries leverage each other’s strengths and provide an effective avenue for collaboration. France has a traditional military partnership with UAE; India has very strong bilateral ties with both France and UAE, in the case of the latter across the strategic, energy and diaspora dimensions. UAE’s strategic location makes it critical. The trilateral can open doors for excellent collaboration across the maritime domain.”

In the spirit of deepening ties with old and new partners, Jaishankar also met the Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, who expressed Egypt’s eagerness to host PM Narendra Modi at COP-27. The two ministers met on the same day that Raksha Mantri Rajnath Singh was in Egypt, symbolising a growing political and security understanding. The two sides were also on the same page as far as the need to refocus the world’s attention to pressing needs was concerned, said people aware of the matter.

After the meeting, Jaishankar tweeted, “Our bilateral ties are growing strongly in the areas of defence, trade and investments. Cooperation in new initiatives like green hydrogen & ammonia and education sectors will further bolster them. Discussed our close cooperation at the UN and NAM. Recognised the value Egypt’s participation in G20 will bring next year.”

G20 focus

India’s G20 focus was most visible in Jaishankar’s meeting with the Indonesian foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, which was held in the Permanent Mission of India in New York.

After the meeting, Jaishankar tweeted, “So nice to meet my friend, Retno in New York. Discussed our commitment to make the Indonesian G20 presidency successful. Also exchanged views on Myanmar.”

The one-on-one meeting — at the request of the Indonesian side — focused on where G20 was at the moment and the challenges.

The people quoted above said that for India, it was important that Indonesia’s presidency was successful since India would be taking the baton from them. “The meeting was devoted to where the G20 is going and how do you focus the world on what are the pressing issues for the world.”

India recognises that this has been a tough year as Indonesia has had to navigate great power competition — even getting the US and EU countries and Russia in the same physical space is challenging. But Delhi believes that it is for Indonesia to judge how to manage it, and the current G20 chair has managed a difficult year with skill and deserves credit. “Our issue is what will be the outcomes. We have to look at the baton that will be handed over to us,” said people aware of the discussions.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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