India’s Global South Strategy and Japan’s Response


The Global South has emerged as a dominant theme in India’s diplomatic discourse, and the Japanese government has echoed that refrain. Foreign policy expert Tamari Kazutoshi sheds light on both countries’ motives and the limits of their evolving partnership.

India made its presence felt at the Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima (May 19–21), where it participated as a guest at the invitation of host country Japan. New Delhi, which is chairing the Group of 20 this year, has been advocating for the Global South, and with Tokyo’s support, that perspective was incorporated in the agenda of the G7 summit.(*1)

In the following, I offer an overview and analysis of India’s new Global South strategy and the Japanese government’s response.

Chronology of India’s Global South Agenda

2022 December India assumes G20 presidency, stresses role of Global South
2023 January Japan assumes G7 presidency
India hosts Voice of Global South Summit
March G20 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in New Delhi
Prime Minister Kishida visits India, then travels to Ukraine via Poland
April G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting held in Karuizawa
May G7 summit kicks off in Hiroshima
September G20 summit to be held in New Delhi

New Focus on the Global South

On December 1, 2022, as India assumed the G20 presidency, Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a statement pledging to address the world’s problems through consultation and cooperation not just with India’s G20 partners but also with the wider Global South. While use of the term Global South has surged in recent years, this was the first time the Indian government had so actively embraced it. The following month, New Delhi convened an online international conference dubbed the Voice of Global South Summit, bringing together 124 non-G20 countries to exchange views in advance of the G20 Leaders’ Summit, also hosted by New Delhi. In his opening remarks, Prime Minister Modi spoke as follows:

“We have turned the page on another difficult year that saw: war, conflict, terrorism, and geo-political tensions; rising food, fertilizer, and fuel prices; climate-change-driven natural disasters; and lasting economic impact of the COVID pandemic. It is clear the world is in a state of crisis. It is difficult to predict how long this state of instability will last. . . .

“We, the Global South, have the largest stakes in the future. Three fourths of humanity lives in our countries. We should also have equivalent voice. Hence, as the eight-decade old model of global governance slowly changes, we should try to shape the emerging order.”

In short, at a time of instability brought on by war, natural disasters, a pandemic, and the rising cost of resources, the government of India is calling for a new world order that amplifies the voice of the countries most strongly impacted by these problems—that is, the Global South.

Of course, developing and emerging countries have long demanded a greater voice in global affairs. But the Voice of Global South Summit was significant in that it went beyond a vague “exchange of views” and sought to lay the foundations for cooperation in such areas as technology, disaster response, and education.

The Global South is not a cohesive collection of states, let alone an organized group with India at its helm. In reality, it is little more than a synonym for the old category of “developing countries.” But in the context of Indian diplomacy, its significance goes beyond that.

India’s Diplomatic Realignment

The Modi government had its own reasons for raising the Global South banner when India assumed the presidency of the G20. These can be boiled down to three basic aims.

The first purpose was to reframe the diplomatic debate at a time when New Delhi was feeling hard pressed to defend its stance toward Russia since the latter’s invasion of Ukraine. Although India had been moving to strengthen ties with the West, even stepping up security cooperation with the United States and Japan, it was unwilling to join with the industrial democracies in imposing sanctions on Russia, with which it has a longstanding relationship of trust and cooperation. International and domestic realities made any rupture in that relationship an unrealistic option for the Modi government, but it came under intense pressure from the West to fall in line nonetheless. New Delhi’s tendency to defend its diplomatic policies simply by citing the national interest has made it vulnerable to charges of selfishness. By identifying as a member of the Global South and a victim of great-power rivalry, the government was able to muster a better justification for refusing to ally itself with the West against Russia.

The second aim was to establish a new framework for India’s global diplomacy. During the Cold War, India was a leading champion of Third World solidarity as a founder of the non-aligned movement. However, with the end of the Cold War, the concept of the Third World became meaningless. From around 2000 on, India began identifying not with the developing countries but with the world’s rapidly emerging economies, such as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). Thus aligned, it called for reform of the Western-dominated world order.

In recent years, however, relations between India and China have deteriorated sharply over border disputes (erupting in skirmishes in 2020) and other issues, making it increasingly difficult for the two countries to work together, even on matters where their interests coincide. Moreover, the invasion of Ukraine turned Russia into an international pariah, and while New Delhi was loath to sever ties, it realized that the partnership promised little from the standpoint of global diplomacy. In short, New Delhi was faced with the necessity of crafting a replacement for its BRICS-based diplomacy. Its solution was to reclaim its position as a leader of Third World solidarity, albeit under a new banner: the Global South.

The third aim of the policy is to drum up domestic support for the Modi administration. The G20 presidency rotates annually, but the Modi government has milked its public-relations potential at home. With the 2024 general election in the offing, Modi hopes to impress Indian voters with his diplomatic leadership on behalf of the Global South.

Tokyo’s Nimble Response

How has the government of Prime Minister Kishida Fumio responded to India’s new Global South strategy?

At the Japanese government’s initiative, the G7 Hiroshima Summit featured a 75-minute session on the topic “Strengthening Engagement with Partners.” During the session, the leaders agreed that However, the term Global South does not appear in the G7 Hiroshima Leaders’ Communiqué or other leaders’ statements. In sum, although Japan succeeded in incorporating India’s perspective into the agenda and eliciting an agreement to support India as G20 chair, the G7 summit yielded no new consensus regarding the Global South.

Tokyo’s support for Modi’s Global South agenda dates back at least to March 2023, when Prime Minister Kishida Fumio visited India.(*2) On that occasion, he extended his invitation to the Indian government to attend the G7 Hiroshima Summit, and he conveyed his intent to address the issues facing the G7 with the Global South’s perspective in mind. Previously, at a “2+2 meeting'’ in Tokyo in September 2022, the two countries’ foreign and defense ministers had agreed that Japan and India should work together closely as holders of the G7 and G20 presidencies in 2023. But judging from the outcome documents, there was no explicit or implicit discussion of the Global South at that time.

All this suggests that Tokyo has made a determined effort to keep in step with New Delhi’s rather abrupt shift to a Global South strategy. From Japan’s standpoint, there is nothing to be lost by using the G7 presidency to advocate a Global South perspective, and there is a good deal to be gained by strengthening cooperative ties with India. Previously, when India’s global diplomacy was grounded in alignment with the world’s emerging economies, Japan-India collaboration was largely limited to bilateral and regional initiatives, along with the so-called G4 (Japan, Brazil, Germany, and India) campaign for UN Security Council reform. The partnership Japan and India have forged as holders of the G7 and G20 presidencies has opened the door to far more extensive cooperation in the area of global diplomacy.

That said, India’s global diplomacy, with its emphasis on revamping the world order, is in many respects incompatible with Japan’s basic stance. To be sure, the two countries share the goal of becoming permanent members of the Security Council and are cooperating to that end. But Japan is unlikely to back India’s push for fundamental reform of international economic institutions. Another potential sticking point is the view, common among developing and emerging countries, that the industrial West has no right to impose its values on the rest of the world. India is the world’s largest democracy, with democratic traditions dating back to ancient times. It is quite circumspect about interfering in other countries’ domestic affairs, and it tends to react angrily when other governments opine on its own internal problems. Indeed, in this insistence on “nonintervention in internal affairs,” India and other members of the Global South have more in common with China and Russia than with the industrial democracies.

The blossoming Japan-India partnership is built on a tacit agreement to avoid such controversial topics and cooperate in areas where the two countries’ interests intersect. But how far can such a relationship of convenience take us? At some point we may need to confront issues like human rights and national sovereignty, where our viewpoints diverge, if we are to forge strong and lasting ties of mutual trust.

(Originally published in Japanese. Banner photo: Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, right, meets with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Hiroshima, May 20, 2023. © Kyodo.)

(*1) ^ Boosting India’s profile further on this occasion was the first-ever face-to-face meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

(*2) ^ From India, Kishida made a surprise visit to Ukraine, traveling to Kyiv via Poland, and invited President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to attend the G7 summit remotely. Planned in secret, the trip to Ukraine could not have taken place without India’s complicity, notwithstanding its supposedly unshakable relationship with Moscow.

diplomacy India G20 Japan-India