South-South cooperation was a central aspect of the radical Third World project of national and social liberation. It was envisioned that by trading among themselves, the nations of the Third World would be able to break the neocolonial relation with the United States and the European ex-colonial powers. With the intention of promoting South-South cooperation, seventy-seven nations created the Group of 77 in 1964.
But the vision encountered many obstacles: inadequate capital to develop industry, necessary for providing manufactured goods to the nations of the South; a distorted transportation infrastructure, which had been developed by colonial powers to serve North-South commerce; and the hostility of the global powers, which used all necessary means to preserve their structured advantages in the world-system. The modest gains that were made with respect to South-South cooperation were eliminated with the imposition of the neoliberal project on the Third World by the global powers (see “The fall & rise of South-South cooperation” 7/24/2014).
In conjunction with the emergence and leadership of five self-proclaimed socialist nations in Latin America, and with the emergence of the project of Latin American and Caribbean union and integration, the concept of South-South cooperation has been retaken.
South-South cooperation has been given impetus by Chinese foreign policy in recent years. Recognizing that economic ascent through domination in the form of the classical empires or in the style of modern European colonial domination is no longer a viable option for humanity; and recognizing that a Chinese quest for ascent within the structures of the world-system would create military and ideological confrontation with the United States and the European powers; China has turned to a policy of seeking mutually beneficial commercial relations with the nations of the Third World, on a foundation of cooperation rather than domination and exploitation, thus sidestepping global structures by creating alternative norms and institutions. The significant increase of Chinese commerce with Latin America is an indication of the new direction in Chinese policy (see “China-CELAC cooperation” 7/25/2014; “China treats Latin America with respect” 7/29/2014).
The formation of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) in 2009 also has given impetus to the renewal of South-South cooperation. The five nations of BRICS have never been in the core of the world-system, nor have they ever been among its most impoverished nations. In different ways, they are at the upper levels of the semi-peripheral region of the world-economy. Brazil, the largest Latin American nation, combines the dimensions of European settlement, African slavery and indigenous conquest that are central to the story of the formation of the peoples of Latin America. Russia was peripheralized but never colonized, a dynamic that gave rise to a popular revolution that would inspire popular revolutions in the colonized regions of the world. India was peripheralized and colonized, and its nationalist leaders (Gandhi and Nehru) became the among the most celebrated in the Third World project of national and social liberation. China was never peripheralized and only partially colonized, and its revolution led by Mao inspired followers in many Third World lands. And South Africa was ruled for decades by a white settler minority who exploited and denied fundamental rights of the black majority, until Nelson Mandela was able to emerge from years of incarceration to lead the people to a new South Africa. The nations of BRICS have the highest levels of industry and technology among the semi-peripheral nations of the world-economy. They comprise 41.6% of the world’s population, 19.8% of the world GDP, and 16.9% of world commerce. In recent years, their economies have been growing at a much faster rate than the economies of the most developed nations.
BRICS was formed for the purpose of developing mutually beneficial trade among its five members, which represents a move toward South-South cooperation. In 2014, under Chinese leadership, BRICS turned to the expansion and development of mutually beneficial commerce with the other nations of the South. As an indication of this, it has formed the BRICS Bank of Development, with the intention of providing funds for investment in the nations of the Third World, in projects that are integral to autonomous national projects that seek true development, without the inevitable distortions that are components of interested investments by core governments and banks and core-controlled international organizations (see “BRICS advances to South-South cooperation” 7/29/2014; “The BRICS Bank of Development” 7/30/2014).
The importance of South-South cooperation was reiterated on January 8, 2014 by Bolivian President Evo Morales, in his capacity as President of the G-77 plus China, which now consists of 133 member nations. See Speech by Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, on the occasion of the transfer of the presidency of the G77 plus China to Bolivia. South-South cooperation also was reaffirmed by Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador, in his speech accepting the Presidency of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) on January 29, 2015. See “The eradication of poverty is a moral imperative for our region and for the entire planet.”
At the VII BRICS Summit, held in Ufa, Russia, on July 9, 2015, BRICS reaffirmed its commitment to promoting an international order based on “mutually beneficial cooperation” among nations. It affirmed the principle of South-South cooperation along with North-South cooperation: “We are committed to further strengthening and supporting South-South cooperation, while stressing that South-South cooperation is not a substitute for, but rather a complement to North-South cooperation, which remains the main channel of international development cooperation.” It expressed its “intention to contribute to safeguarding a fair and equitable international order” (see “VII BRICS Summit” 8/13/2015). We see in this diplomatic language an intention to move toward a more just world-system gradually and cautiously, hoping to avoid confrontation with the global powers; a necessary approach, given the enormous military capacity of the United States.
Key words: South-South Cooperation, BRICS