Voice of global south, emphasis on SC reform in Jaishankar’s New York outing

Updated on Sep 26, 2022 12:05 PM IST

External affairs minister (EAM) S Jaishankar spoke to reporters on Sunday following his address to UNGA and a meeting with the UN Secretary General. His big conclusions included the following:

S Jaishankar addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City. (AFP) PREMIUM
S Jaishankar addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City. (AFP)
By, Hindustan Times, New York

For external affairs minister S Jaishankar, who said he met over 100 of his foreign counterparts during his six-day trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, there was a set of seven big takeaways from the visit about the state of the world and India’s place in the current architecture after his meetings.

The minister spoke to reporters on Sunday following his address to UNGA and a meeting with the UN Secretary General. His big conclusions included the following:

One, the world is more polarised but India matters more as a voice, a bridge, a viewpoint and as a channel. Two, it is widely perceived as a voice of the global south. Three, there is more momentum for Security Council reform than in the past. Four, India is seen as a helping hand at a time of need. Five, India’s digital backbone as a transformative tool in its development arsenal has become a focus in the Sustainable Development Goals debate globally. Six, there is support for India’s G20 presidency and its agenda. And, finally, India is an active player and shaper of climate debates.

The voice of the global south

Jaishankar said that India was being widely perceived as a voice of global south. “There is a huge crisis in the world economy. The food, fuel, debt situation have led to deep anxieties and great frustration that these issues are not being voiced and heard. To the extent that there is anyone at all which is speaking up, it is India.” Many of his meetings, the minister said, stemmed from this recognition of India’s role.

When HT asked whether this focus on the global south was a sign of India returning to an earlier avatar of its foreign policy — for there was an impression that New Delhi was not as focused on the developing world in recent decades — or if it was a new practice, Jaishankar rejected the premise and said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had always had this focus, citing initiatives on climate such as the International Solar Alliance and Coalition of Disaster Resilient infrastructure or “vaccine maitri”.

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“Our development partnerships have scaled up. We have approved, implemented and completed something like 700 projects in 70 countries. If you look at the Africa summit in 2015 that PM did, and how much we scaled up our exchanges and training; look at green agenda he has taken into Africa; the digital agenda; the fact that last time he was here, he himself engaged Caricom (a grouping of the Caribbean countries); he has done a pacific islands meeting. Global south solidarity has always been with us. It is part of our DNA.”

The question was how much emphasis was put on it and how well the sentiment was translated into practical delivery.

The minister said that translating vision into delivery was PM Modi’s strong point and so much more was visible on the front. “And because more is visible, the other party also feels something is happening. There have been much more visits to Asia, Africa and Latin America. There are places where foreign minister hadn’t been for years, let alone PM and president. Look at new embassies. Out of roughly 25 new embassies that have been approved in eight years, other than two in the Baltics, everything else in the global south.”

Jaishankar said what had happened this time was that the world was going through a crisis where the global south was particularly impacted and it felt no one was speaking for its concerns. “Since our relations have become stronger and more serious, and from their point of view, more credible, they also feel this is the country which needs to gives voice to us. And we also happen to be in the SC. This has all really come together.”

UNSC reform

For the minister, another big takeaway was the greater momentum on UN reform.

“In every GA, you revisit that issue. This time, something has shifted. You can see that, sense that. It was articulated by President Biden. You also saw Russian foreign minister (Sergey) Lavrov explicitly mention India from the GA podium. A number of countries also referred to India. It is not usual for presidents, PMs and foreign ministers to refer to another country at the GA. To my mind, it had relevance to reform of UN; it showed India mattered more; and it underlined global south relevance.”

During his visit, Jaishankar hosted two meetings — of the G-4 (which also includes other SC aspirants, Brazil, Germany and Japan) and L-69, which is a grouping of countries of the global south committed to UN reform. The groupings expressed their frustration with the slow pace of the reform discussions and gave a firm call to action.

Jaishankar said that it was not just him who had noticed a shift. “Others brought up with me… The first issue is the need to accept that there should be reform, then develop some kind of practical path towards it.”

In this regard, referring to the lack of progress in the intergovernmental negotiations (IGN) on reform, Jaishankar said that a negotiation between countries has some tangible basis for it, it needs to have some text. “It is incredible that after so many years, there is no text. How does the negotiation advance if there is no text, no progress, no stocktaking, no end of the year assessment. In the absence of the text, it just goes round and round.”

India’s discussions with other countries focused on how, if the IGN process was to get serious, it was important to move it to text-based negotiations. Jaishankar also said that the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke about UNSC reform, strongly and explicitly.

“We have got some tailwind behind us. For someone who has been coming here for many years, it is more than a subtle shift and I welcome it.”

Development, climate and support

India also believes that there is greater appreciation for its domestic development trajectory, its role during crises, and its proactive role in climate debates.

The minister said that the impact of many of India’s initiatives — vaccine maitri, development projects, some of what India did in Ukraine — had led to a sense that India was there for the world in times of distress and difficulty. He pointed to the “India@75” event held on Saturday where a range of foreign ministers from countries of the global south had appreciated India’s role.

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India’s development story was also attracting attention in the debates around Sustainable Development Goals, Jaishankar pointed out. “For a variety of reasons, SDGs have come back into play. Part of it is because human development indices have dropped. If you look at that focus, there is a sense of India as a country where there has been a dramatic change in the landscape due to the effective usage digital backbone.” There was, the minister said, a lot of interest in the Indian experience and its relevance as a model.

India was also being seen as a major player, shaper and contributor in the climate debates. Jaishankar said: “This year has been particularly challenging in terms of climate events and emergencies. It has happened in South Asia, Europe; we are seeing hurricanes in this region as we speak.”

India’s leadership had drawn a lot of interest, the minister said. “It is not just that a feeling we have given speeches and tabled ideas. It is that it has taken practical shape under this PM. Delivery is his forte at home and image abroad. Today, the International Solar Alliance has over 100 members. CDRI is taking off. People are interested in the one sun, one world, one grid idea.”

G20 focus

During his visit, the minister also focused on the G20 as India prepares to take over as chair of the grouping at the end of the year. Great power competition has affected the dynamics of the group already. In that backdrop, India will aim to keep the grouping “cohesive and focused”.

“It came up in my discussions with the UNSG and the President of the General Assembly. To all of them, I conveyed very clearly our endeavour would be to ensure that G20 remains cohesive, remains focused and that G20 historically has an agenda. That agenda is primarily a financial, economic, developmental and social agenda. And we would like to keep to that,” Jaishankar said.

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    Prashant Jha is the Washington DC-based US correspondent of Hindustan Times. He is also the editor of HT Premium. Jha has earlier served as editor-views and national political editor/bureau chief of the paper. He is the author of How the BJP Wins: Inside India's Greatest Election Machine and Battles of the New Republic: A Contemporary History of Nepal.

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