China, Geopolitics, and the Global South
Uwe Hoering, August 26, 2023
„Ein Gespenst geht um in der Welt – das Gespenst des Globalen Südens. Alle Mächte des alten Westens haben sich zu einer heiligen Konkurrenz um dies Gespenst verbündet.“
I admit, that comparing the ‘Global South’ with the “spectre of communism”, invoked by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their Manifesto of 1848 seems a bit far-fetched. But many comments in the run-up to the BRICS summit from August 22 to 24 in Johannesburg, South Africa, conveyed a similarly gloomy sense of foreboding as back then in the mid-19th century: A fear of the rise of a diffuse force whose contours and, accordingly, its threat to the ruling powers are very unclear – and which may be the harbinger of a changed world order.
A slap in the face for the West
The Western view goes, that China and Russia, the usual suspects, had their way in Johannesburg to strengthen BRICS as an anti-Western alliance. The inclusion of Iran is indeed a clear provocation of the United States. It is therefore quite surprising that India, South Africa and Brazil, whose leaders are, from the Western world’s point of view, less nuts than Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, have joined the invitation to Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, albeit after some resistance. After all, there have been hopes for a stronger rapprochement of India and Brazil with the West. Instead, BRICS, for decades ridiculed rather than taken seriously, could become a new centre of gravity.
“The Western attempts to create a counterweight to China with the invocation of a “community of values” and half-hearted economic packages are not really working.”
Western commentators are now wondering why important countries of the Global South are behaving in a completely unreasonable manner. After all, many more countries have allegedly expressed interest in joining, including other potential partners of the West such as Indonesia, even NATO member Turkey is said to be interested. Obviously, the change in world politics brought about by China’s rise has been massively underestimated and something very fundamental is shifting here. The Western attempts to create a counterweight to China with the invocation of a “community of values” and half-hearted economic packages are not really working.
Economically, China provides credit, infrastructure, trade routes and sinecures to governments in the Global South to secure power and domination. And it offers recognition of sovereignty, of growing importance. It may even be contributing to an identity as ‘Global South’, whose earlier frequent attempts since the end of the colonial era to free itself from dependency and follow its own self-determined path of development have been crushed time and again. Obviously, the dissatisfaction with the only superficial dealing with the legacies of the colonial era and the new self-conscious post-colonial attitude in many countries have been underestimated. The vaccine policy during the Corona pandemic certainly reinforced this sentiment.
Of course, neither the BRICS countries nor the extended grouping represent the ‘Global South’. The criticism is widespread that they do not behave much differently from Western industrialised countries in their respective regions and economic ambitions. And whether the other smaller, economically weaker countries will benefit is therefore not certain.
Eleven friends you shall be
However, in the conflict with the West, the formation of the extented team has potential: 40 per cent of the world’s population already lives in the five previous member countries, they account for a third of economic output, and they have a growing share in industrial production, world trade and military armaments – although not least thanks to India and China. With countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iran, it is now adding major energy producers. Other important commodity producers, including countries courted by the West, are standing on the sidelines. It will be interesting to see what criteria are set for the next round of nominations.
“These alliances are not yet the new bloc confrontation or a breakthrough for a new, multipolar world order.”
That said, it’s still time to calm down: Even if with the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), another military-economic centre of gravity is developing, mainly oriented towards Central Asia and the Middle East, these alliances are not yet the new bloc confrontation or a breakthrough for a new, multipolar world order.
Politically, many of them are discredited as authoritarian regimes, are economically ailing, suffer from sanctions like Russia and Iran, and their dependence on relations with Western industrialised countries remains high. Moreover, besides the existing conflicts, such as between China and India, the enlargement entails new ones, like between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Accordingly, BRICSplus is contradictory, weak, torn apart by discrepancies and internal conflicts. And it is an elite project, designed by governments that want to secure their own interests, without the participation of the population at large, let alone supported by the enthusiasm of social or community movements, although these are becoming ever stronger.
Therefore, the ‘Global South’ will hardly be able to “openly present its outlook, purposes, tendencies before the whole world”, as Marx and Engels intended with the Manifesto. And it is doubtful that the final Johannesburg Declaration of the BRICS Alliance, which likes to see itself as the voice and advocate of the Global South, will mobilise similar movements all over the world as the Communist Manifesto did. But BRICSplus is certainly another brick in the walls that are being constructed vigorously from different sides.