The Global South Concept and Its Historical Development and Outlook
(Edited lecture transcript)

Ken Jimbo

1. The History of the Global South Concept: Part 1

This paper is intended to discuss the concept of the Global South and to provide from the perspective of international politics an overview of its historical transformation, development, and outlook.

Although the history of the Global South is not apparent, tracing the course of its development, it originated somewhere in the 1950s-1970s, when the global North-South problem or the structural contradiction and conflict between the North and the South was highlighted. Debates on how to understand the unity of developing countries in the Southern Hemisphere seem to be at the origin of the idea of the Global South. The 1955 Asian-African Conference was the first occasion for Southern developing countries to act in groups in an international political arena, sowing the seeds of later developments such as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the G77. The "Third World Theory" that flourished in the 1970s confirmed similarity and linkage among Southern developing countries.

How has the concept of the South been discussed in international politics? In the realm of international politics, the concept of the South was theoretically developed chiefly by liberal scholars, or more specifically, by those who entertained Marxist or socialist worldviews or those who studied political economy. They proposed a distinct configuration where the Northern countries, or Western countries, prospered thanks to capitalism while other countries, which developed under socialist regimes or had been exploited by the West, were categorized as the South.

The original argument was the dependency theory, proposed by the structuralism school in the 1950s. It divided the world into developed countries (the center) and developing countries (the periphery) and argued that the development of the periphery was extremely difficult under this structure, that the gap between the center and periphery could not be filled, and that a division between the North and South would persist. This argument led to the later Marxist worldview and Wallerstein's world systems theory in the 1980s: unlike the center, the periphery is always subject to international exploitation and is extremely hard to develop. The global rich-poor gap was considered to widen between the North and the South.

The Third World theory, which appeared in this context, described a Cold War-era worldview comprising the First World (the Western countries), the Second World (the Eastern countries), and the Third World or countries that belonged to neither of them. The composition was relatively easy to understand in relation to economic propping.

There are many conceptual variants related to the South: one is Mao Zedong's "middle zone theory" advocated around 1960 based on his socialist view. Under the circumstances in which the relationship between US imperialism and the Soviet Union turned cold, he argued that there was a middle zone that had nothing to do with the principal contradiction in the form of the US-Soviet competition for hegemony. He attempted to link it with movements in the South. At that time, the so-called Non-Aligned Movement was in vogue; Mao considered China to belong to the Third World.

In 1974, China advocated its Three Worlds theory, i.e., the superpowers, the East-West allies, and other countries classified as the Third World. Although the Third World theory categorized China as belonging to the Second World, the Three Worlds theory included China in the Third World.

The second variant is the new dependency theory that became popular in Latin America in the 1970s. Some argued that in a domestic political struggle between the right and the left, liberation would come from some dependency that uses the political conflict as political energy.

Others argued that the contradictory movement of capital and labor creates disparities in wage rates. According to them, countries that can transfer capital will become wealthier, while workers who cannot move will become poorer; in such a situation, people in the South will be oppressed.

The production means integration theory, linked to Marxism, discussed that as industrialization transformed the agrarian society, the shift of production means from capital to labor evolved in conjunction with the concept of the South.

Those who argue negatively about the South tend to dislike its Marxian implications. They are wary of discussing the South in the context of international politics.

Ten years ago, in his article contributed to the "International Affairs" magazine ("Some Thoughts on the Rise of Emerging Powers: Reversal of Dependency?"), Yoshinobu Yamamoto discussed how developed countries and emerging/developing countries have developed with what images and how the discourse of the South has evolved. In short, the dependence theory assumed that developing countries never really developed, but according to Wallersteinian world systems theories, countries that have moved to the sub-periphery will gradually turn into emerging countries, which will follow the trail of developed countries, leaving developing countries behind and positioning them as entities to be absorbed by the North. World systems theories thus explained the occurrence of such dynamic changes or the dynamic international theory of inter-hierarchical shifts.

Since 2010, developing countries have developed as a whole, and the income of the middle class has significantly increased, as illustrated by the elephant curve theory by Branko Milanovic. Meanwhile, a small number of Wall Streeters became super rich. These two phenomena represent a major trend change that marked the 2010s.

2. The History of the Global South Concept: Part 2

Let us now consider what we must focus on when we explore the history of the Global South concept.

First, international relations theories based on North-South relations declined. By the early 2000s, the recognition had rapidly spread that the collapse of the Cold War regimes meant the disappearance of the so-called Second World, that the development of emerging countries meant a departure from the relationship of structural exploitation, and that globalization and the spread of information technology brought about a "flattening world," which was no longer concerned with the North-South divide.

In parallel, the climate of opinion turned in favor of the concept of the South, or it received more positive recognition. Under the UNDP framework, in particular, a new trend emerged in which Southern developing countries helped their peers, leading to the promotion of South-South cooperation and self-help efforts, accompanied by a greater degree of political autonomy.

What came into existence in the subsequent 2010s? For one thing, globalization slowed down. More people became aware that the world is not flat but has barriers, that they are obliged to restrict their behavior in the face of different barriers, and that globalization and neoliberalism represent exploitative relationships in which only a small number of exceptionally wealthy individuals take advantage of the masses.

The second is the developmental stage theories, which suggest that uniform implementation of trade liberalization or climate change countermeasures is not feasible. These theories have been supported since the time of the Kyoto Protocol.

Third, and this is very significant, it has become apparent that despite the ongoing power shifts, representation at international organizations and institutions and existing international rules often fail to reflect those power shifts. Many countries are anxious that rule-based practices are always stressed but that those rules are often unfair.

I hypothesize that with such a pent-up mood for change as background, the Global South has strengthened its solidarity over the past five years.

What direction will the Global South take from now on? Do they oppose developed countries just for the sake of opposing? I think otherwise. The Global South seems to be becoming more confident that their solidarity would enable them to surpass the Global North.

As seen from PricewaterhouseCoopers' The World in 2050 report, the recognition prevails that the G7 no longer accounts for a significant share of global GDP and that the G7's formation of norms may be wrong in the first place.

3. Contemporary International Politics and the Global South

Mie Oba argues about two images of the Global South in the contemporary era. The first refers to countries and people in an inferior situation amid the widening disparities that have been present for decades, as well as those who have been driven amid the widening disparities into a vulnerable position in individual countries, including developed countries.

The second focuses on countries that have developed through accelerated globalization and are gaining a greater voice as "emerging countries." This one may be the most widely accepted image of the Global South.

However, it may be useless to discuss the Global South without conceptualizing for each country what is and what is not a Global South country. We have to check relevant definitions to identify Global South countries.

First, Global South countries are not developed countries. Whether a country receives the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) Development Assistance Committee's (DAC) aid is an objective indicator of whether it is a developed or a developing country. Developed countries belong to the Global North, and developing countries to the Global South.

Second, and this is an interesting point, many Global South countries share the historical experience of being overrun by Western colonialism and imperialism. When attempting to gather as the Global South, they tend to emphasize this totally ideology-free, anti-imperialism element.

Third, although not a positive definition, a Global South country is not a superpower that constitutes a pole in the international community. The Global South is incapable of providing some international public good. Their emergence is in a way different from that of acting as a superpower, such as issuing "Global South" bonds or circulating a "Global South" currency.

Mie Oba's "Economics Class" article is an attempt to categorize Global South countries on a regional basis under the categories of upper-middle-income countries, lower-middle-income countries, low-income countries, and developing countries. With these static taxonomic definitions, however, it is hard for one to read those countries' national sentiments of being overrun by Western imperialism and colonialism.

Facing the war in Ukraine and the division of the world, the West showed the flag to support Ukraine's resistance to Russian aggression―an outright violation of international law―but failed to rally support from many Global South countries. The G7 became vaguely aware that some new category had been born in the world following the outbreak of the Ukraine war.

Former Japanese foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi clearly referred to the Global South; Prime Minister Kishida also articulated in his recent speech at Johns Hopkins University that the Global South is important. What was behind their remarks was the desperate feeling that the global community could not unite against Russia's blatant violation of international law. The Japanese government needed, albeit belatedly, to identify the Global South.

The voting results of the UN resolutions related to the war in Ukraine show that 38 countries voted alongside the G7 in favor of the resolutions, 23 countries took sides with China and Russia against them, and the other 133 Global South countries voted yes, voted abstained, or did not vote at all, but did not oppose.

Understanding the Global South as an ideology would make it easier to think about how to deal with these countries. Unless in parallel with analysis using various indicators mentioned above, we attempt to understand the Global South as an expression of an ideology, it would be difficult to decipher the Global South concept.

According to Freedom in the World reports that have long assessed global trends in political rights and civil liberties, economic development and democratization do not march in parallel. In some emerging economies, democratization does not progress but regresses. The number of electoral democracies stopped rising in 1997. Global GDP, on the other hand, has since increased many times. This fact signifies that many emerging Global South countries fail to transform their political systems while becoming economically wealthier.

Understanding this point is the key to understanding the Global South. The Nikkei Shimbun carried an article titled "Deepening Divide and Disappearing ¥500 Trillion." A reversal of globalization is in progress, in which the share of democracies in global GDP has strikingly decreased while the number of authoritarian countries has increased.

I hypothesize that amid global fragmentation, the Global South is not an entity dependent on others but is one that will increase its influence in many areas and many ways other than as a rule-setter.

Meanwhile, in VOICE magazine's special issue in November, Akihiko Tanaka complains that the Global South discourse is far from being in-depth from his perspective of working for JICA, which, says he, is monitoring every nook and corner of the world. Yet, how could JICA, which is ideologically part of the Global South, observe the Global South objectively? On closer inspection, Jacques Attali's argument that the Global South does not exist may be a play on words.

Nobody can ignore the Global South discourse, but we should continue considering its possibility while listening to various opinions.

4. An Outlook for the Future of the Global South

Now is high time to redefine the significance of the Global South in current international relations and to consider how to approach the Global South as a global or a Japanese policy issue. We must discuss under what circumstances the Global South makes sense.

From now on, engagement with the Global South will be important in international consensus building. Japan has been talking about becoming a rule-setter; according to Prime Minister Kishida's new plan for the Indo-Pacific, Japan will play the role of a connector, emphasizing diversity and inclusiveness. In this context, how should Japan deal with the Global South concept; if Japan, together with other developed countries, tries to reach some agreement with the Global South, it may encounter unexpected rebuttals and objections from those countries using their leverage. What should we do then?

We may be required to rearrange international power distribution and representation at international arenas in the light of global governance.

In that process, we may need to consider whether we can take such an approach of identifying pivotal states from among Global South countries and then working on them, because Global South countries with more affinity to the Global North, such as Turkey and Indonesia, or Global North countries with more affinity to the Global South are respectively interacting with the other camp on various issues.

The time has come to define the Global South concept in international relations theories and to consider how to engage with Global South countries.

(Professor, Keio University)

Edited by the SSDP Secretariat from the transcript of the same titled lecture.

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