Explained: How West And Chinese Are Playing on Global South?

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Perhaps the perceived increase in Chinese influence in the Global South is overstated, and we are witnessing these countries asserting their national interests more forcefully. This emerging reality creates the impression that others are gaining influence because the interests of Global South countries do not always align with those of the U.S. or the Western world.

New Delhi (ABC Live): There is a widespread belief that China's influence in the Global South has significantly increased over the past decade, while the impact of Western democracies, particularly the U.S., has diminished. This perception is reinforced by the growing independence of developing countries from the preferences of the U.S. and OECD nations. For instance, despite the U.S. and EU's calls for sanctions against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, countries representing 85% of the world's population have chosen not to impose such sanctions.

The most notable change in the past ten years has been China's economic rise and extensive engagement with the developing world through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This might suggest a direct correlation between China's economic growth and its increased influence in the Global South. However, several other factors may explain China's relative rise in influence. The 2008 global financial crisis tarnished the Anglo-Saxon economic model for some, and the Eurozone debt crisis and Europe's economic stagnation have arguably reduced the continent's prestige. Additionally, U.S. military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan have alienated parts of the Global South, with the missions' failures perceived as signs of weakness and casting doubt on the U.S. as a reliable ally. Internal political divisions within Western democracies may be viewed as signs of weakness or a failing system. Moreover, Western progressive social agendas often clash with conservative values in many developing countries, where 67 nations have legal bans on same-sex marriage according to Human Rights Watch. In contrast, China's "no-strings-attached" policy in economic engagements appeals to countries with differing value systems.

In summary, it is difficult to separate economic factors from the political, social, and geopolitical trends that have contributed to the decline of Western influence compared to China’s in the Global South. However, one might expect China’s role in the COVID-19 pandemic, responsible for seven million deaths worldwide, and its lack of cooperation in containing the virus and determining its origin, to have harmed its global standing. Additionally, China's assertiveness in border and maritime disputes with 15 countries and the failures of some BRI projects, which have been uneconomical or poorly executed, has also damaged its image.

Perhaps the perceived increase in Chinese influence in the Global South is overstated, and we are witnessing these countries asserting their national interests more forcefully. This emerging reality creates the impression that others are gaining influence because the interests of Global South countries do not always align with those of the U.S. or the Western world. If this is the case, the idea that emulating the BRI with a similar but improved program will lead to greater compliance is likely misguided. A better approach for the West would be to focus on closely aligning interests.

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