With External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in New York to address the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), the government has been highlighting India’s role as an advocate and a focal point for the Global South. Mr. Jaishankar said there was pressure from the South for global change, but it was a world of “double standards” and there was resistance to change.
Speaking on Saturday evening at ‘South Rising: Partnerships, Institutions and Ideas’, an event organised by the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank close to the government, in collaboration with India’s United Nations mission and Reliance Foundation, Mr. Jaishankar said the world was witnessing political pressure for change, particularly from the Global South. There was also resistance to change, he said, pointing to those wielding economic and institutional influence, such as seen at the United Nations Security Council.
“Those who are economically dominant today are leveraging their production capabilities,” the Minister said, adding that those with historical institutional influence have “weaponised” a lot of these capabilities.
“They will all mouth the right things. But the reality is, still today, it’s a world very much of double standards,” Mr. Jaishankar said, pointing to the COVID-19 pandemic as an example.
The global transition under way will involve greater pressure (for change) from the Global South.
Presumably taking a jab at China, Mr. Jaishankar said, “It’s not just the North... there are parts which may not think of themselves as North but are very resistant to changes.”
There was also a cultural rebalancing under way, he said. “And cultural rebalancing really means recognising the diversity of the world, respecting diversity, giving other cultures and other traditions that due respect,” he said. The minister cited examples of millets (prevalent in diets in the Global South) and traditional medicine.
He suggested that market forces had made grains like wheat more prevalent.
“In the name of the market a lot of things are done,” Mr. Jaishankar said. “Like in the name of freedom a lot of things are done,” he added to laughter from the audience.
India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ruchira Kamboj, also spoke at the event. The panel discussion included Foreign Ministers Vince Henderson of Dominica, Kamina Johnson Smith of Jamaica, and Joao Gomes Cravinho of Portugal.
Mr. Jaishankar was asked about his suggestion, from 2022, to Europe that it grow out of a “Europe’s problems are the world’s problems but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems” mindset. He said the COVID-19 pandemic and focus on Ukraine had crowded out other conversations from the G-20 and that it took effort “to get, actually, the G20 to talk about what the world wanted it to talk about”.
Debt, resources to meet climate action and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), digital access, nutrition, and gender were issues of concern to the world, according to Mr. Jaishankar. Prior to the G-20 New Delhi Summit, India had organised the ‘Voice of the Global South’ Summit in January 2023 to gauge the views of countries on issues of importance to them, the Minister said.
Mr. Jaishankar suggested that some progress on the reform of international financial institutions (i.e., the World Bank and International Monetary Fund) could be made before India gives up its G-20 Presidency at the end of November.
Earlier in the day, the Permanent Mission of India to the U.N. hosted an event, ‘India-U.N. for Global South: Delivering for Development’, in which Mr. Jaishankar, Prime Minister of Samoa Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa, U.N. General Assembly President Dennis Francis, Foreign Ministers from several Global South countries, and the UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner participated. Speakers showcased the 2017 India-U.N. Development Partnership Fund’s projects in the Global South.
On Sunday, Mr. Jaishankar had bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Mexico, Armenia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.