Since its independence, India with its meagre resources at that point in time rose to become a voice for the Global South as it focused on anti-colonialism, anti-racism, non-violence, Panchsheel and the Non-Aligned Movement. Since the last decade, its foreign policy has made a departure from the leader of third-world rhetoric to that of great power politics. However, with the recent transfer of the G20 Presidency from Indonesia to India, there has been a renewed focus on the Global South.
On the 1st of December, in an editorial published in many Indian newspapers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote, “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.” Similar attention to the Global South was given in External Affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishankar’s speech at the G20 University Connect programme. With India having resumed the baton for being a voice for the developing countries, how does it seek to wield the Indo-Pacific platform to bridge the divide between the Global North and Global South? Can the Indo-Pacific framework create a future where such a divide becomes inconsequential?
Contemporarily states hold membership in various organisations across the spectrum. Overlapping membership has become the new norm and convergence at the multilateral level, the new ethic, as no state wants to be left out. However often these organisations or frameworks might not have been founded on similar logic/principles and goals.
The Global South nowadays broadly refers to those people who are impacted negatively by Neo-liberal policies. The concept historically underlines the core and periphery debate starting from colonialism and neo-imperialism leading to gross inequalities in the standards of living and underdevelopment. Based upon the typology of international orders as outlined by Kyle M. Lascurettes and Michael Poznansky (2021), the Global South framework is neither a hegemonic order nor a centralised order. Since power is dispersed, the order would come under the category of a negotiated order. At the same time, it does posit the developing countries in a state of friction with the developed countries, albeit for pertinent positive ends of economic and political justice.
The Indo-Pacific Framework is in the process of setting a new narrative and building a new foundation. It is also not a hegemonic or centralised order where power is concentrated in the hands of a few actors. All countries have espoused their own understanding of the Indo-Pacific and there are certain shared foundational principles to all these visions. The common denominator is the standard of ‘rules-based international order’ and ‘free and open Indo Pacific’.
Since it includes the members of both the developed and the developing countries, another common agenda for the framework should be to become a platform to bridge the divide between the Global North and Global South. The action plan should consciously focus on not only providing inclusive solutions to solve this state of friction on the ground but also creating a new narrative where the divide gets diminished. Concrete steps to reduce inequality should become the backbone for cooperation and friendship.
The agenda of immediate concern and long-term issues for the developing countries in the Indo-Pacific vary in a number of ways from that of the developed countries. For example, as highlighted by Darshana M. Baruah, the small island states in the Indo-Pacific emphasise the importance of focusing on “non-traditional security threats” with climate change and the blue economy becoming one of the many areas of immediate concern.
For these countries, these issues become life-threatening, unlike other countries. This is in contrast to the developed big countries-the great powers, who prioritize geo-strategic traditional security issues like the containment of Chinese power. The island states do not want to be part of the increasing great power competition between the United States and China. This is true for African states whose “leaders have continuously voiced apprehensions about getting caught in between great power contestations” (Mishra 2021).
At the same time, they respect the goal of a rules-based international order as they are most vulnerable to any other kind of anarchic order. Hence the Indo-Pacific framework should highlight and focus on the differing goals of both developing and developed countries in order to become a platform where everyone’s interests are given equal importance. An inclusive vision for sustainable economics should be the predominant operation and narrative in order to move beyond the ‘dependency’ [theory] in practice that is the bedrock for the division between the Global North and Global South.
As a voice for the Global South as well as a member of the Indo-Pacific framework, India ought to up the ante regarding manoeuvring the structuring of the framework to suit not only its national interests but also to promote a more equitable international order. Concerns of geopolitics can hardly be divorced from sustainable economy and social development, especially for developing countries.
As stated by Happymon Jacob, “the world still, albeit occasionally, looks up to us [India] for moral leadership or as a peace-builder”. With India starting its presidency for the G20, along with being the chair of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), it shares an even greater responsibility for steering the increasing geo-political tensions. Jacob has even called “India as a pole” and written that “India is a pivotal power in the Indo-Pacific and beyond, with an ability to help tackle security, climate and other challenges of global consequence.”
The Indo-Pacific framework should not be narrow and constrained to only the geo-strategic objectives of a few developed countries. Neither should it be hijacked as a pawn for the increasing rivalry between the United States and China. Rather its true success lies in promoting a shared platform and vision for implementing a just and economically equal world order.