GFJ Commentary

July 26, 2023 

Global South and Japan:

Toward a new multipolar strategy


The Russian military invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022, is far from over, and the counteroffensive launched by the Ukrainian government has made the war's outcome all the more unpredictable. As differences deepen in the international community over the Ukrainian crisis, attention is being increasingly focused on those developing countries referred to as the “Global South.” These countries, once commonly referred to as “Third World countries,” became strong through economic development and gradually gained economic and social independence like newly independent states elsewhere. However, the unique historical conditions and geographic isolation of these regions prevented them from accessing the primary global markets owing to what may be called their “remoteness.” Because of this peculiarity, they were forced to rely heavily on foreign aid to cover their chronic trade deficits. However, human exploitation and the disruption of local economies caused by the negative impact of globalization, which has affected a wide range of work sectors, often led to the “loss of national sovereignty.”

Nevertheless, these countries eventually forged their own “way to independence”—with some countries embracing Western values and others rejecting them—and established a legitimate place in the international community. Countries like the Republic of Fiji and Costa Rica soon established their role as leaders of new globalization trends. For example, the then Prime Minister of the Pacific island of Fiji, Kamisese Mara, coined the term “Pacific Way” at the UN in 1970 to characterize a way of functioning specific to the Pacific regions, while the small Central American country of Costa Rica successfully introduced the concept of “ecotourism,” which links environment conservation to responsible travel.

In this new reality, the old simple dichotomy of affluent “North” vs poor “South” is no longer relevant. Therefore, we should revive the importance of reciprocity in relations between the “North” and “South” and reconsider new multilateral relations that include the Global South. However, while a number of countries that receive Chinese and Russian support for infrastructure and economic development have authoritarian governments that welcome China’s and Russia’s proposals, as they align with their own national interest, some are forced to maintain relations with them for the sake of political stability and economic development. If Western countries, including Japan and the US, offer favorable options for the development of economic, trade, financial, technological, and green policies to countries with volatile political systems while lobbying the importance of universal values such as freedom, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, a liberal, rule-based international order might be restored.

Simultaneously, we are entering a new phase in which issues such as global energy security should be reconsidered. It is also worth noting that the scope of security is rapidly broadening to include economic, trade, and technological fields. In this context, alongside the traditional positions of “nationalist” countries, which ignore other nations' needs, and “multilateralist” countries, which seek to promote common interests, the emergence of a third position susceptible to the ambitions of those specific countries known as the Global South can be said to have triggered a fierce “three-way power struggle.” The persistence of the current conditions will accelerate structural changes in world politics and the economy and may even mark a major turning point in the history of international relations. In this context, the global strategic environment encompassing Japan has been plunged into a complex era of international competition in which politics, economics, and security will be closely intertwined and exert an unprecedented influence on all countries participating in the struggle.

Considering the “complexity” of recent national political events, Japan's diplomatic relations must be framed based on a clear understanding of the peculiarities and inherent logic underlying the political actions of these countries and regions to ensure it does not find itself far removed from the realities of the present global order. To achieve this goal, today more than ever, Japan must reassess its role from a global perspective and become a “game-changer” in the creation of a “global values zone,” which includes the Global South, while accurately distinguishing between countries that might adopt similar “shared values” and those that reject them.

In this context, in order to strengthen multilateral relations with its allies and friends, Japan has already developed several multi-dimensional and multi-layered cooperative frameworks, such as the “Free and Open Indo–Pacific” (FOIP), the “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue” (the Quad), the “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership” (RCEP), the “Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership” (CPTPP), the “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (TPP), and the “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework” (IPEF). Although these initiatives have their merits, since changes, such as the development of the Global South and the challenge of economic security, are adding to the complexity of already intricate frameworks, Japan is expected to not only contribute strategically and flexibly to the development of each of these changes but also speak with a unified voice both at home and abroad. In today's era of multi-stakeholder governance, the global political, economic, and technological frameworks as well as power balance are undergoing a drastic change, and Japan is expected to assume the role of a “mediator.” Japan has a solid diplomatic track record of effectively mediating disputes across Eurasian countries bordering Russia and China without jeopardizing diplomatic relations with the three world powers, including the US. This makes Japan fully qualified to assume the role of a “bridge-builder” in the upcoming global struggle for power. Moreover, while Japan further hones its capabilities and strengthens its national brand, the cry for universally shared values echoing from it throughout the world will help the international community build a future in which “nations can cooperate to overcome power struggles.”

(This is the English translation of an article written by TAKAHATA Yohei, Distinguished Research Fellow of JFIR / Governor and Executive Secretary of GFJ, which originally appeared on the e-Forum “Giron-Hyakushutsu” of GFJ on June 1, 2023.)