As we enter the final and most challenging decade to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, South-South Cooperation (SSC) has gained enhanced mandate and momentum.

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres characterized SSC’s role in today’s development agenda as offering a “unique pathway” that accelerates the global efforts towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

South-South Cooperation (SSC) is both an old concept and a new idea, an old analysis, and a new policy directive. In recent years, South-South Cooperation (SSC) has witnessed a remarkable resurgence in terms of its importance to the conduct of international affairs. Observers ranging from academics to policymakers and diplomats to media and global investment firms have noted the growth of SSC within governance initiatives, diplomacy, and trade. SSC is not particularly new as the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), established in 1961, sought to bolster such South-South linkages as a means of countering colonialism and the push and pull of super-power politics during the Cold War. Although the notion has existed for decades, it has grown in importance and function, especially since the early 2000s. SSC has transformed global economic structures, forcing the international community to redefine traditionally understood words, like “region” and “development.” It has manufactured new alliances, new trading partners, and new methods for economic development, especially for emerging countries.

Developing countries experienced rapid economic growth in the years immediately before the 2008 financial crisis. While this was a continuation of a long and stable trend in East and South Asia, it was a welcome new trajectory for countries in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa, where economic activity had stagnated for nearly a quarter of a century. The rapid growth was accompanied by rising investment levels and increasing integration with the world economy, as well as increased interaction among developing countries.

In recent decades the global South has recorded its highest economic growth rates in history, lifting a large number of people out of poverty.

Many developing countries have accumulated and are eager to share their knowledge and resources for development with other countries. Innovative forms of knowledge exchange, technology transfer, emergency response, and recovery of livelihoods led by the South have demonstrated the capacity of SSC in transforming economies and positively affect the lives of the people. South-South cooperation can thus be described as a manifestation of solidarity among peoples and countries of the South, also known as the Global South, which contributes to their national well-being, their national and collective self-reliance, and the attainment of internationally agreed development goals. Over the decades the Global South has made increasingly significant contributions to global development.

According to statistics, the countries of the South contributed more than half of the world’s growth in recent years; intra-south trade is also higher than ever before, accounting for more than a quarter of all world trade; the outflows of foreign direct investment from the South represent a third of the global flows. The number, nature, and scope of such partnerships have expanded greatly, particularly in Africa, South America, and parts of Asia and the Middle East, and many have gone beyond regional boundaries and traditional partners. The acceleration of globalization and the “rise of the South” has, therefore, opened up opportunities for experimentation on the design and implementation of development policies across the developing world.

2022 was a difficult year that derailed the world’s efforts to achieve SDGs by 2030 in many different ways. According to UN reports, the world witnessed the highest number of violent conflicts since 1945, with more than 103 million people forcibly displaced worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic continued to disrupt economies, education, and health systems, and the global climate catastrophe spiraled further out of control, with heat waves, droughts, floods, and other disasters affecting billions. Additionally, economic inequalities grew alarmingly, with 75 million to 95 million more people living in extreme poverty in 2022 compared with pre-pandemic levels. In order to rise to the challenge of these troubling and growing negative trends and overlapping challenges, enhanced South-South Cooperation is of paramount importance.

The ambitious and transformational 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development cannot be achieved without the ideas, energy, and tremendous ingenuity of the countries of the Global South.

It is, therefore, important to figure out how South-South cooperation can be turned into an invaluable opportunity to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Being a developing country and part of the Global South, China has since the early 1950s leveraged its strong history of domestic achievement to support other ‘developing’ countries through its South-South cooperation and in the 70 years since, has grown into a preeminent provider of financing for global development. As part of the philosophy of a “new era of shared future for mankind”, China also makes strong links to the UN SDGs and uses the 2030 Agenda to frame its development efforts. China is increasing its emphasis on governance, climate change, health, humanitarian assistance, agriculture and food security, infrastructure, and education and training and these areas are central elements of China’s development effort. Projects in these sectors tend to follow “tried-and-true” models that can be implemented in different contexts, as required.

China supports partner countries with their economic development through agriculture and infrastructure projects, and with their socio-cultural development through education and training programs, some of which are used as a mechanism through which China can transfer knowledge from its own experience with urbanization, economic growth, and poverty alleviation to partner countries. In the context of Climate change response, China has indicated its support for low-income countries trying to mitigate the effects of climate change, the establishment of a South-South Climate Cooperation Fund (SSCCF), initiatives to support low-and middle-income countries making the transition toward renewable energy, and environmental management and sustainable development training programs. Given China’s recent commitments to climate, it seems likely that climate finance will feature more prominently in the years ahead.

While China is far ahead of Pakistan in attaining the SDGs, Pakistan is struggling to meet the SDGs requiring targeted action and financial assistance to deliver on its SDG commitments. It is therefore, important for Pakistan to not only carefully study China’s strategy for socio-economic development, poverty alleviation, and countering the negative impact of climate change but also draw lessons for improving its sustainable development markers and tap China’s Global Funding Schemes, Bilateral Agreements, and Private Sector for achieving SDGs and to mitigate the effects of climate change on Pakistan. In the context of financing for the UN Sustainable Development Goals Agenda 2030, it is relevant to state that there are numerous streams of Chinese financing available with which Pakistan could align its SDG agenda and propose projects to secure development financing.

The China–Pakistan development partnership under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an example of SSC.

CPEC is a multidimensional project under the umbrella of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and is the leading development process in Pakistan for sustainable development. The development of infrastructure will be helpful in socio-economic development, poverty alleviation, and improving the living standard of people. Further, it will also be helpful in the reduction of the development gap between different regions. The goal of sustainable development can be achieved only through a multidimensional development project.

Infrastructure development under the CPEC is also important and beneficial for the sustainable development of Pakistan and will contribute to the socio-economic paradigm of Pakistan by helping in the achievement of sustainable development goals. China has supported Pakistan in addressing its energy and infrastructure gaps and is setting the stage for rapid industrialization. China is further assisting Pakistan by encouraging its private sector to take benefit from the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Pakistan by setting up industries and relocating excess industrial capacity which will have a direct impact on the socio-economic development of Pakistan and assist in the meeting the Sustainable Development Goals in different ways.

Under the CPEC, the transformation of human capital knowledge and technology will play a vital role in the development of Pakistan. Physical capital is expected to improve the urban sector through industrialization, which will further stabilize the economy of Pakistan. Infrastructure-led development is the foundation of socio-economic development. Natural resources and social infrastructure are planned to be effectively used under the CPEC. Pakistan has introduced many institutional reforms in the industrial sector to improve domestic economic growth. Additionally, the CPEC has become a source of FDI, which will play a catalyst role in the stabilization of the shaking economy of Pakistan.

In view of the strong link between external financing and its potential to contribute to socio-economic development, there are significant prospects associated with Chinese SSC in the form of CPEC in Pakistan. Substantial investments in socio-economic development have the potential to promote three SDGs, including Goals 7, 8, and 9. These three SDGs ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all (Goal 7), promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all (Goal 8), and focus on building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and fostering innovation (Goal 9) (UNGA, 2015, p. 14). Thus, the execution of CPEC is expected to directly contribute to attaining these three SDGs.

Alongside contributing towards promoting the above SDGs directly, CPEC-related investments are likely to help in achieving various SDGs indirectly. For example, Goal 1 states to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere” (UNGA, 2015, p. 14). CPEC projects have created more than 75,000 direct jobs for Pakistanis and the government estimates that it would generate two million more jobs in the long run. This means if two million people secure employment, two million families will have a better means of livelihood and, subsequently, will achieve food security (Goal 2) as well as will have access to better health services (Goal 3), quality education (Goal 4), and clean water and sanitation (Goal 6). In other words, the effective execution of CPEC has enormous potential to contribute towards achieving a number of SDGs in Pakistan.

Pakistan has always called for further intensification of cooperation among developing counties to complement North-South cooperation, calling it critical as the world contends with interlinked crises of finance, food, and climate change.

South-South cooperation is a form of solidarity among peoples and nations in the South that helps to their national well-being, national and collective self-sufficiency, and achievement of globally accepted development goals, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

However, South-South cooperation is not a substitute for, but rather a complement to, North-South cooperation, and the developed countries must fulfill their commitments to North-South cooperation. It is important that the South-South partners continue to promote collaboration based on equal footing, mutual benefits, and win-win outcomes.

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