28.09.2023 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

Behind Washington’s growing love for the Global South

Behind Washington’s growing love for the Global South

Washington’s newly found love for the Global South is hardly a strange development. Having seemingly ‘conquered’ Europe’s foreign policy in terms of forcing it to align with the US vis-à-vis Russia and Ukraine, Washington is now keen to expand its influence to arrest the global political systems’ drift towards a multipolar world. A key reason contributing to Washington’s new approach is that the Ukraine conflict has fairly exposed the limits of the unipolar world insofar as sustaining this system requires military conflict. On the other hand, Russia’s resistance against unipolarity has created a global scenario in which countries outside of the developed world have become geopolitically very relevant insofar as ignoring them can no longer work to the best possible US advantage. At the same time, Russia’s own successful shift towards the world outside of Europe has more or less come as a shock for Washington, who believed that pushing Russia out of Europe would end it. Clearly, this has not happened.

On the other hand, the US ‘love’ for the Global South is also tied to its politics of “de-coupling” from China, as many of the countries the US is reaching out are potential alternative supply chains for US companies based in China looking to move out.

It is in this context that we must understand why Washington is now in a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” with Vietnam, a country that the US fought a decade-long war in Indochina in the 1960s. This partnership has seemingly, or on paper, put the US on par with China and Russia vis-à-vis Vietnam.

When the US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently visited Vietnam, she described Vietnam as “a key partner” that could help reduce global dependence on China. Vietnam is thus being cultivated as a key player in the US tech war on China as well. For instance, Joe Biden’s latest visit to Vietnam has already produced agreements worth billions of dollars for joint ventures in high-tech fields, including the production of semiconductors. “We’re deepening our cooperation on critical and emerging technologies, particularly around building a more resilient semiconductor supply chain,” said Biden in a joint press conference with Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the ruling Communist party. As a recent report in the Financial Times noted,

“The accelerating shift to countries such as Vietnam is part of a growing “China plus one” strategy to redraw global supply chains. As rivalries grow between China and the US over technology and security, more companies fear curbs on what and where they can manufacture. As a result, many are supplementing production in China, still the world’s biggest manufacturing hub, with expansion to other countries”.

But Vietnam is not the only example. India also falls in the same category. The recent success of the G20 summit in India cannot be simply seen as the success of Indian diplomacy. The fact that the US lent its support to a declaration that fell very short of targeting Russia in the usual manner that declarations from other US-dominated forums, i.e., G7, did also show how Washington is cultivating India as a global power capable of rivaling China.

This is why, where the US ‘appreciated’ India’s leadership of G20, it also expressed its eagerness to see India leading the QUAD – an anti-China grouping including the US, India, Japan, and Australia – in 2024. The US-India joint statement thus set out key details of India’s cultivation as a major player (that can eventually re-balance the world in the US’s favour). The statement not only lauds the upcoming QUAD summit in India, but also reassures Washington’s support “for a reformed UN Security Council with India as a permanent member, and, in this context, welcomed once again India’s candidature for the UNSC non-permanent seat in 2028-29.”

With an eye on China, both the US and India also “reiterated their support for building resilient global semiconductor supply chains, noting in this respect a multi-year initiative of Microchip Technology, Inc., to invest approximately US$300 million in expanding its research and development presence in India and Advanced Micro Device’s announcement to invest US$400 million in India over the next five years to expand research, development, and engineering operations in India”.

What Washington, in short, is trying to do is to rewrite the importance of the Global South. Washington, very actively, is seeking to bring the Global South to the centre of global politics. But the question is: will this strategy work for the US alone?

The US, by ‘empowering’ the Global South, is also actively reshaping the global order. In that sense, the US is unwittingly changing the world in ways that would make the global system multipolar even more rapidly than Russia and China may have imagined.

A key problem with Washington’s approach is to imagine that countries in the Global South share Washington’s interest in pushing back against Russian and Chinese dominance in the world. Contrary to this, most states in the Global South are unlikely to choose Washington over Russia and China. In fact, their preferred strategy will remain focused on using the global power competition for their own maximum gains.

Washington’s position is further compromised by the fact that it is one thing to support such possibilities as reforming the US, and it is another thing to actually reform it. More than anything else, reforming the system requires Russian and Chinese support – two countries the US thinks are following a “revisionist” course of foreign policy.

Therefore, before Washington can sell dreams of a more ‘inclusive’ international system, it needs to reconcile the internal contradictions of its promises, contradictions that are not lost upon countries like India who are also seeking to expand BRICS and re-shape the world in ways that suit their own interests first and foremost.


Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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