Southern mojo

G20 summit proved naysayers wrong—and showed the Global South’s potential to address world’s biggest problems

Good morning! Canada’s allegations that Indian covert operatives may have had a hand in the killing of a Canadian citizen of Indian origin has set off a diplomatic row that threatens to engulf other countries as well. Cornered by insinuations that western countries are hesitant to criticise India because they see it as a counterweight to their current bugbear, China, the US and allies have weighed in on the issue urging India to cooperate with Canada. That impression of the China-wary West bending backwards for India was cemented at the G20 summit in New Delhi where, despite the absence of top leaders from China and Russia, India managed to eke out a communique which is now seen as a stellar diplomatic achievement. It also firmly aligned the global agenda to the burning issues of our times such as climate change, food security and debt financing. Today’s piece explains how the Global South has taken the reins of the world in its hands. Plus, the best longreads from the Internet.

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Scepticism was running high ahead of the 2023 summit of the Group of 20, or G20, held in New Delhi in early September. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that they would not attend. At one moment, it was touch and go whether U.S. President Joe Biden – whose wife, Jill, was ill with COVID-19 – would make the trip. The general consensus was the group would fail to come up with a final declaration, largely because of differences over the war in Ukraine.

And yet, the assembled leaders did release a joint declaration on giving a new impetus to the World Bank, fighting climate change and dealing with infectious diseases, among other issues. One of the main outcomes was the admission of the African Union as a full member, much as the European Union has been from the start.

The final G20 statement has been criticized for not specifically condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But given Moscow’s and Beijing’s stance on that war – and New Delhi’s studiously neutral position on it – that was never much in the cards.

And perhaps that is the point. From its beginning, the G20 was established to deal with global economic governance issues. Yet, over time, some members have attempted to hijack it to focus on geopolitics.

Perhaps the time has come for the G20 – which now consists of 19 leading economies, the European Union and the African Union – to go back to basics and deal with what it’s best at: the economic, environmental and developmental challenges facing our troubled world. After all, there are already plenty of international organisations that deal with geopolitics, not least the United Nations.

India’s leadership of the Global South

Politics of a domestic kind was certainly in evidence during the G20. Taking place as India gears up for its 2024 elections, the country was plastered with G20 posters featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The emblem of the gathering was the lotus flower, which happens to be that of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.

It is estimated that some 100,000 foreign delegates visited India in the year running up to the meeting, and that 15 million Indians participated in G20-related activities.

As Indian diplomat Abhay Kumar told me during my visit to New Delhi a week prior to the summit, cultural events were held in all Indian states as part of the official G20 program. New Delhi itself looked as clean and green as I have ever seen it since first setting foot there 20 years ago as Chile’s ambassador to India.

Was all this a bit much? Perhaps. But at a time when some politicians revel in decrying anything that has to do with the outside world, there is something to be said for stressing the significance of a diplomatic summit – and its meaning for the people of what is today the most populated country on Earth.

There is little doubt that the world is undergoing an “India moment.” The recent moon landing of an Indian spaceship, the Indian economy growing at the fastest clip of any major country, and New Delhi flexing its diplomatic muscles big time during the G20 all burnish its credentials as a leader of what has become known as the Global South – and consists of various countries around the globe described as “developing.”

What’s next for G20

With G20 summits held in Indonesia in 2022 and India in 2023 – and set for Brazil in 2024 – rising powers from the Global South have been able to set an agenda, stressing the priorities of the developing nations’ development, debt financing, food security and climate change. This is in contrast to the Group of Seven, or G7, which in recent years has focused on geopolitics and the war in Ukraine.

But questions about the role, purpose and ultimate effectiveness of the G20 remain.

The group certainly inhabits a world vastly different from the one in which it was originally designed for. The G20 at the leaders’ level got off to a promising start, successfully managing the 2007-2008 financial crisis. It served as both a steering committee for the world economy and a crisis committee to deal with threats to the world economy.

Yet, the G20 has struggled to stay relevant. A high point was the summit held in Hangzhou, China, in 2016, which led to a joint U.S.-China commitment on lowering carbon emissions in the fight against climate change.

But in 2020, when the world first faced the COVID-19 pandemic, the G20 was deemed to have failed miserably, with very little international coordination to cope with the worst pandemic in a century, and “vaccine nationalism” running rampant.

The fact that the host and chair that year was Saudi Arabia, an authoritarian regime with relatively little international credibility, did not help. Also, the inability of the G20 to come up with firmer commitments on what may be the most significant global challenge of our time – to halt the course of climate change – has elicited skepticism among observers.

From its origins as a steering and crisis committee, the G20 has evolved into something else as the world order itself has changed. In 1998-1999, when the G20 was founded at the finance ministers’ level, and in 2008-2009, when it was upped to leaders’ level, countries were, by and large, still in global governance mode: They worked together to deal with common problems.

In 2023, however, great power competition is the order of the day, and a zero-sum rather than win-win mentality tends to prevail in the games nations play. As the world veers toward a fragmented, if not downright fractured, order, the G20 serves as a hub for world leaders to meet and sort out their differences. And there is certainly a need for that – although the absence of the presidents of China and Russia from the 2023 summit puts even that condition into question.

The way forward

Some developed nations might be tempted to retreat from this evolved and enlarged G20 to the comfort zone of the G7 – the group of most-developed nations, where everybody thinks and for the most part dresses alike – and attempt to steer global economic governance from there, as was done in the last quarter of the 20th century.

But that ship has sailed. The G7 today represents just 10% of humanity and 30% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. This is in contrast to the 42% of the world’s population and 36% of the world’s GDP embodied by the newly expanded BRICS group, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The North Atlantic countries no longer rule the roost and must come to terms with the geoeconomic and geopolitical realities of the new century.

The very reason the G20 was set up in 1999 was because the G7 could not deal with the Asian financial crisis at the time, and needed a broader entity to cope with it. A quarter of a century later, with Asia representing a much larger share of the world economy than it did then, this is even truer now.

The G20 has its faults, but it still performs a useful function to help the world economy navigate perilous waters, as globalisation beats a retreat and the dangers of a fractured international system loom larger. I believe the G20 should be further built up and nurtured, not cavalierly dismissed. The world would be poorer without it.

Jorge Heine is Interim Director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, Boston University.

TECHTONIC SHIFT

Upsetting the Apple cart: The iPhone 15 is prohibitively expensive in India compared to markets abroad. Why’s this happening despite the base model being made in the country? PS: we also address that viral ‘Mother Nature’ video touting Apple’s sustainability efforts. While Rajneil is a believer, Roshni calls bs on a range of claims. Tune in to this week’s episode of TechTonic Shift. Available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts.

ICYMI

Old ties, new relationships: When Maharashtra political leader Praful Patel recently switched sides to join the Bharatiya Janata Party from his mentor Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, it was speculated that he was being hounded by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). The ED had been investigating money laundering allegations against his firm Millennium Developers and its links with the late Iqbal Mirchi, believed to be an associate of mafia don Dawood Ibrahim. The Morning Context now shows that Millennium Developers was also a shareholder in one of the power companies of the Adani Group. Patel, who was then a union minister, publicly batted to secure coal linkages for the power project despite the objections of his colleague, environment minister Jairam Ramesh. He and Pawar went out of their way to successfully lobby Manmohan Singh, the then Prime Minister, for coal blocks for the project.

Fall from grace: Once upon a time, travellers preferred the cost-efficient Airbnb over a generic hotel room. That is, until Airbnb hosts introduced upcharges and exorbitant (hidden) cleaning fees. New York City recently implemented new rules aimed at short-term rental platforms, especially Airbnb. You're not alone if you think the platform has become a passive income grab. "Mega-hosts", defined as larger companies or wealthy individuals owning 21 or more properties, now make up 30% of all active listings, benefiting from significantly more resources. As a result, the increase in quantity has come for quality. This story in The Atlantic looks at the evolution of Airbnb and why more people are choosing hotels over the platform.

A hilarious fraud: Surely you know about the fake Indian Premier League scam from last year. It was all over the news: how a group of four men set up the so-called Indian Premier Cricket League in a village in Gujarat by hiring farm labourers and unemployed youth as players. There were floodlights, cameras, LED screens, umpires with walkie-talkies, a commentator who sounded like Harsha Bhogle, and a BBC logo on the YouTube streams. The motive: to dupe Russian bettors with a foreign sport. The tournament actually reached the quarterfinal stage before the local police busted the racket. Sports Illustrated goes deep into this remarkable story of how plucky Indian villagers built a rigged cricket league from scratch and managed to rake in $4,300 before the law caught up with them.

(TW: sexual violence) Indian feminism’s thorny legacy: In the 1990s, Bhanwari Devi became the face of Indian women’s resistance. A movie was made on her life, and India’s laws against workplace harassment—the Vishakha Rules—were the result of her legal struggle against her rapists. But Bhanwari Devi is yet to get justice. More than 30 years later, her culprits are either dead or at large. She faces social boycott in her village for bringing ‘shame’ on its residents, and some of her own children mock her for her ordeal. This story in The Print traces her journey from becoming a saathin or government women’s rights worker in Rajasthan in the 1980s to stopping the wedding of a nine-month-old infant in her village, how she was raped in retaliation, and her fight to get a conviction which is still going on. The story shows how patriarchy and caste supremacy unite to attack outspoken women. It also demonstrates how the patriarchy poisons women against one another: the child that Bhanwari Devi saved from marriage grew up to hate her for putting her father and uncle in jail.

City of Hope: As the world trudges towards a warmer planet, conversations around the topic often end up being cries of despair. Climate catastrophe is here; end of civilisation is nigh; we’re doomed. These narratives leave us feeling forlorn and surrendered to our looming fate. There’s even a word for it now: climate doom. But beyond this gloom, there are places actively working to find a solution. Like Singapore. The city-state is rethinking its sweltering urban areas in order to make it ready for a warmer planet. Solutions range from the obvious (landscaping, green corridors) to the technical (managing wind flows, applying light-coloured reflective paints). Intrigued? Check out this beautifully illustrated piece by The New York Times to find out more.

Treading the last mile: Over the last few decades, the pace at which AIDS is killing people has fallen dramatically. Affordable antiretroviral medications have much to do with it. But there’s a “diminishing sense of urgency” in tackling the deadliest sexually transmitted disease, which has claimed the lives of 40 million people worldwide. The solution, even as drugmakers develop potentially game-changing vaccines and pills, is to address social dysfunction. A provincial council in South Africa is advising women to stuff cotton wool in the bottle of a preventive drug so they can be discreet and not suffer the wrath of men who hear the rattling of the pills. Simply put, men are a problem: they’re less likely to get tested than women and more likely to force unprotected sex. There are some surprises in this piece by The Economist, such as the role sugar daddies (!) in Africa play in transmitting the disease, and the things dirty energy, specifically mining firms, had to do to convince men to get tested.

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