June 2023

G7: building bridges to the Global South

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy made a rock star entrance to last month’s Hiroshima G7 summit, wearing his branded attire of military khaki green. His purpose was to drum up more weapons and support for what G7 governments view as an epochal European war.  

Meanwhile, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose a different style of entrance in a jacket made from recycled plastic drink bottles that had been crushed into yarn. His attire was a soft-power environmental message reflecting widely held views of the Global South. In his speech, he spoke food, fuel and fertiliser, the mundanity of the day-to-day survival experienced by so many in poorer parts of the world.

With Zelensky and Modi lay two parallel but separate strands of this pivotal G7 summit.

One captured the attention of the Western media, largely because war talk makes headlines and good-against-evil is an easy story to tell.

The second, which received scant coverage, was less about high-minded issues of sovereignty, ideology and authoritarian threat from China and Russia, and more about the rise of the Global South.

Modi’s argument was about the impact of any conflict on faraway poor places. ‘In today’s interconnected world, tension in any one region affects all countries,’ he said. ‘And, developing countries, which have limited resources, are affected the most.’

The G7 jargon such as de-risking, de-coupling, rules-based-order, authoritarianism and so on is mostly meaningless to the wider Global South, which makes up 85 per cent of the world’s population, or to the 4.5 billion people of the Indo-Pacific whose region hosted the summit.

The G7 may still flaunt weapons, money and values but it is a diminished force from its height in the early 1980s, when it accounted for more than half of global gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund.  Today, it represents about a third, less than the collective Global South.

Voices of poorer nations are becoming louder, notably in the increasingly influential United Nations General Assembly, which is openly calling out double standards.

Governments, for example, voted overwhelmingly against Russia on Ukraine and similarly against the United Kingdom over its sovereignty claim on a vast area of the Indian Ocean. In short, these governments are refusing to adhere to one hegemon or the other.

Developed liberal democracies have too easily forgotten the mosaic of corruption, greed, bad governance, wars and human right atrocities that they had to overcome in their societies to achieve the stability and wealth they enjoy today.

Yet these are the very day-to-day challenges facing the Global South, which is tired of being lectured to by rich nations that are seen as the cause of mayhem over the past 20 years in the Middle East and North Africa and as incapable of preventing the current war in their own region.

Japan, the only Asian G7 nation, understands much of this and made a point of announcing its role in forging a bridge between the G7 and Global South. This is why Japanese Prime Minister Kashida invited the big beasts of the developing world, including Brazil’s Lula da Silva, Indonesia’s Joko Wikodo and Prime Minister Modi.

Unlike its G7 counterparts, Japan lives in the Indo-Pacific. It might now be a developed democracy, albeit one moulded in America’s own image after its defeat in the Pacific War.  But it knows that it will have to forge a lasting peace with its neighbours, specifically China, if future war is to be averted.

Narendra Modi leads a nation wracked with developing world challenges. Corruption, poverty and bad governance are endemic, together with the type of ethnic tension which in Europe was once politically exploited but has now mostly been confined to pockets such as Northern Ireland.

India is flanked by two hostile neighbours, Pakistan and China. Like Japan, it knows that, at some stage, it needs to come to lasting peaceful arrangement with them.

India has strong ties with Russia, Europe and the United States, while continuing to forge a deepening economic relationship with China.  It is impossible, therefore, for India to take unequivocal sides in the manner America is asking.

It also holds the presidency of the much broader G20 group of nations, which includes governments of varying values such as Argentina, South Africa and Saudi Arabia.

Modi has made clear that global institutions, as constructed under the present world order, are failing across a raft of issues, including financial crises, climate change, pandemics, terrorism and wars.

And here lies the bigger challenge to liberal democracies which have shown a stubborn reluctance to cede control of the institutions that run the world. The West needs not only to think about the expansion of Chinese influence, but also to prepare for the inevitable rise of the Global South.

To get through this impasse without war, the G7 needs to listen hard to the voices whom Prime Minister Modi represents with his stylish, crushed plastic bottle yarnG7 jacket and his talk of peace.

The parallel strands of the G7 stem from Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who stood as an example of policies that have not worked, and Narendra Modi, who may hold the key to doing things better in the future.