Return to the Library

India’s Strengthening Relationship with the Global South: Strategic Ambitions and Constraints


Zhang Jie, a prominent scholar at the Xi’an International Studies University, suggests India’s intensified engagement with Global South aims to amplify New Delhi’s voice in global governance, compete with China for geopolitical influence, and deepen ties with Washington. Zhang suggests other Global South countries are unlikely to be receptive to this engagement, given their inherent suspicion of India’s growing ties with the West and fear of friction with China.

Key takeaways
  • Zhang Jie, professor and dean of the School of International Relations at the Xi’an International Studies University, explores the motivations and nature of India’s evolving engagement with the Global South.
  • Zhang observes significant and rising efforts from New Delhi to strengthen its leadership status among countries in the Global South via multilateral organizations, summits, economic assistance initiatives, technology sharing, scholarship programs, and exports of digital infrastructure. He makes particular note of bilateral defense agreements India has conducted with Vietnam, Egypt, and Argentina, and of its amplified soft power projection.
  • He suggests that India’s intensified efforts to claim “leadership” of the Global South are designed to amplify India’s voice in global governance, compete with China for economic and political influence, and deepen ties with a Washington that is looking to isolate China and enhance its engagement with the Global South.
  • Zhang argues that India’s investment in the Global South is unlikely to be successful in advancing its geostrategic objectives. In Zhang's view, most countries in this group will oppose India’s strengthened ties with the West and what Zhang frames as its attempted isolation of China. Zhang also suggests New Delhi is adopting an “India first” approach that will create frictions with fellow developing countries.

FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrintCopy Link
Original text
English text
See an error? Drop us a line at
View the translated and original text side-by-side

The Global South has been a hot topic of international attention in recent years, and all major countries have been drawing up plans and layouts centered around it. According to the U.S. magazine Foreign Policy, a notable trend in 2023 was the growing influence of the Global South, which is becoming an increasingly powerful and confident stakeholder. The Munich Security Report 2023 focuses on the Global South to a considerable extent, with the term Global South appearing 55 times in the report. It is worth noting, however, that major international actors have different definitions of what the Global South means. In the perception of the United States and the West, China is no longer a developing country and is therefore outside the scope of the Global South. Their hyping of the Global South concept is also aimed at separating China from other developing countries, thereby achieving the goal of creating divisions in China’s relationships with other developing countries.


As a fast-rising developing power, India’s definition of the Global South is similar to that of the United States and the West, and it attempts to act as the “spokesperson” and “leader” of the Global South. A comprehensive examination of India’s perceptions of, and policies towards, the Global South may have a certain significance as a reference and inspiration for deeper study of Indian diplomacy and the Global South.


I. India’s Perceptions of the Global South and Its Self-Positioning


With the profound and complex changes occurring in the international landscape and the intensification of strategic games among major powers, India believes that it faces a favorable strategic environment. At the same time, many reform measures promoted by [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi’s government since he took office have gradually come into effect, and India’s comprehensive national strength has increased significantly. In this context, based on its historical legacy and practical considerations, India has reaffirmed the strategic value of the Global South and repositioned its relationship to it.


(i) The Global South is an important support for India’s international influence and its economic transformation and development.


The Global South is an important force for change in the international system and order, and plays an important role in maintaining multilateralism, building an open world economy, promoting climate governance, carrying out international cooperation, and other global issues. According to India’s External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, India has strong supporters among the countries of the Global South, and [that support] must be carefully maintained in the course of India’s rise. In a world undergoing turmoil and change, India needs to build a closer relationship with the Global South. This can further India’s role in multilateral mechanisms and global governance issues, and can also facilitate the further development of its strategic partnerships with major powers including the United States and Europe. By joining with the Global South in calling for a new multilateralism that is more dynamic, forward-looking, and resilient to risks, and by playing the role of an important facilitator and promoter on international hotspot issues, India hopes the world will recognize that the Global South has enormous potential for development, has made significant economic, diplomatic, and technological achievements, and can play a key role in global affairs.


Unlike the previous emphasis on, and use of, the political aspects of the Global South, the Modi government has learned lessons from the past emphasis on soft power at the expense of hard power, and has paid great attention to the important role of the Global South in helping India achieve economic transformation and development and exploit its comparative advantages. The Global South can not only provide abundant resources for the achievement of “Made in India” and the construction of “Digital India,” but can also provide a vast market for the export of Indian products, concepts, and standards. In 2022, India imported 29.116 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 1.672 billion barrels of oil, and exported U.S. $18 billion worth of pharmaceuticals and U.S. $10.3 billion worth of telecommunications equipment. India has also stepped up efforts to open its market to the Global South. Data show that Latin America and the Caribbean have surpassed Japan and South Korea in trade exports to India. To seize opportunities for the development of the digital economy, India is taking accelerated construction of digital infrastructure as an important means of promoting digital transformation at home and promoting digital standards and governance models in the Global South, in an attempt to achieve effective linkages between the internal and external, and jointly enhance the effectiveness of development.


(ii) India as the “spokesperson” and “leader” of the Global South.


A self-proclaimed world power and one of the founders of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), India has substantial material strength and a deep historical legacy when it comes to handling relations with the Global South. After independence, out of its desire to consolidate its national independence, expand its international influence, demonstrate its strategic autonomy and civilizational superiority, and hedge its bets between major powers, India put forward a policy of non-alignment and launched the NAM, which has tried to unite developing countries on important international issues such as anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, and the promotion of multipolarity in the international arena, and to make them an independent political force. However, due to factors such as fierce rivalries among powers, its own limited strength, and the complexity of the situation of developing countries, India failed to achieve its strategic goal of utilizing the NAM to become a leader in Asia and a world power, and even alienated itself from developing countries for a time.


As its comprehensive national strength has risen rapidly in recent years, India’s aspirations to become a “leading power” have become more urgent than ever, and the importance of the Global South in its foreign affairs strategy has grown significantly. Compared with the past when there was a serious mismatch between capacity and aspirations and it often faced a “spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” dilemma, India is now more confident, believing that its influence in global and regional affairs is increasing, and that it can play the role of “spokesperson” and “leader” of the Global South. In his address to the Voice of Global South summit, Prime Minister Modi stated that “three-quarters of the world’s population live in the ‘Global South’ and should have an equal voice in international affairs,” and also asserted that “your voice is India’s voice; your priorities are India’s priorities.” Indian scholars believe that India has the material power and political will to lead the Global South; that in the context of a tense geopolitical situation, India can help the countries of the Global South respond to challenges such as the energy and climate crises and economic downturns; and that India has a first-mover advantage when it comes to speaking for the Global South.


(iii) India as a bridge between the Global South and the Global North


After the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis, the West tried to isolate Russia worldwide, but failed to achieve the expected results. Most countries in the Global South are unwilling to take sides on this issue, and hope to make strategic judgments independently and in accordance with their own interests. On one hand, the Modi government has inherited a non-aligned approach, and has strengthened relations with the United States and the West while maintaining economic and security ties with Russia. On the other hand, India has weakened its previous anti-Western, anti-capitalist, and globalist tendencies within the NAM, and while emphasizing its Global South identity, it has sought to maintain close ties with the Global North in order to better safeguard its national interests and create an external environment conducive to its development. On several occasions, S. Jaishankar has proposed that India should be positioned as a “south-western power,” and should have a “deep intersection with the West in terms of strategic goals and values” while “being deeply rooted in the Global South.” Considering itself the “world’s largest democracy” and a developing country, India is uniquely positioned to bridge the North-South divide, able to both maintain friendly relations with the United States and the West, and resonate with countries of the Global South because they face similar risks and challenges, and it can thus coordinate with the United States and the West on behalf of the Global South. At the G7 Hiroshima Summit in 2023, Modi emphasized that India, as an important member of the Global South, would work to amplify the group’s voice and concerns and act as a bridge between different forces.

乌克兰危机爆发后,西方试图在全世界范围内孤立俄罗斯,但未取得预期成效,广大“全球南方”国家亦不愿在该问题上选边站队,而希望根据自身利益独立自主作出战略判断。莫迪政府一方面继承了不结盟思想,既与美西方加强了关系,又与俄罗斯保持着经济和安全往来。另一方面,印度弱化了此前在不结盟运动中的反西方、抵制资本主义和全球化的倾向,在强调“全球南方”身份的同时,谋求与“全球北方”保持紧密的联系,以更好地维护国家利益,营造有利于自身发展的外部环境。苏杰生曾在多个场合提出印度应被定位为“西南大国”(south-west power),要在“战略目标和价值观方面与西方深度交汇”,同时“深深植根于‘全球南方’”。印度自认为是“世界最大的民主国家”和发展中国家,在弥合南北鸿沟问题上拥有得天独厚的优势,既能够与美西方保持友好关系,又可以与“全球南方”国家因面临相似的风险和挑战而产生共鸣,进而能够代表“全球南方”与美西方进行协调。在2023年G7广岛峰会上,莫迪强调印度作为“全球南方”的重要一员,将致力于扩大该群体的声音和关切,充当不同力量之间的桥梁。

II. Strategic Considerations in India’s Focus on Global South Issues


India’s frequent actions on Global South issues reflect Indian diplomacy’s tendency towards pragmatism, and the strengthening of relations with the Global South is an important part of its “multidirectional alignment” strategy and a means to enhance India’s international standing and influence.


(i) Seeking a greater voice in multilateral mechanisms


India is the largest economy in South Asia, and its economic development has been rapid in recent years. In 2022, its economy surpassed those of France and the UK to become the world’s fifth largest economy. At the same time, the weak recovery of the world economy and the protracted crisis in Ukraine has not only weakened the effectiveness of the United Nations and other multilateral mechanisms, but has also made the phenomenon of intertwined traditional and non-traditional security issues more conspicuous. The deficit in global governance has thus become more and more obvious. Changes in the internal and external environment have boosted the Modi government’s confidence in enhancing India’s voice in global governance and seeking to play a more important role in international mechanisms. It believes that India has the qualifications and stamina to point out the problems facing global governance and push international mechanism reforms in directions favoring India. In his inaugural address at the G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting in 2023, Modi noted that “multilateralism is in crisis today” and that “the experience of the last few years—financial crisis, climate change, pandemic, terrorism, and war—clearly shows that global governance has failed” to balance competing interests, prevent wars, and strengthen international cooperation. Addressing the 77th UN General Assembly, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said that, in global governance focused on reforming multilateralism, “India is prepared to take up greater responsibilities,” but will “ensure that the injustice faced by the Global South is decisively addressed.” India has a long history of dissatisfaction with multilateral mechanisms such as the United Nations, and it has advocated that they be completely reorganized and that it be given its rightful place. According to Modi, the UN needs to be reformed so that it represents the voice of the Global South; otherwise, it is just a useless “talking shop.” “How can it represent the world when the world’s most populous country and largest democracy is not a permanent member of the UN Security Council?” he asked in an interview with France’s L’Echo newspaper. During his visit to the United States in 2023, Modi said in a speech to the U.S. Congress, “We must revive multilateralism and reform multilateral institutions, with better … representation.” According to Indian scholar Alok Mehta, “Committing to being the Global South’s spokesperson and defender of its interests, and pushing for the reform of international multilateral institutions, is one of India’s top foreign policy priorities. This will enhance India’s position and role in world politics.”

作为南亚地区最大经济体,近年来印度经济发展迅速,2022年经济规模超越法国、英国,跃居全球第五大经济体。与此同时,世界经济复苏乏力、乌克兰危机延宕日久不仅削弱了联合国等多边机制的有效性,而且使传统和非传统安全问题相互交织的现象更加突出,全球治理赤字愈发明显。内外环境的变化使莫迪政府对提升印度在全球治理中的话语权、谋求在国际机制中扮演更为重要角色的信心高涨,认为已有资格和底气指点全球治理面临的问题,推动国际机制向有利于印度的方向改革。莫迪在2023年G20外长会议的开幕式致辞时指出,“当前是一个多边主义陷入危机的时代”,“过去几年的经历——金融危机、气候变化、流行病、恐怖主义和战争清楚地表明了全球治理在平衡利益竞争、防止战争以及加强国际合作上的失效”。苏杰生外长在第77届联合国大会发言时表示:“印度将在全球治理中承担更大责任,着力改革多边主义,确保‘全球南方’国家遭遇的不公正得到解决。”印度对联合国等多边机制的不满由来已久,主张对其进行全面重组并获得应有的地位。莫迪认为,有必要对联合国实施改革,使之代表“全球南方”的声音,否则它只是一无是处的“清谈馆”。他在接受法国《回声报》采访时称:“当全球人口最多和世界最大的民主国家都不是联合国安理会常任理事国时,它怎么能代表世界?”在2023年访美期间,莫迪在美国国会发表演讲时表示:“必须重振多边主义和改革多边机构以使其更具代表性。”印度学者阿洛克·梅塔(Alok Mehta)指出:“致力于成为‘全球南方’代言人和利益捍卫者,推动国际多边机构改革是印度外交政策的首要任务之一。这将提升印度在世界政治中的地位和作用。”

(ii) Reducing risks from competition between powers


After the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis, in the face of the complex and volatile international situation, the vast majority of Global South countries are showing a new non-alignment trend. Compared to before, the new type of non-alignment has reduced the influence of ideology and pays more attention to safeguarding national interests. Coming more from the perspective of their own realities, they hold a negative attitude towards U.S. and Western-led sanctions against Russia. They both refrain from blindly isolating and sanctioning Russia, and also clearly express their dissatisfaction with the self-serving and narrow-minded foreign policy of the United States and the West, attempting to gain more room for their own survival and development through all-round exchanges in a multipolar era. Under these circumstances, India believes that it is necessary to take a page from its experience in handling relations with the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, adhere to a middle course, emphasize the priority of diplomacy, dialogue, and cooperation over competition, conflict, and disagreement, and maintain strategic autonomy by leveraging the power of the Global South to hedge its bets in the “choosing of sides” between the United States and Russia, thereby expanding its strategic room to maneuver. Indian media have pointed out that India should not only insist on maintaining good defense and trade relations with Russia, but also needs to respond to the urging of the United States and the West to adopt a tougher stance against Russia, and should constantly reiterate to the international community that it will maintain consistency with the neutrality of the majority of Global South countries. In September 2023, on the day the New Delhi G20 Leaders’ Summit was convened, a joint declaration was issued which noted the importance of “dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts” and called on all countries to respect the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. While avoiding strong language blaming Russia, it maintained the traditional relationship between India and Russia and once again emphasized the economic nature of the G20 leaders’ summit and the issues of concern to countries in the Global South—energy transition, food security, climate change, debt. etc. The Indian media claimed that the success of the summit demonstrated that India has the ability to “walk the tightrope” between Russia, the United States and the West, and the Global South, and that bringing together the Global North and the Global South is an incredible diplomatic achievement.


(iii) Offsetting China’s influence in the Global South


The Modi government is trying to capitalize on the U.S. desire to unite with India to contain China, strengthen its competition with China in the Global South, and enhance India’s influence and position in the international community. Unlike with Global South issues in the past, where greater emphasis was put on exchanges and cooperation with China and other countries, India deliberately excluded China from the Global South at the “Voice of the Global South” summit, and it has defined China as a “participant” in the competition among major powers, in an attempt to demonstrate to the international community that China is no longer a member of the Global South, and that India has the ability to replace China. Without naming China specifically, India’s senior officials have publicly criticized China’s economic policies many times as the main reason for the difficulties of the Global South, trying to further separate the Global South and China and set them in opposition. Speaking at a press conference at the G20 Leaders’ Summit in New Delhi, S. Jaishankar said that it is not the West that is supplying goods to Asia and Africa on a large scale, the traditional view of the West and the Global South as opposites should be overcome, the Global South should not be burdened with unpayable debts as a result of non-transparent initiatives, and connectivity initiatives should respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states. Shivshankar Menon, former Indian National Security Advisor and Foreign Secretary, said that “China has exacerbated the debt problems of developing countries,” and it was necessary for India to take the lead in addressing global challenges. Some Indian scholars have claimed that China, which is already the world’s second largest economy, a middle-income country, and a defender of the current international order, should no longer be considered a member of the Global South. India has also tried to block China’s initiatives in multilateral and minilateral mechanisms, and sought ways to weaken the influence of China’s cooperation with the Global South, so as to increase the odds of winning the competition with China. At the G20 leaders’ summit, India proposed a plan to build an India–Middle East–Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). Indian defense expert Jayadeva Ranade said, “From the economic and strategic point of view, the plan will benefit India greatly and put pressure on the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’” India is also trying to compete with China in the BRICS cooperation mechanism. Jagannath Panda, an Indian-origin expert at the Swedish Institute for Security and Development Policy, said that India does not want China to dominate the BRICS cooperation mechanism. Its goal is to have a number of reliable partners in the BRICS to offset China’s growing influence in world affairs.

莫迪政府试图利用美国希望联印遏华之机,加强在“全球南方”与中国的竞争,提升印度在国际社会的影响力与地位。与此前在“全球南方”问题上更多强调与中国等国家的交流与合作不同,印度在“全球南方之声”峰会上故意将中国排除在“全球南方”之外,并将中国定义为大国竞争的“参赛方”,力图向国际社会展示中国已不再是“全球南方”成员,印度已具备替代中国的能力。印度高级官员多次在公开场合不点名地批评中国的经济政策是导致“全球南方”陷入困境的主要原因,试图进一步将“全球南方”与中国割裂和对立起来。苏杰生在G20领导人新德里峰会的新闻发布会上表示,大规模向亚洲和非洲提供商品的不是西方,应克服西方与“全球南方”相互对立的传统观点,“全球南方”不应因不透明的举措而背负无法偿还的债务,互联互通倡议应尊重各国主权和领土完整。印度前国家安全顾问、外交秘书希夫尚卡尔?梅农(Shivshankar Menon)指责“中国加剧了发展中国家的债务问题”,需由印度来带头应对全球挑战。有印度学者声称,中国已是世界第二大经济体、中等收入国家以及当前国际秩序的维护者,不应再作为“全球南方”的一员。印度还试图在多边和小多边机制中阻挠中国的倡议,寻求削弱中国与“全球南方”合作影响力的方案,加大在与中国竞争中获胜的概率。在G20领导人峰会上,印度提出建设印度-中东-欧洲经济走廊(IMEC)计划。印度防务专家贾亚德瓦·拉纳德(Jayadeva Ranade)表示,“从经济和战略角度来看,该计划将使印度受益匪浅,给‘一带一路’带来压力。”在金砖国家合作机制中,印度也试图与中国展开竞争。瑞典安全与发展政策研究所的印度裔专家贾格纳特·潘达(Jagannath Panda)表示,印度不希望中国主导金砖国家合作机制,其目标是在金砖国家中拥有一些可靠的合作伙伴,对冲中国在世界事务中日益增长的影响力。

(iv) Adding new ties for India-U.S. interaction


The Modi government and the Indian strategic community have changed the previous strategy of keeping the United States at arm’s length. They generally believe that India should end its “historic reticence” towards the United States, and, while emphasizing strategic autonomy as fundamental, make close ties with the United States an important foreign policy priority in order to accelerate India’s own development. According to a report released by the Vivekananda International Foundation, since the United States is a leader in the political, economic, military, and technological fields, strengthening cooperation with the United States will be beneficial to India’s development, while not doing so may cause India to miss out on important opportunities. India hopes that by fostering a tacit understanding with the United States on Global South issues, the United States will be prompted to give greater support to India in more areas. Against the backdrop of a rising Global South and U.S. concerns about the Global South getting out of control, India can not only play an important role between the United States and the Global South, using the Global South as a new link to further strengthen the India-U.S. relationship, but can also use its good image in the Global South to ease U.S. concerns and enhance its strategic value to the United States. M.K. Bhadrakumar, [a former] Indian ambassador to Turkey, has pointed out that one of the key factors in the U.S. focus on India is its desire to leverage India’s strengths to reinforce ties with the Global South. India also believes that strengthening closer cooperation with the United States on Global South issues can not only shake China’s position in the Global South, but also enable India and the United States and Europe to find more effective ways to confront China in the international arena.

莫迪政府和印度战略界改变了此前与美国若即若离的策略,普遍认为应结束对美国的“历史性犹豫”,在强调战略自主的基础上,将密切与美国的关系作为加速自身发展的重要外交政策。辩喜国际基金会发布的报告认为,由于美国在政治、经济、军事和技术领域处于领先地位,与其加强合作将对印度的发展有利,反之则可能使印度错失重要机遇。印度希望通过在“全球南方”问题上培养与美国的默契,促使美国在更多领域给予印度更大的支持。在“全球南方”日益崛起、美国担心“全球南方”脱离掌控的背景下,印度不仅可在美国与“全球南方”之间扮演重要角色,将“全球南方”作为进一步加强印美关系的新纽带,还可利用在“全球南方”中的良好形象,缓解美国的忧虑,提高对美国的战略价值。印度驻土耳其大使巴德拉库玛尔(M.K. Bhadrakumar)指出,美国重视印度的重要因素之一是希望借助印度的力量,加强与“全球南方”的联系。印度还认为,加强与美国在“全球南方”问题上的密切配合不仅能够动摇中国在“全球南方”中的地位,而且使印度与美欧找到了在国际舞台上更有效地对抗中国的方法。

III. India’s Specific Initiatives to Strengthen Relations with the Global South


In order to deepen its relationship with the Global South across the board, India has adopted a multi-pronged approach toward strengthening consultation and cooperation with Global South countries, guided by its overall diplomatic strategy and relying on its own comparative advantages.


(i) Establishing closer bilateral and multilateral consultations with Global South countries


By actively organizing international conferences, India has demonstrated its willingness to be deeply involved in Global South affairs. In January 2023, India hosted the inaugural Voice of Global South online summit. Some 125 countries were invited to participate, making it the largest-ever meeting of developing countries. Participants included 29 countries from Latin America and the Caribbean, 47 from Africa, 7 from Europe, 31 from Asia, and 11 from Oceania. Under the theme “Unity of Voice, Unity of Purpose,” the summit focused on diplomacy, finance, energy, trade, health, education, and the environment through two leaders’ meetings and eight ministerial meetings. At the second Voice of Global South online summit in November 2023, leaders re-emphasized the need to unite to address unprecedented challenges, and to advance the reform of global governance systems to make them more responsive to current realities and to the needs of countries in the Global South in particular. Speaking at the opening ceremony, S. Jaishankar said that the Global South is an important pillar for India, and the success of India’s G20 Presidency is also a success for the Global South.

印度通过积极举办国际会议,表明深度参与“全球南方”事务的意愿。2023年1月,印度举办了首届“全球南方之声”线上峰会,共125个国家受邀参加,号称有史以来规模最大的发展中国家会议。参会国包括29个拉美和加勒比地区国家、47个非洲国家、7个欧洲国家、31个亚洲国家以及11个大洋洲国家。峰会的主题为“统一的声音,统一的目标”(Unity of Voice, Unity of Purpose),通过设置两次领导人会议和八次部长级会议,重点讨论外交、金融、能源、贸易、卫生、教育和环境等问题。在2023年11月举办的第二届“全球南方之声”线上峰会中,与会领导人再次强调应团结一致,应对前所未有的挑战,推进全球治理体系改革,使之能更好地应对当前现实,特别是“全球南方”国家的需求。苏杰生在开幕式致辞时表示,“全球南方”是印度的重要支柱,印度担任G20轮值主席国的成功也是“全球南方”的成功。

India has strengthened bilateral and multilateral consultations with countries in the Pacific, Africa, and Latin America, which it takes as the priority regions of the Global South. At the third Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) summit in May 2023, Modi noted that the Pacific Island countries are “not small countries, but oceanic powers” and are an important part of the Global South, and that India would further strengthen bilateral multidisciplinary cooperation in accordance with their common priorities and the requirements of Pacific Island countries. India believes that Africa is an integral part of the Global South and plays an important role in global issues such as poverty eradication, sustainable development, and addressing climate change, and has actively advocated for Africa’s inclusion in international multilateral mechanisms such as the G20. The unanimous agreement of G20 leaders at the New Delhi Summit to include the African Union, giving it the same status as the EU, was seen by India as a result of its great effort and the fulfillment of India’s commitment to give a “voice to the countries of the South.” India has also strengthened its ties with Latin America and the Caribbean, and frequent political level consultations have become a prominent feature of the growing relationship. India believes that in order to become a leading global power, it must retain truly important relationships in Latin America, as well as noteworthy and substantial investment and cooperation. During his first visit to Panama, Colombia, Guyana, and the Dominican Republic in April 2023, S. Jaishankar held India-Central American Integration System (SICA) and India-Caribbean Community (CARICOM) ministerial meetings, met with 16 CARICOM foreign ministers, and signed a number of cooperation agreements aimed at further strengthening India’s trade ties with Latin America.


(ii) Expanding development cooperation with Global South countries


India considers development assistance to Global South countries to be an important means of strengthening the bonds of affection between the two sides, demonstrating its national strength, and enhancing its international influence, and recent changes in such efforts show a widening of the areas covered and an increase in intensity. At the Voice of Global South summits, Modi has stated that India would share its development experience with developing countries in a number of areas in order to strengthen mutual solidarity and cooperation. He has announced a series of important initiatives, including: The establishment of a Global South Center of Excellence to research and disseminate best practices for sustainable development in developing countries; the launch of a Global South Science and Technology initiative to share space and nuclear energy technologies with other developing countries; a proposal to organize a Global South Young Diplomats Forum to promote mutual understanding among young diplomats and lay the foundation for long-term relations between countries; and the establishment of a Global South Scholarships program to better attract outstanding talents from around the world.


India has increased its economic assistance to win over the countries of the Global South. India has provided loans totaling more than U.S. $14.07 billion to 357 projects in 42 countries in Africa, covering highways, railroads, power, ports and shipping, education, telecommunications, health, aviation, and other fields. In its FY2023 budget, India increased its assistance to African countries from Rs. 1.6 billion to Rs. 2.5 billion (U.S. $19.2 million to U.S. $30 million), and increased aid to Latin American countries to Rs. 500 million (U.S. $6 million), with a focus on cultural and heritage projects and disaster relief.


India is also actively exporting digital infrastructure to countries in the Global South as an important means of promoting its own digital transformation, increasing the digital dependence of Global South countries on India, and expanding India’s international influence. As early as during the [2022] Bali summit of G20 leaders, Modi called for the international community to widely adopt Indian digital infrastructure. After assuming the G20 presidency, the Modi government stated that India would focus on digital transformation, digital infrastructure development, and the reform of multilateral mechanisms. In the summary of the second Voice of Global South online summit, India re-emphasized the critical role of digital infrastructure and data in promoting growth, improving public services, and promoting development.


(iii) Investing in defense exchanges and cooperation with Global South countries


India views strengthening defense exchanges and cooperation with Southeast Asian countries as an important means of expanding India’s security influence. India attaches particular importance to developing its relationship with Vietnam, viewing it as an important pillar of ASEAN and the Indo-Pacific region. India and Vietnam have established multiple security and defense dialogue mechanisms, such as strategic dialogue between heads of state, policy dialogue between defense ministers, and the India-Vietnam Strategic Dialogue, as well as the India-Vietnam Joint Commission and the India-Vietnam Security Dialogue, and have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cooperation in coast guard services, an MoU on cooperation in defense logistics between India and Vietnam, and the Joint Vision Statement on India-Vietnam Defense Partnership towards 2030. They have carried out defense cooperation in a number of areas, including military assistance and arms sales, bilateral and multilateral joint military exercises, interservice exchanges and cooperation, training of military personnel, and equipment maintenance. Africa is also a priority region for India to develop defense cooperation. In June 2023, Modi made his first official visit to Egypt, one of the key countries of the Global South. One of the focuses of his talks with Egyptian President Sisi was strengthening India-Egypt defense cooperation. India plans to export light fighter jets to Egypt, while helping it build production lines and transfer core technologies. India has also held an “India-Africa Joint Exercise” with Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Niger, Seychelles, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, among others, and convened the first India-Africa Army Chiefs Conclave, focusing on topics such as “India-Africa defense partnership” and “expansion of India’s defense industry to Africa.” India-Africa cooperation in the maritime security field is also increasing significantly, and the Indian Navy has become a provider of security in the Western Indian Ocean region. At the same time, India has continued to explore possibilities for defense cooperation with Latin American countries. In July 2023, Argentinean Defense Minister Jorge Taiana and Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh held a meeting and announced that the two countries would sign an MoU to improve and deepen agreements already reached. Taiana also invited Singh to participate in the second Latin American Conference on United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (ALCONU) in Argentina.

印度将加强同东南亚国家的防务交流与合作视为扩大印度安全影响力的重要手段。其中,印度尤为重视发展与越南的关系,将其视为东盟和印太地区的重要支柱。印越建立了首脑战略对话、防长政策性对话以及印越战略对话、印越联合委员会、印越安全对话等多重安全防务对话机制,签署了《海岸警卫合作备忘录》《印越国防后勤合作谅解备忘录》《印越面向2030年防务伙伴关系联合愿景声明》,在军事援助及军售、双多边联合军事演习、军兵种间交流合作、军事人员培训及装备维修等多个领域展开防务合作。非洲也是印度开展防务合作的重点区域。2023年6月,莫迪对“全球南方”重要国家之一的埃及进行了首次正式访问,与埃及总统塞西会谈的重点之一是加强印埃国防合作,印度计划向埃及出口轻型战斗机的同时,帮助其建设生产线并转让核心技术。印度还与埃塞俄比亚、加纳、肯尼亚、莱索托、尼日尔、塞舌尔、坦桑尼亚、乌干达、赞比亚等国举行“印非联合演习”,并召开首届印度—非洲陆军参谋长会议,重点聚焦“印非防务伙伴关系”“印国防工业拓展至非洲”等议题。印非在海事安全领域的合作也在显著增加,印度海军已成为西印度洋地区的安全提供者。与此同时,印度还不断挖掘与拉美国家开展防务合作的可能性。2023年7月,阿根廷国防部长豪尔赫?塔亚纳(Jorge Taiana)与印度国防部长拉杰纳特?辛格(Rajnath Singh)举行会晤,宣布两国将签署谅解备忘录,完善和深化已达成的协议。塔亚纳还邀请辛格参加在阿根廷举行的第二届拉丁美洲联合国维和行动会议(ALCONU)。

(iv) Emphasizing the role of soft power


India views the use of its soft power as an important means of strengthening emotional ties with the Global South, demonstrating national strength, and enhancing international influence. With recent changes showing a broadening of the fields involved and increasing intensity, soft power has become a powerful complement to India’s military and economic strength, helping India reinforce political and economic ties with other countries. Modi set the theme of the G20 summit in New Delhi as “One Planet, One Home, One Future,” with the aim of expressing India’s basic attitude towards the complex and ever-changing international situation and development trends. The Modi government has also vigorously promoted the achievement of green development, “changing lifestyles for the environment,” the “Panchamrit Action Plan” [on climate], and other important concepts. Since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis, India has repeatedly stated that “this is not a time for war,” promoted the Indian philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (“the world is one family”), and actively portrayed an image of neutrality in urging peace and promoting negotiations. India has also sought to capitalize on its comparative advantages in the fields of culture, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals to enhance goodwill towards India among Global South countries. In order to fully leverage India’s cultural influence, the Indian government has not only set up specialized agencies, strengthened departmental coordination, and increased financial support, but has also built a variety of communication channels. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations has set up 37 overseas cultural research centers in many countries, and through organizing local cultural and artistic activities and direct contacts with the local public in the form of artistic performances, visual arts, exhibitions, seminars, workshops, and lecture presentations, it has promoted the local dissemination of Indian culture and exchanges with local cultures. The widespread use of new internet media has further accelerated the spread and popularity in the Global South of Indian literature, art, yoga, film and theater, music, festivals, and other cultural practices. Modi has asserted that “India’s film and entertainment industry is vibrant and diverse, and has a huge international reach.” The Modi government has also tapped the role of the Indian diaspora, establishing the “Overseas Friends of BJP” to help build closer ties between India and target countries. In addition, India focuses on cooperation with Global South countries in the field of public health and safety. It promotes health concepts in the Global South, and has become one of the largest suppliers of cancer and AIDS drugs and vaccines in Latin America. During the COVID-19 epidemic, India cooperated with Vietnam in vaccine research and development while providing vaccine assistance.

印度将发挥自身软实力作为加强与“全球南方”感情纽带、彰显国家实力和提升国际影响力的重要手段,并呈现出涉及领域扩大和力度增加的新变化,软实力已成为印度军事和经济实力的有力补充,有助于印度与各国加强政治与经济的联系。莫迪将G20领导人新德里峰会的主题定为“同一个地球,同一个家园,同一个未来”,旨在表明印度应对复杂多变国际形势及发展趋势的基本态度。莫迪政府还大力宣扬实现绿色发展、“为环境改变生活方式”及“潘查亚特行动计划”(Panchamrit Action Plan)等重要理念。乌克兰危机爆发后,印度多次作出“现在不是战争时代”的表态,宣扬“天下一家”(Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam)的印式哲学,积极塑造劝和促谈的中立形象。印度还试图发挥在文化、医疗和制药领域的比较优势,提升“全球南方”国家对其好感度。为充分发挥印度的文化影响力,印度政府不仅设立了专门的负责机构、加强了部门协调、加大了财政支持力度,还构建了多样化的传播路径。印度文化关系委员会(the Indian Council for Cultural Relations)在多个国家设有37个海外文化研究中心,通过在当地组织艺术表演、视觉艺术、展览、研讨会、讲习班、讲座演示等形式的文化艺术活动与当地公众直接接触,促进印度文化在当地的传播以及同当地文化之间的交流。网络新媒体的广泛运用进一步加速了印度文学、艺术、瑜伽、影视剧、音乐、节日等文化习俗在“全球南方”的传播并颇受欢迎。莫迪声称“印度的电影和娱乐产业充满活力,具有多样性,且有着巨大的国际影响力”。莫迪政府还大力挖掘印度侨民的作用,成立“印度人民党海外之友”,密切印度与对象国的关系。此外,印度注重与“全球南方”国家在公共卫生安全领域的合作,在“全球南方”倡导健康理念,已成为拉美地区最大的肿瘤、艾滋病药物以及疫苗供应国之一。在新冠疫情期间,印度在援助越南疫苗的同时与越南在疫苗研发领域展开了合作。

IV. Constraints on India’s Strengthening of Relations with the Global South


While India’s strengthening of relations with the Global South has obvious geopolitical considerations, its own strength is not yet sufficient to support its strategic ambitions, and strengthening relations with the Global South faces many constraints.


(i) India’s use of the Global South to achieve its geostrategic objectives is unlikely to gain the support of most Global South countries. India sees the Global South as a tool for playing games with major powers and a “paving stone” to increase its influence. Instead of strengthening the unity of the Global South, this is creating artificial divisions that will make it difficult to gain genuine support from the rest of the Global South. Most countries in the Global South do not want to take sides between China and India, and do not want India to deliberately create divisions within the Global South in order to contain China. India’s greatly strengthened ties with the United States and the West have raised concerns and questions. “The necessity of maintaining a partnership with the United States makes India’s anti-Western protests sound hypocritical.” India’s ability to move onto a larger international stage will hinge on the support of Global South countries, and if it cannot firmly maintain a united front with the latter, it will ultimately have to suffer the consequences. On the issue of BRICS expansion, although this move can help the Global South expand its voice in world affairs, because India is worried that it will weaken its influence in the organization, and also tends to maintain close relationships with the United States and the West, it may lead to India to become increasingly distant from other BRICS countries. Some Central Asian countries are also dissatisfied with India’s tendency to emphasize the G20 and neglect the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and criticize India for intentionally magnifying its conflicts with China and Pakistan, which has led to the slow progress of a number of cooperation efforts under the SCO framework, and is not conducive to the Central Asian region’s maintenance and promotion of security and development. Some Central Asian scholars have even suggested amending the SCO’s rules of procedure to solve the problem wherein cooperation is difficult to promote due to India’s “one-vote veto.”


(ii) There is a tendency toward opportunism in India’s development of relations with the Global South. In its handling of relations with the Global South in practice, the Modi government has not played its self-proclaimed “leader” role, but rather has emphasized “India first” and “pragmatism.” This pattern of being “strong on interests and weak on responsibilities” is hardly likely to win genuine approval from the Global South. Take India’s attitude towards the NAM as an example. Modi’s absence from two consecutive summits is mainly due to his belief that the NAM has, to a certain extent, tied India’s hands and contradicted India’s “multidirectional alignment” strategy for strengthening its relationships with major powers. On the issue of food security, which is of utmost concern to the countries of the Global South, India—the world’s largest exporter of rice—cited domestic factors in banning the export of non-basmati rice in July 2023. This led to a surge in rice prices in the international market, and had a serious impact on some Global South countries, undermining Modi’s claim that “India is a natural and responsible leader of the developing world.” After the outbreak of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, India chose to support Israel’s position at a time when Global South countries were generally calling for an end to the war and a ceasefire. This exposed India’s “weakness” in facing major international crises and its difficulty in shouldering the responsibilities of a “global leader,” and weakened India’s credibility in global governance and its position in the Islamic world. Critics have argued that India’s stance could create a rift with other countries of the Global South and even alienate it from them, completely disqualifying it from competing with China for leadership.


(iii) India’s comprehensive national strength is limited, making it hard for it to deal with the complexities of the Global South. Although India has become the world’s fifth largest economy, its manufacturing industry is backward overall, and its S&T innovation ability and labor quality are not high. It is in a relatively low-end position in global production and supply chains, it is unable to meet the needs of its own construction and industrial upgrading, and its ability to provide international public goods is limited, making it difficult to for it to fill the gaps in funding and technology urgently needed by some Global South countries. According to a report from the Asian Development Bank, infrastructure construction in South Asia alone requires an annual investment of U.S. $294 billion, while the actual investment is only U.S. $134 billion, a gap of up to U.S. $160 billion. Rajesh Rajagopalan, a professor at Nehru University in India, has said bluntly, “Whether it is investing resources in the Global South or competing with the West, India is no match for China. It is irrelevant to merely voice the concerns of the South; what matters is who has the ability to provide the funds for its development.” At the same time, there are clear differences between the Global South and the Global North in a number of areas, and the Global South itself is a complex group. Due to different values ​​and development levels, and the lack of a stable position coordination mechanism within international organizations such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, India does not have the ability to shape Global South norms and harmonize the contradictions between the Global North and the South. It is also unlikely that the countries of the Global South will readily accept India’s leadership because of its propaganda or assistance, and when issues of “paying lip service but not delivering” arise, they will heighten the Global South’s questioning of India’s leadership. In August 2023, the World Health Organization issued a global alert over Indian-made cough syrup sold in Iraq, stating that the drug contained toxic chemicals that could be fatal to children. Some Southeast Asian countries are unsure whether India has the ability to lead global free trade, and believe its actual influence in Southeast Asia is relatively limited.

(三)印度的综合国力有限,难以应对“全球南方”的复杂问题。尽管印度已成为世界第五大经济体,但其制造业整体水平落后,科技创新能力、劳动力素质不高,在全球产业链和供应链中处于相对低端的位置,无法满足自身建设与产业升级的需求,提供国际公共产品的能力有限,难以填补一些“全球南方”国家急需的资金与技术缺口。根据亚洲开发银行的报告,仅在南亚地区每年基础设施建设就需要投资2940亿美元,而实际投资仅为1340亿美元,缺口高达1600亿美元。印度尼赫鲁大学教授拉杰什·拉贾戈帕兰(Rajesh Rajagopalan)直言:“无论是向‘全球南方’投入资源,还是与西方国家进行竞争,印度都无法与中国比拟。仅仅表达南方国家的担忧无关痛痒,重要的是谁有能力为其发展提供资金。”与此同时,“全球南方”与“全球北方”在诸多领域的分歧明显,且“全球南方”情况复杂,因价值观念不同、发展水平各异,在联合国、世界贸易组织等国际组织内部缺乏稳固的立场协调机制,印度不具备塑造“全球南方”规范和协调全球南北方矛盾的能力。“全球南方”国家也不太可能因印度的宣传或援助就轻易认可其领导地位,一旦出现“口惠而实不至”的问题,反而会加剧“全球南方”国家对印度领导力的质疑。2023年8月,世界卫生组织对在伊拉克销售的产自印度的止咳糖浆发出了全球警报,指出该药物中含有的有毒化学物质可对儿童造成致命影响。一些东南亚国家对印度是否有能力引领全球自由贸易缺乏信心,认为其在东南亚的实际影响力相对有限。

V. Conclusion


At present, as an increasingly rising force, the Global South is receiving extensive attention from the international community, and it is promoting a more obvious multipolarity in the international landscape. Modi has vowed to be the “leader and spokesperson” of the Global South, and a series of initiatives have been undertaken in the political, economic, diplomatic, and cultural fields. Their aim is to further enhance India’s international influence and voice, and to serve as a counterweight to China’s development and an important new front for building a closer relationship with the United States. India’s initiatives against China in the Global South will likely have a disruptive effect on the unity, cooperation, and common development of the Global South.


As a member of the Global South, China is firmly committed to uniting the Global South, opposes using the Global South to engage in geostrategic competition, and safeguards the interests of the Global South. China should join hands with Global South countries, including India, to jointly build peace, promote development, pursue progress, discuss cooperation, and contribute to the building of a community of common destiny for mankind.


To top

Cite This Page

张杰 (Zhang Jie). "India's Strengthening Relationship with the Global South: Strategic Ambitions and Constraints [印度强化与“全球南方”关系:战略雄心与制约]". CSIS Interpret: China, original work published in China International Studies [国际问题研究], January 15, 2024

FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrintCopy Link