Traditionally, the Global South and middle powers have been under-represented in multilateral deliberations. But this year, Asian countries are at the helm of two powerful global platforms, with the Group of Seven led by the Japan and the G20 led by India.
Under India’s presidency, three prioritised G20 agendas are terrorism, pandemics and climate change. Similarly, Japan’s G7 presidency emphasises economic recovery, climate change mitigation, public health and nuclear non-proliferation. Their presidencies provide an opportunity to foster North-South cooperation led by Asia. Japan and India have a strong relationship. The late Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe personally led in strengthening ties by persuading India, traditionally a cautious operator, to embrace his Indo-Pacific vision. The relationship continues to deepen after current Prime Minister Fumio Kishida chose India for his first bilateral visit.
Across the world, despite development gains lifting millions out of abject poverty, inequality is growing between the world’s richest and poorest nations. The G7 elite – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the United States – accounted for 27 per cent of global gross domestic product and 14 per cent of growth in the past decade. In contrast, for least-developed countries, a 7 per cent growth target was unreachable for most, even before the pandemic. The economic and social advantages of artificial intelligence, technological infrastructure, a clean energy transition and food security are still largely restricted to the Global North.
For most resource-constrained nations, implementing cutting-edge technology, ensuring food security and achieving a just energy transition are a prohibitive expense, never mind long-term operation and maintenance. The developing Global South has also been disproportionately affected by the pandemic and war in Ukraine.
Since G7 leaders have expressed support for India’s G20 chairmanship and pledged to work together for a better future, Japan and India should be able to push for greater collaboration in an environment of increasing financial vulnerabilities and geopolitical tensions. The G7 has committed to work to increase funding for infrastructure and investment, and conclude more agreements like the energy transition partnership with Indonesia. Given India’s close relations with G7 nations, it can bring a fresh perspective to the narrative of climate change, carbon pricing and pandemic prevention, as well as secure investment, new technologies and climate financing.
India, however, has responded differently to the war in Ukraine. While Japan joined other G7 nations in denouncing Russia and imposing sanctions, New Delhi’s response has mostly been restricted to statements of concern. When Kishida met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March last year, their joint statement gauged the invasion’s broader implications, notably for the Indo-Pacific, and advocated an immediate cessation of violence, but did not name Russia.
With rhetoric in Europe and beyond ratcheting up amid the spectre of nuclear war, Kishida, as part of his commitment to nuclear disarmament, is hosting the G7 summit in May in Hiroshima, the city devastated by the first atomic bomb detonated during the second world war. Tensions are also rising on the Korean peninsula with Pyongyang thought to be planning a nuclear test, in response to which South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has warned of an “unprecedented joint response”. Japan, as the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, is in a unique position to advocate a peaceful resolution.
Despite having sometimes divergent strategic goals, Japan and India have managed to worked closely to improve ties, especially in defence and security, economic cooperation and technology. A joint Kishida-Modi diplomatic effort could see both leaders brokering peace in Moscow and Kyiv when the US and Europe have never been so diplomatically distant from Russia – and the UN has neither the consensus nor mandate to stop the war.
India has its work cut out in trying to unify a divided G20 but it complements its long-standing pursuit of strategic autonomy and in serving as a link between the East and West. The South Asian giant will continue to press for greater Global South representation in multilateral organisations as the second of four consecutive G20 presidencies from the Global South – Indonesia, India, Brazil and South Africa. Meaningful coordination between the G20 and G7 presidencies can open windows for developing nations to participate in discussions on international policy and influence the global agenda.
Japan will need to emphasise the significance of the interdependence of all countries in the global economy, and increase efforts to resolve outstanding issues of North-South cooperation through dialogue, rather than diatribe. The North-South collaboration under the leadership of Japan and India should vie to achieve a unified stance on critical issues such as poverty alleviation, food security, healthcare support, digital transformation, energy transition and climate change. The goal should be to create a strong global financial safety net to help identify, prevent and mitigate financial crises.
Japan and India should also catalyse discussions at the G7 and G20 to mobilise new funding mechanisms in the wake of the pandemic and Ukraine war. The much-needed physical and digital infrastructure in the Global South can only be financed by strengthening international financial cooperation on direct investment and official development aid.
G7 and G20 leaders make pledges that have a huge impact on global governance and people’s lives. As the world struggles to reboot post-pandemic, and to spur socioeconomic advances while averting ecological catastrophes, adherence to those promises has never been more important. The question is whether the Asian giants of Japan and India can rise to the occasion, to synergise their diplomatic acumen and statesmanship to make the world better and safer.
Tetsushi Sonobe is dean and chief executive of the Asian Development Bank Institute, Japan
Professor Syed Munir Khasru is chairman of the international think tank The Institute for Policy, Advocacy, and Governance (IPAG)