By K.M. Seethi
The Group of 77 (G77), comprising 134 developing nations, concluded a two-day summit in Havana, Cuba, on September 16, culminating in a call for a revamped global order. This event took place in close temporal proximity to the recent G20 summit in New Delhi, sparking speculation and concerns within certain circles. Some wondered whether India, as the G20 chair, had compromised its commitment to the ‘Global South’ by abstaining from sending a high-level delegation to Cuba.
India, despite its assertion of representing the Global South during its G20 presidency, opted to curtail its participation in the ‘G-77 plus China’ summit by cancelling the visit of its External Affairs Minister (EAM) to Cuba. Sources indicated that this decision was prompted by a special parliamentary session scheduled for September 18 in India. However, when the Summit got underway in Havana, EAM was in the South Indian state Kerala’s capital in connection with a Union Government-sponsored event as chief guest, associated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s launching of ‘PM Vishwakarma’ scheme in New Delhi.
Critics argued that this move prevented India from reinforcing its standing as the ‘voice’ of the Global South, especially in the wake of hosting the G20 summit. Consequently, the Indian delegation was led by MEA secretary (West) Sanjay Varma. During its G20 presidency, India had previously articulated its dedication to amplifying the Global South’s influence in shaping global economic and monetary policies, aiming to engage in consultations with fellow Global South nations. Prime Minister Modi underscored this commitment on December 1, 2022, as India endeavoured to champion Global South interests on the global stage. However, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) levelled criticism, contending that the government under Prime Minister Modi maintained a close alignment with the United States. They accused the government of deliberately abstaining from sending a ministerial delegation to the G77 summit, where developing nations and China convened on September 15 and 16 in Cuba. The party argued that despite projecting itself as a leader of the ‘Global South,’ the central government chose to bypass this critical summit.
The Group of 77 (G-77) was formed way back in 1964, by 77 developing countries who signed the “Joint Declaration of the Seventy-Seven Developing Countries” at the conclusion of the first United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Geneva. The group’s institutional structure began to take shape with the first “Ministerial Meeting of the Group of 77” in Algiers, Algeria, in 1967, where the Charter of Algiers was adopted. This gradual development led to the establishment of G-77 Chapters with liaison offices in Geneva (UNCTAD), Nairobi (UNEP), Paris (UNESCO), Rome (FAO/IFAD), Vienna (UNIDO), and the Group of 24 (G-24) in Washington, D.C. (IMF and World Bank). Despite the group’s membership expanding to 134 countries, the original name was retained due to its historical significance. The Group of 77 stands as the largest intergovernmental organization of developing nations within the United Nations. It serves as a platform for Southern countries to voice and advance their collective economic interests, bolster their joint negotiation capabilities on significant international economic matters within the UN framework, and promote collaboration among Southern nations for development purposes.
The Havana Summit of G77 was held in Cuba shortly before the commencement of the U.N. General Assembly session in New York scheduled for 19 September. The G77 summit brought together heads of state from Latin America, Africa, and Asia, along with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and representatives from more than 100 nations. Leaders from various countries, such as Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia, and Argentina, attended the G77 summit. International leaders such as Angola’s president, Mozambique’s president, and the Palestinian Authority leader were also present. China, although not an official G77 member, expressed steadfast support for the organization’s objectives. A Chinese representative at the summit underscored China’s commitment to prioritizing South-South cooperation and addressing digital disparities, aligning closely with the summit’s overarching theme of science and innovation.
In his address, UN Secretary-General António Guterres appealed to the grouping to “fight for a world that works for all.” Guterres noted that “although these countries have lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty in recent decades, they are now facing myriad crises, with rising poverty and hunger, rocketing prices, soaring debt, and surging climate disasters.” He said that “global systems and frameworks have let you down. The conclusion is clear: the world is failing developing countries.”
He further said: “change will require action at the national level to ensure good governance, mobilize resources, and prioritize sustainable development. At the same time, this national ownership will have to be respected.” Guterres pointed out that the world “needs climate justice as it needs financial justice.” He said: “Developed countries must deliver the promised $100 billion, double adaptation finance by 2025, and recapitalize the Green Climate Fund. Every person on earth must be protected by an early warning system by 2027 against natural disasters.”
Guterres expressed hope that “next week’s Climate Ambition Summit, taking place at UN Headquarters in New York, will be able to drive real progress.” He also called for “countries meeting at the COP28 UN climate conference this November to operationalize the Loss and Damage Fund, which the G77 and China have championed.” In his speech, the Secretary-General noted that he has proposed “measures to make the global financial architecture more representative and responsive to the needs of developing countries.” He also “proposed an SDG Stimulus that would provide $500 billion annually in affordable long-term finance for sustainable development and climate action in developing countries. “
India and China: Uneasy Partners
India and China, the two prominent Asian nations, are key members of several international groupings, including BRICS, G20, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and more. Despite recent tensions and border conflicts, as well as differing views on initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative and the Sino-Pak strategic partnership, India and China are anticipated to collaborate on numerous global matters. However, their alignment diverges significantly on issues concerning Western countries and China’s international partners. These disparities in perception and positions between the two nations were notably evident during the G77 summit.
Li Xi, a member of China’s Communist Party Central Committee and a special representative of President Xi Jinping, emphasized the significance of South-South cooperation at the G77 and China Summit. He stated that this cooperation is not just a temporary measure for China but a strategic choice. China, despite its development, sees itself as part of the Global South and remains committed to it. Li noted that the world is experiencing unprecedented changes, with developing countries gaining strength, causing a shift in the global power balance. South-South cooperation has grown significantly in terms of both quantity and quality. In the past 20 years, emerging markets and developing nations have contributed to 80 percent of global economic growth, now accounting for over 40 percent of global GDP, compared to 24 percent four decades ago. This cooperation plays a crucial role in supporting the collective progress of developing countries and global economic growth.
However, Li also pointed out the rise of unilateralism and hegemonism, with some countries resorting to practices like unilateral sanctions, trade barriers, decoupling, and disruptions of supply chains. These actions harm the development rights and interests of developing nations and hinder their space for growth. “Today, China provides development assistance to more than 160 countries, joins hands with more than 150 countries in building the Belt and Road, and works with over 100 countries and international organizations to advance the GDI, according to Li Xi. He noted that “China set up a Global Development and South-South Cooperation Fund with a total funding of $4 billion, and Chinese financial institutions would soon set up a special fund of $10 billion dedicated to the implementation of the GDI. This is a further contribution by China to helping other developing countries address difficulties and challenges and achieve common development.”
Sanjay Varma, Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs, emphasized India’s focus on the developing world during its G20 Presidency. He said India hosted a Voice of the Global South Summit involving 125 states, leading to the New Delhi G20 leaders Declaration. It prioritized Global South concerns in the G20, such as reaching an agreement on more effective Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) and a debt relief framework for Zambia, Ghana, and Ethiopia. The Capital Adequacy Framework (CAF) recommendations could boost MDB lending by $200 billion over a decade to help developing countries in fiscal distress. Varma highlighted India’s pride in having Africa represented by the African Union in the G20 for the first time, thanks to PM Modi’s efforts. This increased representation from the developing world, including the G77, in the G20. Varma noted that with political will, multilateralism can be reformed. India’s approach involves using science, technology, and innovation in policy interventions, resulting in 415 million Indians escaping poverty over 15 years. India is now the world’s fifth-largest economy and a significant contributor to global growth.
Varma outlined three key points for the G77: 1) The G77 should maintain unity on economic and developmental challenges at the UN, avoiding distraction by bilateral issues. 2) Unity and consensus should be reinforced within the Group, with the Chair’s ruling being the exception rather than the norm. Working methods should be credible, open, consultative, and transparent. 3) The G77 has nearly doubled in size since 1964, and Varma suggested considering a name change that better reflects its numerical strength and influence at the United Nations.
The G77+China Summit concluded with a significant Final Declaration which highlighted three key points:
- Reforming the International Economic System: The G77 emphasized the urgent need for a comprehensive overhaul of the international financial system. They called for a more inclusive and coordinated approach to global financial governance, with increased representation for developing countries in global decision-making and policy-making bodies. The objective is to improve developing nations’ access to and utilization of science, technology, and innovation.
- Critique of “Digital Monopolies” and Unfair Practices: The declaration criticized “digital monopolies” and other unjust practices that hinder technological progress in developing countries. It stressed the importance of addressing these issues to bridge the digital divide.
- Opposition to Sanctions and Coercive Actions: The G77 voiced its opposition to the imposition of “sanctions” and “coercive economic actions” on developing nations. Such measures were seen as undermining international principles and impeding economic and social development, especially in developing regions.
Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel emphasized the summit’s significance, given the participation of leaders from two-thirds of UN member states and 80% of the global population. He called for concerted efforts to reform the international system and promote democratization. This summit holds importance as it allows Global South countries to align their positions ahead of the 78th UN General Assembly, where they can collectively influence global matters. Furthermore, it showcased Cuba’s diplomatic prowess despite facing a longstanding blockade by the United States.
While India and China have bilateral issues and varying perceptions on certain strategic matters, are there opportunities for cooperation on a broader global stage, such as G77 and G20? Certainly, both nations, as influential members of various international forums, have the capacity to come together to address shared global challenges. But can India and China find common ground and work collaboratively to contribute positively to global affairs, fostering stability and prosperity for the benefit of all Global South countries?