03.10.2023 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

The Geopolitics of ‘The Global South’ versus ‘The Global North’

The Geopolitics of ‘The Global South’ versus ‘The Global North’

The recently concluded meeting of the Group of 77 (‘G77’) in Cuba saw some crucial developments at the global level. Comprising most of the countries in the Global South, the meeting endorsed the idea of a new, alternative global order led, not by one power center but multiple power centers, including from the Global South. China, while not a member of the G77, also endorsed the group’s position stated quite comprehensively by Cuban President, Miguel Diaz-Canel, at the opening of the summit. To quote him, “After all this time that the North has organized the world according to its interests, it is now up to the South to change the rules of the game”. There perhaps could not be a better expression of growing frustration with the Global North, which, amongst many other failures, continues to relentlessly push the world towards a major environmental crisis. The scale of frustration is itself daunting. The Group of 77, while established in 1964, today includes 134 members, which is close to two-thirds of the total states representing almost 80 percent of the world’s total population.

What does it mean for countries like China and Russia pursuing a politics of new world order, de-dollarization, multilateralism, and multipolarity? Obviously, it means that they are not, as the West normally projects them, ‘isolated’ in their pursuit or demand. For the West, the growing demand – and support – for a new world order not only means that building a ‘global coalition’ against rivals like China and Russia and making developing or under-developed nations toe Washington’s foreign policy will be much more difficult in the near future, but also that the West’s ability to counteract its rivals through economical means, i.e., investment, will also shrink. Just as the West has not been able to ‘isolate’ China and Russia, its efforts to project these economies as essentially predatory is not to going to pay the dividends either. For the West to gain economic space in the Global South, China’s footprint must shrink. The G77+China gathering has directly undermined such a possibility. In fact, it is only a prelude to further expansion.

From Washington’s perspective, nowhere is this expansion more visible – and dangerous – than in Latin America, a region that the Monroe Doctrine (1823) had turned into an exclusive ‘American’ territory in the sense that no foreign power could set its footprint in it. In that sense, Latin America’s endorsement of a new, multilateral world order means a systematic dismantling of history.

But the ‘American Under-Belly’s’ endorsement is both an outcome of its frustration with the Global North’s domination and its simultaneous interaction with big powers championing a systemic shift. This interaction is most invisible in the case of Latin America’s trade ties with China, which have grown from accounting for only 2 percent of the region’s total economy in 2000 to 31 percent in 2010, reaching a volume of US$180 billion. In 2020, this volume reached US$450 billion, and is likely to increase to US$700 billion by 2035. China is only second to the US in terms of its trade volume with the region. But combined with China’s consistent push for a new world order, its growing interaction with Latin America shows a correlationship between the region’s changing global outlook. Apart from trade, China is also involved in Latin America financially. Between 2005 and 2021, Chinese banks loaned US$139 billion to various Latin American countries.

More importantly, countries in the ‘American Under-Belly’ are also not opposed to de-dollarization. In June 2023, Argentine signed a deal to double its currency swap line with China to access nearly US$10 billion.

Brazil, a major South American economy, is a leading member of the BRICS, a grouping that has recently become a center stage actor pushing for a new, multipolar order. As a BRICS member, Brazil is also intertwined with the politics of de-dollarization.

More importantly, that Latin America is coming round to deep cooperation with China means that these states are hardly concerned by this Western/US idea of China laying ‘debt-traps’ for developing countries and that it is a political force that meddles and intervenes. Clearly, these narratives are not working even in territories within the direct US radar.

Yes, the Global South is not internally homogenous; it is extremely diverse. It means that there is a reasonable possibility that not all members of G77 may favor a position that targets the US. Mexico, for instance, has deep economic ties with the US. Whether or not it would be willing to pursue de-dollarization is a legitimate question.

But a counter proposition is that it is not just the Global South that is internally diverse. The Global North, too, is. Growing tensions within the West have been reported vis-à-vis the extent of support the EU countries are willing to provide to Ukraine against Russia. France has long been pushing for a Europe-centric security system independent of NATO. The US and many other NATO countries want to expand the organization, but convincing Turkey has been a major problem.

But the Global North has not so far collapsed due to these divisions, nor will the Global South. In fact, internal diversity is not a problem but a strength that allows any given state to exercise its agency to maneuver the complex – and fast changing – international scenario to its best advantage. This, indeed, is the hallmark of a new world order in which countries’ options are not constrained by one power center. Therefore, even if Mexico happens to be the largest US trade partner, China’s very presence in Latin America – which means that countries can always make alternative arrangements – acts as a restraint on Washington seeking to reinforce its domination. Washington’s aggression and hegemony will only prove counterproductive, that could push countries further into the politics of a new world order. It means that Washington, too, will have to recalibrate its old ways. Not doing so has so far led to the growing support for multiple power centers.

It is in this context that we can analyze why support for a new, alternative global order has gained traction in the Global South. This has happened despite this bloc’s internal diversity, and it has happened in the context of growing disillusionment with the US led world order and the increasing access to alternative powers.


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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