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Thursday, April 9, 2020
Martin Khor is the executive director of the South Center, based in Geneva.
GENEVA, Nov 16 2015 (IPS) - South-South cooperation is usually seen as a poor second fiddle to North-South aid in the world of development assistance. Indeed, developing countries’ policy makers themselves insist that South-South cooperation can only supplement but not replace North-South cooperation.
The pledges, made by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to the United States in September , have given an immediate boost to the status of South-South cooperation in general, and to the rapidly growing global role of China.
President Xi first announced that China would set up a China South-South Climate Cooperation Fund to provide 3.1 billion dollars to help developing countries tackle climate change.
Secondly, speaking at the United Nations, Xi said that China would set up another fund with initial spending of 2 billion dollars for South-South Cooperation and to aid developing countries to implement the post-2015 Development Agenda.
The sheer size of the pledges gives a big political weight to the Chinese contribution. Xi’s initiatives have the feel of a “game changer” in international relations.
It is significant that Xi used the framework of South-South cooperation as the basis of the two funds.
In the international system, there have been two types of development cooperation: North-South and South-South cooperation.
North-South cooperation has been based on the obligation of developed countries to assist developing countries because the former have much more resources and have also benefitted from their former colonies.
Indeed, developed countries have committed to provide 0.7 per cent of their gross national income (GNI) as development assistance, a target that is regularly monitored and taken seriously but unfortunately is currently being met by only a handful of countries.
South-South cooperation on the other hand is based on solidarity and mutual benefit between developing countries as equals, and without obligations as there is no colonial history among them.
This is the position of the developing countries and their umbrella grouping, the G77 and China.
Xi himself described South-South cooperation as “a great pioneering measure uniting the developing nations together for self-improvement, is featured by equality, mutual trust, mutual benefit, win-win result, solidarity and mutual assistance and can help developing nations pave a new path for development and prosperity.”
In recent years, as Western countries reduced their commitment towards aid, they tried to blur the distinction and have been pressing big developing countries like China and India to also commit to provide development assistance just like they do, and preferably within the framework of the OECD, the rich countries’ club.
However, the developing countries have stuck to their political position: the developed countries have the responsibility to give adequate aid to poor countries and should not shift this on to other developing countries. The developing countries however will also help one another, through the arm of South-South cooperation.
This has increasingly led some developed countries to advocate, during negotiations at several UN meetings, that for them to continue with their aid commitment, some of the developing countries should also pay their share.
The traditional framework in international cooperation may now be changed by the two Chinese pledges, both interesting in themselves.
It is noted by many that the 3.1 billion dollar Chinese climate aid exceeds the 3 billion dollars that the US has pledged (but not yet delivered) to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) under the United Nations Climate Convention.
China has now taken that South-South route by announcing it will set up its own South-South climate fund, with the unexpectedly big size of 3.1 billion dollars, an amount larger than any developed country has pledged at the GCF.
With such a large amount, the Chinese climate fund has the potential to facilitate many significant programmes on climate mitigation, adaptation and institutional building.
As for the other fund announced by Xi, the initial 2 billion dollars is for South-South cooperation and for implementing the post-2015 development agenda just adopted by the United Nations. The agenda’s centrepiece is the sustainable development goals. Xi mentioned poverty reduction, agriculture, health and education as some of the areas the fund may cover.
This new fund has the potential of helping developing countries learn from one another’s development experiences and practices and make leaps in policy and action.
Xi also said an Academy of South-South Cooperation and Development will be established to facilitate studies and exchanges by developing countries on theories and practices of development suited to their respective national conditions.
The next steps to implement these pledges would be for China to set up the institutional basis for the funds, and design their framework, aims and functions. It is a great opportunity to show whether South-South cooperation can contribute as positively as North-South aid.
Of course, aid is not the only dimension of South-South cooperation, which is especially prominent in the areas of trade, investment, finance and the social sectors.
The regional trade agreements in ASEAN, East Asia, and the sub-regions of Africa and Latin America, as well as the trade and investment links between the three South continents, have shown immense expansion in recent decades.
Recently, the world’s imagination was also captured by the creation of the BRICS New Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Chinese One Belt One Road programme, which all contain elements of South-South cooperation.
South-South cooperation in aid, however, is symbolically and practically of great importance, as it tends to assist the more vulnerable – including poor people and countries, and fragile environments including biodiversity and the climate undergoing crisis.
Let’s hope that the two new funds being set up by China will give a much-needed boost to South-South cooperation and solidarity among the people.
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