South-South Cooperation Matters in a Changing World ---On the 20th UN International Day for South-South Cooperation

Chinese President Xi Jinping

Chinese President Xi Jinping

Published Sep 11, 2023


Yi Fan

This September 12 marks the 20th UN International Day for South-South Cooperation. Over the past decades, the Global South, i.e., the whole of emerging economies and developing countries, once a sidelined force in the unipolar era after the Cold War ended, has emerged into an increasingly strong driver for a multipolar world.

The collective rise of the Global South is fundamentally changing the global landscape. According to the IMF, emerging market and developing economies represent 85 percent of the world’s population and nearly 60 percent of global GDP based on Purchase Power Parity. In international affairs, the Global South, more confident in raising voice and united in seeking strength, has become a key player in shaping the global order.

The world is now living through drastic changes. Various security challenges continue to surface, while the global economy is still battling against significant headwinds on its path to recovery. In a world of both transformation and turbulence, closer South-South cooperation brings more stability, certainty and opportunities to the international community.

Solidarity is a shining tradition among countries in the Global South, and many recognize that China and Africa lead by examples in this regard. When the COVID-19 hit China, Africa and many other Global South countries extended their helping hand and sent much-needed supplies. In later stages of the pandemic, when major developed countries were busy hoarding vaccines, China made selfless donations to its African brothers and developing friends.

Intra-Africa solidarity is another good example of South-South cooperation. The Africa Solidarity Trust Fund, an initiative by Food and Agriculture Organization and African countries, contributes to unlocking the potential of intra-African cooperation to bring about rural transformation, benefiting millions of rural people in Africa.

Development is the biggest common denominator for the Global South. The Global South believes that the international community should work together to make global development more inclusive, universal and resilient, and accelerate the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Yet, global development has experienced major setbacks. Secretary-General Guterres warned recently, “Just 12 percent of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) targets are on track. Progress on 50 percent is weak and insufficient. Worst of all, we have stalled or gone into reverse on more than 30 percent of the SDGs.”

However, the West is neither intended nor able to help address the fundamental concerns of the emerging economies and developing countries. What they have done is paying little more than lip-services and shirking responsibilities. Some even purposefully set barriers for latecomers, and even form exclusive “small blocs” to block the trend of developing countries’ collective rise.

That’s why South-South cooperation is needed more than ever. Global South countries have already pursued increased synergy among a host of development initiatives, such as China’s Global Development Initiative, African Union’s Agenda 2063, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, and the ASEAN Community Vision 2025.

Apart from development, poverty reduction, food and energy security, and climate change are also common concerns of developing countries that call for closer South-South cooperation. China-Africa Digital Innovation Partnership Program is a pioneering move to help African agricultural development. The Kigali Communique signed by 10 African countries is another typical case of South-South cooperation in green energy transition.

Equity and justice are the common proposition of the Global South. The whole of emerging economies and developing countries still hold limited sway in the post-World War II world order. For example, they are represented inadequately and treated unfairly within the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO as the financial system was conceived by a group of rich countries and naturally basically benefits rich countries.

Given this, greater and bolder South-South cooperation is required to champion true multilateralism and seek greater democracy and equity in the international order. The historic BRICS expansion is a new starting point. As South African President Cyril Ramaphosa put it, “BRICS has embarked on a new chapter in its effort to build a world that is fair, a world that is just, a world that is also inclusive.”

Promoting the implementation of the SDGs will be among the agenda items for the forthcoming UN General Assembly, and the G77 + China Leaders’ Summit, a major event for the Global South. Together, countries in the Global South must utilize the opportunity to speak with one voice and take greater action for the achievement of a better future for all. And this makes the theme of this year’s South-South Cooperation Day -- Solidarity, Equity and Partnership -- all the more relevant.

The author is a current affairs commentator based in Beijing.