The Strategic Significance of the Global South

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By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

This year’s 59th Munich Security Conference (MSC) under the title „Re:vision“ was, after three years of restrictions due to the Covid Pandemic, one of the largest in size, gathering more than 400 international security experts and diplomats under the direction of the new chairman Ambassador Christoph Heusgen. Aside from many background discussion which took place and given that one of the largest US delegation since 60 years attended the conference, what was striking this time was that essentially only o n e theme was reiterated over the span of three days: The “West” – i.e. the US and it‘s transatlantic partners- are united in their efforts to send a „signal“ of unity,  military strength and the commitment to deliver more weapons and intelligence to Ukraine, so that in the end Russia will „lose“ and the Ukraine will be „victorious“  in the battlefield, as Ukraine president Zelenskyy stated in a video message addressing the  audience at the start of the conference.  There were only a few speakers – among them above all the Chinese Special Foreign Policy Councilor Wang Yi, who at the occasion of MSC, made some constructive proposals for conflict solution and peace negotiations – in order to settle the bloody conflict in the midst of Europe. The spirit of his short address and the ensuing discussion with the former Chairman of the MSC, Ambassador Ischinger, made clear that China is guided by the desire to present a “Global Security Initiative” and a plan for peace, that should be shared by as many countries as possible, so as to bring about peace to Ukraine and engage in reconstruction, development and cooperation around the world.

In light of the present geopolitical  conflicts that we are confronted with, Wang Yi emphasized that „sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected“  and that interference is a  „disregard for basic norms of International Relations“. „The Principle of sovereignty is the cornerstone of contemporary society“, Wang Yi stated.  He referred to some principles that were later more elaborated in the Chinese Peace Plan. He furthermore demanded that the 2030 Agenda of the UN should be promoted. „If security should endure, the world must be made a safer place and China is committed to help.” In China there would be efforts underway toward modernization and to keep a peaceful path. „ For 70 years we have never been in war…We are the only country of the 5 nuclear powers (NPT) that is committed to say „No to a first strike. The goal is to pursue development and a better life for people. Democracy is only possible in a peaceful environment.  Looking to the future, he underlined that peace and democracy will be the future.”

“Wars do not produce winners” says Wang Yi

During the discussion with former MSC chairman Wolfgang Ischinger, Wang Yi was asked whether China was ready to act for a peaceful response in the Ukraine war. „China is deeply concerned about the extended crisis and we don’t want to add fuel to the fire,” Wang Yi responded. „What we have done is facilitating peace talks. Xi Jingping suggested that Russia and China should sit down together. However some forces don’t want to see peace talks to materialize. In a meeting with European leaders I said ‘conflicts and wars produce no winners. We must think calmly, especially the friends in Europe (…) We will reiterate our view in a position paper according to which legitimate concerns should be taken seriously.  Nuclear wars should not be fought and will not be won. We are against attacks directed against nuclear power stations. We must oppose the use of chemical and biological weapons. We will work with all sides and work until peace arrives.’”

Wang Yi’s remarks correspond to the Peace Plan that was officially presented on February 24 by the Chinese Foreign Ministry under the title “China’s position on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.”  The plan has been received with mistrust by the US, the German Foreign Ministry and by the EU, while it got  endorsed by Hungary’s Minister President V. Orban and Russia.

Chinas Peace Plan

The entire peace plan however deserves attention.  It consists essentially of 12 points, among them: The respect of the sovereignty of all countries. The strict observation of the universally  recognized international law, including the purpose and principles of the United Nations Charter; the need to abandon the Cold War mentality, whereby the security of a country should not be pursued at the expense of others. The need to work for peace and stability on the Eurasian continent; ceasing hostilities and resuming peace talks; create conditions and platforms for the resumption of negotiation, in which China wants to play a constructive role. The UN should play a coordinating role in respect to humanitarian aid, including exchange of POW’s and protect civilians. Nuclear power plants need to be kept safe. China fully supports the IAEA in playing a constructive role in promoting the safety and security of peaceful nuclear facilities. The Peace plan furthermore urges the reduction of strategic risks: „Nuclear proliferation must be prevented and a nuclear crisis must be avoided. China opposes the research, development and use of chemical and biological weapons by any country under any circumstances.” China calls for the implementation of the Black Sea Grain Initiative signed by Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the UN and supports the UN to play major role in this effort, also in providing global food security. China opposes unilateral sanctions unauthorized by the UN Security Council. “Relevant countries should stop abusing unilateral sanctions and, long arm jurisdiction against other countries, so as to do their share in deescalating the Ukraine crisis and create conditions for developing countries to grow their economies and better the lives of their people.”

Give the Global South more influence on World Affairs

The G 20 Summit  of Foreign Ministers that was hosted March 1-2nd in New Delhi under the chairmanship of India with the Motto „One Earth, One Family, One Future“ deserves, in light of the above mentioned Chinese Peace Plan, much more attention. This is especially true given the role that India – by now aside China the largest country on Earth with 1,6 bn people- is intending to play, in order to bring about a more just and peaceful world order and strengthen „Multilateralism.” The final G 20 document which consisted of 24 paragraphs was not passed with the consensus of all participants, given that Russia and China didn‘t want to support Paragraph 3 and 4, that included an explicit condemnation of Russia’s  aggressive war in Ukraine. The overall document however centers on key issues such as: how to tackle the crisis of multilateralism, food security, energy, debt crisis and how to bring about global development cooperation that includes the less developed countries of the world.

Given the fact that only very little has been reported about the conference in the European or German press, the latter only focusing on Baerbock’s remarks to Russian Minister Sergey Lavrov (“Stop the war immediately”), it is worth looking at the short introductory speech by Indian Prime Minister Modi as well as at the press conference of his Foreign Minister Jaishankar and a half hour summary that was compiled by the Indian Sansad TV broadcast “Perspective” with three Indian experts. These experts expressed  tremendous regret that the G 20 – which  had been created  at the peak of the global financial crisis (2008) as a platform to discuss finances, economic and development  problems, was  in a certain way „diverted“ from these subjects by the strong focus on the Ukraine war and the demand to „take sides.” This was seen by the Indian observers as an alienation of India’s efforts, to strengthen a multilateral more just world order that tackles key problems such as food security, the problems of debts with many countries at the point of insolvency (like Pakistan and several African countries) and  the global financial crisis. A close look at the video reports from the conference shows that the Indians gave a tremendous reception to the G 20 representatives and expressed its diplomatic skills in handling the G 20 issues. This gives a foretaste that the Eurocentric view is shifting to a more comprehensive “multilateral” view including the interests of the Global South.

Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi addressed the summit by underlining that „Multilateralism is in a state of crisis in the world today.” He deplored the fact that  the „architecture of global governance“ that was created after the Second World War, with the aim to prevent future wars by „balancing competing interests“ and „fostering international cooperation on issues of common interests“, had failed. He noted that the „tragic consequences of this failure” were seen mostly by all developing countries, where many countries are struggling with unsustainable debt while trying to ensure food and energy security for their people.

„India’s presidency has tried to give a voice to the Global South“, the Indian Prime Minister said. He remarked that no group can claim global leadership without listening to the most affected by its decisions. And he stated that „the World looks upon the G 20 to ease the challenges of growth, development, economic resilience, disaster resilience, financial stability, transnational crime, corruption , terrorism and energy security.“  Given the fact that the summit takes place in the „Land of Gandhi and Buddha“ Modi urged the conference participants to „draw inspiration from India’s civilizational ethos of focusing not on what divides us, but on what unites us all.“(!)

Geostrategic rivalry: This year’s MSC report: „Re: envision“

In light of  India’s major preoccupation to help the „Global South“ and follow a more „balanced“ cooperative approach to those countries, it is necessary to study this year’s  125 pages long MSC report issued in tandem with the conference in Munich. This “Roadmap” compiled by a group of MSC researchers needs to be looked at critically. It contains many different maps and risk analysis, that stands in total contrast to the views expressed by Non Western countries with  ancient cultures like China and India, but also Russia and other countries of from the Global South.

The entire MSC report consists in a listing of all elements that constitute the „systemic geopolitical rivalry” between Western and  “revisionist” countries. Due to this rivalry the report deplores that many countries of the Global South did not go along with the unilateral sanctions against Russia and that the key strategic task will be to win these states over to the liberal rule- based Order.

„ A re-envisioned liberal, rule- based international order is needed to strengthen democratic resilience in an era of fierce systemic competition with autocratic regimes… China’s tacit support for Russia’s war, its military posturing to assert its own sphere of influence in East Asia and its comprehensive efforts to promote an autocratic alternative to the liberal, rules based international order, epitomize the broader autocratic challenge… The mere fact that many governments from, Africa, Latin- America and Asia have not been willing to speak up against Russia’s aggression shows that powerful autocrats are not alone in their deep dissatisfaction with existing international norms and institutions – and that simply defending the status quo is not enough to effectively push back against autocratic revisionists.” The report is based on 6 chapters in which the geopolitical  „systemic rivalry“ is a major focus- including subjects like „Global Infrastructure“, „Digital Infrastructure“, „ Energy“ et cetera.

What particularly bothers the MSC authors is that „Notwithstanding unequivocal violations of the UN Charter, many countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin- America have proven unwilling to speak up against Russia’s brutal attack and isolate Moscow economically and diplomatically. Often called „fence sitters” (!) the new “non-aligned”, or „hedging middle”, a significant number of states have refused to take sides in the war against Ukraine, that only countries form the rich democracies have introduced sanctions.” But the report underlines that from the dominant Western perspective, many countries in the “Global South” were wittingly or unwittingly complicit in Russian efforts to weaken international norms. Disappointment with the way Brazil, South Africa and India – and the Global South more broadly have responded to the Russian invasion is also evident in the results of the Munich security Index.  The report quotes from India‘s Foreign Minister Subahmanyan Jaishankar, who has said: „Europe has to get out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems, but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems.”

The downside of the “liberal rule-based order”

Under the category “Global Infrastructure” the report develops a strong polemic in particular directed against Chinas „Belt and Road initiative (BRI).” As the report underlines China unleashed a race to construct physical infrastructure in Eurasia and Africa and that “China is spearheading a group of autocratic states intent on promoting their techno- authoritarian vision for the digital age, while the transatlantic partners are only gradually converging on their vision of an open digital infrastructure.“  Russia’s weaponization of Europe’s gas and oil dependency is a case in point. „To become less dependent on foreign markets and technology, the new Chinese economic model aims to strengthen consumption and support, domestic innovation to dominate key technologies of the 21rst century while making other countries dependent on China.  In parallel the Chinese Communist party seeks to elevate the role of Chinese Yuan to push back against the hegemony of the US Dollar” (!!) „As the US Dollar continues to be the dominant reserve currency and primary currency for international payments, the US enjoys substantial control over the global financial architecture, which it regularly uses to sanction it‘s enemies by cutting them off from the dollar based system.“

„China also uses the BRI to promote its governance model and strengthens autocratic recipient governments,” the report states.  It is busy creating an „alternative financial infrastructure with Chinese characteristics to insulate BRI from US financial hegemony… The BRI therefore furthers China’s vision of a multipolar world order and increases China‘s say over international rules, which those outside of China disapprove.” The report states that transatlantic partners have been slow to respond to BRI. The EU Connectivity Strategy 2018 aims to deepen networks between Europe and Asia. In 2023 the G7 aggregated initiatives under „Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment”- Plan, wants to mobilize 600 billion US dollars through to 2027.

What is also bothering the authors of the MSC report is the systemic competition concerning the issue of „development cooperation“ and how China offers itself as alternative model for development and the effect this has on the Global South. China is competing with US and  European approaches to „development cooperation with low and middle income countries (LMICs)… It wants to promote cooperation between countries in the ‘Global South’, which, it claims is guided by solidarity and produces mutual benefits.”

Global South: The Scramble for winning the battle of narratives

The Report calls for a major offensive from the side of the West: “The Scramble for winning the battle of narratives (!) over who is to blame for Russia’s war of aggression shows that major powers increasingly recognize that countries in the ‘Global South’ can become crucial swing states,” the Report states. “They can tip the balance between the systemic competitors and therefore shape the fate of the international rules based order. (!) … In the near future, countries on South East Asia and Africa will play a much bigger role in international trade, given their abundant and natural resources (!), fast demographic growth and economic dynamism. Latin- America also offer vast deposits of critical raw materials, such as the world’s largest lithium reserves, which are considered essential for the energy and electric mobility transition.”

According to the MSC report the US and Europa have become increasingly alarmed by China’s and Russia’s engagement in the „Global South“ in recent years, especially strong in Africa – where Chinas engagement falls on fertile grounds. „23 of the world’s 28 poorest countries are on the African continent. All these countries lack public goods, food security and climate finance”, the report states. Moscow follows rather limited objective, mainly concentrating on arms sale, extractive industries, the expansion of export opportunities and security assistance. And furthermore the BRI is a case in point of China responding to the infrastructure investment needs of low and middle income countries while promoting its own economic goal.

The Report also emphasizes that China’s position in the mining of Critical Raw Materials is substantial. „Also with respect to rare earth elements (REEs) i.e. to achieve their renewable energy targets and assume credible climate leadership, liberal democracies will have to rely on Beijing.( Key components for EV batteries and solar modules are produced in Xingjiang).”  „To reduce reliance on China and foster US competitiveness, Washington D.C has responded by announcing significant subsidies for clean technologies as part of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Yet there was also concern in Europe since it could lead to trade frictions with Europe.”

Hence, with its exclusive focusing on “systemic and geopolitical rivalry” the MSC Report is  deepening the “geopolitical divide” rather than calling for a united effort of mankind to respond to the great challenges of our time.

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