In this wide-ranging conversation with Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief, India Writes Network, Prof. Sachin Chaturvedi, Director General of RIS, a preeminent think tank for developing countries, speaks about varied strands of the evolving South-South cooperation. He clarifies that SSC is not homogenous, but there is a plurality within the broad matrix of South-South cooperation. “South-South cooperation is manifested in foreign policies of several countries across the south and they have their own modalities, they have their own ideas of engagement,” says Prof. Chaturvedi, the author of The Logic of Sharing, a seminal work on India’s model of developmental cooperation.
(Excerpts from the interview)
Q. What is the idea behind organizing a major international conference on South-South cooperation? Why this conference at this point in time?
A. The conference is extremely well timed. I think in the theoretical literature, huge debate and of course at the practical level there are several issues related to what stands for South-South Cooperation and how we look at the whole question of plurality within south-south cooperation. And we thought that it would be important to focus on sectors and issues like in what way south-south cooperation really stands for sectors, sectoral cooperation, and how it brings in the idea of the question that are coming out from Busan and in what way we can answer some of those questions. So, we thought a conference with academics, with practitioners, with civil society organisations, with industry, that would be extremely important.
Q. Briefly, what are the focus areas here? In the matrix of south-south cooperation, where do you see major progress in the days ahead? Which are the priority areas?
A. The priority areas are broadly three that I can think of for this conference. Number one is in terms of evolving the very narrative on south-south cooperation and the associated issues of the theoretical framework and the methodological sort of issues. The second addition is in terms of how the private sector looks at it in terms of the investment priorities, in terms of their corporate social responsibility in the countries, partner countries where they are engaged. And number three is in terms of India’s initial set of contributions in terms of idea of one world, trying to think of equator-less world, as Prime Minister was saying, that the north and the south should come together for tackling, addressing global challenges. So, from that point of view, the idea of global citizenship, one world, equator-less world, these are some of the propositions which we are going to explore across different sessions. We have also tried to create a corner for young scholars from the south. So you will see that there are several established scholars like Prof. Muchkand Dubey, Prof. Deepak Nayyar, Prof. Thomas Pogge etc. who have contributed immensely. But there is a young crowd which also wants to be heard. So, we had received a huge response to our call for papers and we have invited almost all the young scholars who showed interest, inclination and, of course, have tried to link up with private universities like Symbiosis university, Sharda University, Ashoka University, and of course JNU and Delhi University.
So there is a huge young crowd which is now taking interest in international relations which was never case the before. So, taking advantage of that interest, inclination, idea to support some of this work, we have roped them in. There is one full session for young scholars, but you would also find them engaged in many other sessions as rapporteurs and as writers for the conference.
Q. South-South Cooperation has always had a unique place in India’s foreign policy calculus. How do you look at the continued relevance and resonance of South-South cooperation in India’s foreign policy?
A. It is extremely important not only for India and India’s own foreign policy but also the kind of leadership that is required at the larger level of the south. So, what China is doing in Africa, what Brazil and South Africa are doing in Africa and of course their linkages in Southeast Asia and our own neighbourhood in South Asia, these are all important issues. Development cooperation is a major instrument from that point of view and all the five modalities that are there within development cooperation, the lines of credit, the concessional finance, the capacity building, trade and investment linkages and of course finally the technology related linkages. So, we are focusing on what these five major economies of the south are doing and at some point I think C.D Deshmukh once said that no country is rich enough not to take assistance from others and no country is poor enough not to give assistance to the partner country. So, from that point of view, South-South cooperation is manifested in foreign policies of several countries across the south and they have their own modalities, they have their own ideas of engagement. So, thinking that south-south cooperation is a homogeneous entity is not correct and that is what we are trying to address in this conference.
Q. So, in the context of the evolving international landscape you know geopolitical landscape, how can South-South cooperation acquire greater traction, strategic traction specially?
A. Actually, if you see at the academic level not enough work has gone in, in terms of deciphering the nuances of south-south cooperation and it is extremely important Manish for us to document them. We have invited around 15 different think tanks from the south to discuss it. Our idea is to launch a ‘Network of Southern Think Tanks’ (NEST) to focus on the work programme for the south. And we are trying to evolve a sort of response in terms of academic work based on empirical evidences and analysed across streams, not just that the economics has to dominate but maybe other social sciences and of course natural sciences, how they all can be tweaked in, in a sort of coherent framework to contribute to the larger idea of south-south cooperation.
As you see since 2008, the world economy is going through recession and this recession has led to squeeze on the .07 commitment of several developed countries and the resources from the south have expanded. Despite the recession and slowing down of China, the economy is extending huge development assistance to other countries. So from that point of view, not only China but many other countries are engaged in south-south cooperation and you find that the total quantums are going up. So, not as a substitute for north-south cooperation but I think a relevant complimentary force, south-south cooperation has the common but differentiated responsibility and it also has growing relevance in terms of how countries can be part of that process.