Pragmatism likely to be accented in foreign policy of Southern powers


The meet between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in the run-up to the recent Bali summit of the G20 countries has almost overwhelmingly attracted world attention and this is only to be expected, considering the importance to the world of the principal issues in US-China relations. However, of equal importance ought to be the news that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to attend 20 sessions and 45 bilateral meetings within some 45 hours while in Bali.

Clearly, India is of steadily increasing importance in the affairs of the world. Given the country’s rising power in a multiplicity of areas, no international deliberations could be seen as complete without India playing a key role in them. This is the inevitable ‘take’ from the exceptionally busy schedule of Prime Minister Modi at the G20 summit. Some of the issue areas that were to receive the attention of the India Premier were: the state of the global economy, questions linked to energy, the environment, agriculture, health and digital transformation.

However, among the rising Southern powers, besides India and China, a few other countries of the first importance are: Japan, South Korea, the ASEAN states, Brazil and South Africa. Needless to say, it is quite some time since these countries achieved mid-power status and beyond. They are of pivotal political, economic and military importance in the current world order and need to be recognized as the latter’s principal shaping influences. One would not be overstating the case by mentioning that the future of the world is determined substantially by them.

That said, there is no denying that the US-China relationship is at centre stage of global politics, considering that the US and China are number 1 and 2 in the current world power system. They could make or break international peace and security and how they relate to each other continues to be of principal importance.

The recent meet in Bali between the Presidents of the US and China was of a reassuring nature for the world on account of the fact that it was not of a fractious kind and indicated the preference of the sides to think things through rationally and unemotionally.

On the whole, a constructive spirit informed the deliberations and the general tone of the talks is highlighted by the following pronouncement by US President Joe Biden: ‘As the leaders of our two nations, we share a responsibility, in my view, to show that China and the US can manage our differences, prevent competition from becoming anything near conflict, and find ways to work together on urgent global issues that require our mutual cooperation.’

Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping was quoted as saying: ‘We need to find the right direction for the bilateral relationship going forward and elevate the relationship.’

The above quotes are proof that the powers concerned could be depended on to be guided by a sense of responsibility in the conduct of their relations for the present. There is an underlying understanding of the risks that could be incurred by charting a divisive course in bilateral ties. Besides the tensions that have been recurring in trade and investment relations, there is the explosive question of Taiwan and the destabilizing power play between the states in the South and North China seas, for instance, that have the potential to take the countries on a dangerous, adversarial course in their bilateral relations.

However, the overall tone of the meeting between the US and Chinese leaders offers some proof that a degree of cordiality would prevail, at least for the time being, in their relations. Besides, the world is certain to have been relieved on hearing that these prime powers would be steering clear of the nuclear option.

This position is bound to have a discouraging impact on those nuclear-capable states that every now and then hint at exercising this dangerous option in times of conflict with other states. Such anxieties are currently surfacing in the Ukrainian theatre, where Russia is using exceptionally lethal weaponry on its opponents. Likewise, North Korea is reportedly preparing for its seventh inter-continental ballistic missile test in recent times, with nuclear overtones.

It is also important that divisive ideological issues did not surface at the talks. There is a fortunate shelving of these questions particularly on the part of China, which trend indicates that the latter would be preferring to relate to the US and other big powers on a more pragmatic basis.

Meanwhile, the wide-ranging engagements of Indian Prime Minister Modi at the G20 forum, indicate that economic pragmatism is the defining essence of this grouping as well, which brings together a host of countries which were at one time in the ranks of the developing countries. Besides India and China, three other countries of this category are: Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Today, these countries have transited to the emerging economy category and beyond.

India is easily one of the more powerful of the G20 countries, which had its origins in the developing world.

However, rather than remaining focused only on North-South issues, as in former times, India is today taking on itself the responsibility of leading the G20 in the direction of assisting emerging economies, severely affected by the current global economic downturn. For example, Sri Lanka is mentioned as one such country whose economic worries are receiving the attention of the G20 under the leadership of India. It is the world economy that is in focus and not only the Southern hemisphere.

Here too, economic pragmatism rather ideological considerations is proving decisive. The changing economic standing and strength of Southern economies is prompting major powers of the South, such as India and China, to craft pragmatically-oriented economic policies, rather than remain embroiled in ideological polarities.

The above observations are true of the US as well. Prior to coming to Bali, President Biden attended a US-ASEAN summit in Cambodia. His intention in the main is to strengthen the US’ political and economic links with ASEAN, a much needed ally in the US’ efforts to contain the power and influence of China in Asia. However, such influence-wielding would be carried out in the main by economic means, such as the provision of economic assistance to ASEAN to the tune $ 825 million in 2023, and a score of other such measures.

Apparently, it does not matter to the US and the West if ASEAN has within its fold authoritarian states, such as Myanmar. The immediate need for the US in the ASEAN region is to economically strengthen the latter and ensure that it remains an ally of the West. At this level too, down-to-earth pragmatism comes to the fore.

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