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G77+China Summit in Cuba and its Global Implications

18 Sep 2023

G77+China Summit in Cuba and its Global Implications

18 Sep 2023


The G77 comprises 134 developing countries in the United Nations (UN) that articulate, align, and promote their collective economic interests. As the largest intergovernmental organization of emerging countries in the UN system, the G77 provides the means for countries of the Global South to enhance their joint negotiating capacity on all major international economic issues, such as reducing barriers to trade and developing proposals for climate mitigation and adaptation.[1] Since its inception in 1964, the group has expanded beyond the initial set of 77 non-aligned members, but retained the name and evolved into a larger group of least developed countries (LDCs), oil exporters, and emerging economies in the Asia-Pacific. As per its founding charter from 1967, the organization has chapters all over the world and meets annually at the UN headquarters in New York. 

The G77 lists China as one of its members and receives policy support from Beijing, although China does not consider itself a member and prefers to denote the group as “G77+China”. Cuba is the chair of the group this year and hosts the G77+China summit in September, emphasizing its commitment to “deepen political mutual trust, expand practical cooperation, and keep close strategic coordination with China.”[2] The organization is often juxtaposed with the G7 group of the most developed, wealthiest nations of the Global North, whose gross contribution to global GDP in purchasing power parity (PPP)-adjusted terms dropped from 67% in the 1970s to 30% today.[3] The G77 represents 80% of the world’s population and claims to remain linked by “common geography and shared history of struggle for liberation, freedom, and South-South solidarity” against the Western-dominated world order.[4] The group advocates for a “fair and equitable multilateral trade system” and proposes a New International Economic Order (NIEO) that provides more latitude to the interests of developing countries, such as equality and the right to self-determination.[5] 

Founded during the height of decolonization in the 1960s, G77+China emphasizes sovereignty, non-interference, and broader participation for developing countries in global governance through multilateral institutions. The group believes that organizations of the Bretton Woods era, such as the IMF and the World Bank, give preferential treatment to wealthier nations and benefit leading states in the Western-dominated neoliberal world order. Its policy proposals, therefore, demand an overhaul of the international economic system to create a more even playing field for historically disadvantaged, less-developed countries and advance their interests through equitable multilateral processes and negotiations. This article applies structural theories of international political economy to unpack the dynamics that guide G77+China’s positions, analyze the significance of the Cuba summit, and offer insights into what to expect in the aftermath. 

Structural Perspective: A Third-Image Explanation of the G77+China Organization 

The Westphalian system of modern international relations is characterized by territoriality, authority, and legitimacy of nation-states. Accordingly, a great deal of power still rests with unitary, rational states, even under the light of established international organizations (IOs) such as the UN and the World Trade Organization (WTO). Structural theories of political economy treat state “interests”, “preferences”, and “actors” as exogenous to the anarchic world order and lend credence to “power as an instrument and stake.”[6] In the absence of a world authority, each state competes for scarce resources to achieve economic growth, social stability, and relative power over others, and it’s the distribution of power in the system that determines the economic order. 

Within this framework, open trade is most likely to occur during periods when a hegemonic state is in ascendency as was the United States (U.S.) in the 1950s and 1960s. Under the post-WWII Bretton Woods system, deregulation, and the removal of restrictions on cross-border flows of capital, goods, and services accelerated. Initially, developing countries were resistant to globalization but opened over the 1980s and 1990s through liberal reforms in favor of a policy of new orthodoxy known as the “Washington Consensus.”[7] 

Although this wave of globalization that started in Latin America in the late 1970s, continued in Asia-Pacific in the 1980s, and peaked in Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s lifted many people out of poverty, it left issues such as income inequality and indebtedness unaddressed. Larger, more developed states were “better able to adjust factors of production” and “mitigate deleterious consequences of exposure to international trade”.[8] According to the World Bank’s indicators, developing countries are more dependent on the international economy in terms of imports/GDP ratio.[9] 

Here, the dependency theory, popular in the developing world, points to an unequal exchange between the industrial core (the Global North) and the agrarian periphery (the Global South).[10] According to the Prebisch-Singer hypothesis, developing countries face declining terms of trade for agriculture, such that relative prices of primary goods (raw materials) produced in the South decline with respect to manufactured goods (end products) from the North.[11] This unequal exchange prompts protectionism to reduce the import of manufactured goods and a shift in the global division of labor. To resolve such disputes, advocates of neoliberalism argue that the WTO provides information and a forum for negotiation and has welfare-enhancing effects for all countries even in the absence of hegemony. 

Nonetheless, some developing countries observe that the WTO is also an exclusive club that can be prone to great-power rivalry and facilitate trade mainly among rich countries. By extension, the IMF is seen as a biased lender that has lost its legitimacy by favoring U.S./European allies and rewarding them with larger loans, fewer conditions, and less strict measures for non-compliance. Global financial contagion in 2008 and the COVID-19-induced recession in 2020 made such entities appear ill-equipped for modern crises in the eyes of the South. 

For instance, when the U.S. raises interest rates to maintain domestic price stability and money looks for safe havens during times of uncertainty, capital flows out of developing countries, making dollar-denominated debt service more difficult. It is under such perceptions of a highly asymmetric system that developing countries pool their bargaining power in groups like the G77+China to promote their interests in the face of pressing economic challenges. Underprivileged nations that then wanted and still seek the right to economic and social development against the biased lending practices of Western institutions band together to advance shared positions in the global arena. 

More than 50 years after its founding, the G77’s worries and limitations not only endure but have grown more severe considering the current economic system, which has led to significant imbalances. The world is experiencing multiple systemic crises, including those related to the economy, health, environment, energy, food, and social issues. Geopolitical tensions and hegemonic practices of the world’s most powerful nations continue to escalate. For the nations of the South, income inequalities and growth differentials among regions persist, not to mention roadblocks in access to technology and information. Key concerns include the need for structural change in the international banking system and worldwide efforts to combat food insecurity. 

As the multicentered world order transforms into multipolarity and the U.S. gradually loses its hegemonic privileges, the shift in the balance of relative power to the Indo-Pacific, and by that to the G77+China, ushers in greater influence from groups of small-to-middle-sized countries over the global economic order. Structural changes often increase the probability of trade wars for a given power-role gap and such changes in relative power trajectory are a cause of major shifts in the international economic system.[12] 

This is evident, first, in the tit-for-tat moves between the U.S. and China for global technological supremacy, and second, in the desire among developing countries to hedge against the monopoly of advanced industrialized nations on supply chains by ramping up localization, knowledge transfer, and longer-term strategic partnerships with each other. Despite the heterogeneity of the G77 countries, friend-shoring/ally-shoring and de-risking by manufacturing and sourcing from countries that face similar bottlenecks is an emerging characteristic among them. In many places, the free flow of capital, goods, and labor à la Washington Consensus is seconded to concerns around self-sufficiency, resilience, and security. This is not a binary world of democracy versus autocracy, but one of exclusivity versus sustainability and equitability in global development, prosperity, and dignity. 

Although China benefits from the existing system as a member of the WTO, it also champions the Global South and leverages the G77 to cultivate new narratives and create mechanisms to rally support for its landmark initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and BRICS. It promotes further solidarity among Eurasian, African, and Latin American states to resist top-down Western neoliberal globalism and replace it with a more equitable bottom-up distributive globalism. 

On the positive side, this interrelationship serves the poorest nations because “the wealthier countries in the G77, such as China, South Africa, and OPEC countries, bring with them experienced negotiators and stronger political status.”[13] On the negative side, there are competing priorities, such that some members of the G77 consider pro-environmental initiatives secondary to economic development and claim that developed countries should bear more responsibility for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and helping cover costs for climate mitigation.[14] 

The Cuba Summit: How a Shift in the Global Balance of Power Affects G77+China 

The two-day “South Summit” of the heads of state of G77+China in Cuba gathered under the theme of “Current Development Challenges: Role of Science, Technology, and Innovation,” which Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez described as an “indispensable event amid the world’s multi-sectoral crisis, especially in the context of the post-COVID-19 pandemic.”[15] The summit offered a forum for the Global South to leverage their converging economic interests, strengthen cooperation, and enable broader participation. 

As UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who attended the summit, said: “This multiplicity of summits [i.e., BRICS, G7, G20, G77, ASEAN, etc.] reflects the growing multipolarity of our world.”[16] The summit has special significance for China because of its growing military as well as economic ties with Cuba. According to reports, reminiscent of tensions between the then-Soviet Union and the U.S. in 1961-62, Cuba has agreed to host a Chinese electronic eavesdropping facility on the island, which is located only 100 miles from the U.S. coast. The Pentagon has acknowledged that Beijing has been conducting surveillance operations from Cuba for several years, which may be keen to upgrade its capabilities, although China refutes the claim as “untrue.”[17] 

More than thirty heads of state and government attended the summit, including Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, and Li Xi, a high-level member of the Chinese Communist Party. One notable absence from the summit was India, the most populous country in the world. At last week’s G20 meeting in New Delhi, India supported the launch of a new mega initiative called the “India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC)”, which for all intents and purposes, is designed to pose a challenge to China’s BRI. Aside from the proposal to build a multi-model transport route connecting three continents, another notable outcome of the G20 summit was the African Union’s (the 55-member bloc) permanent membership in the group, perhaps in effect turning the G20 into the G75.[18] The G20, which represents 65% of the world’s population and 80% of its GDP, is a middle ground between the G7 and G77 that captures the interests of both developed countries and emerging economies. 

The main issue remains, however, that 60% of low-income countries and 25% of middle-income countries are debilitated by debt and forced to repay in interest what they would otherwise spend on healthcare, education, and infrastructure for their people.[19] To prevent the Global South from grouping around China for climate mitigation and adaptation, leaders at the G20 agreed on an ambitious agenda to reform and expand the World Bank’s mandate to assist heavily indebted countries in switching from fossil fuels to clean energy.[20] Chinese President Xi Jinping was notably absent at the G20 summit in New Delhi. 

Membership in both groups and inclusion of Africa as one of the most dynamic regions in the G20 upgrade India’s position as an alternative center and a leading player in the global hierarchy of powers. Its cancellation of ministerial presence in the G77+China Summit just a couple of weeks earlier is another sign of the growing rift between New Delhi and Beijing.[21] As they compete to become the voice of the Global South,[22] India prefers to reform the current economic system, whereas China is bent on building an alternative one. The U.S. supports India’s permanent membership to the UN Security Council to keep it in the fold against China’s growing clout in international organizations.[23] 

On the geostrategic front, many countries in the G77, including India, keep a non-aligned position in the Ukraine conflict despite the U.S.’s warning that some companies “could lose access to G7 markets for doing business with sanctioned Russia”.[24] While India seeks strategic autonomy, if left to make a choice, ultimately its weight tilts toward the Western-led, established neoliberal order. This policy direction reflects the Indian diaspora’s significant presence and influence in Western countries such as the U.S. and the UK.

When it comes to the outcomes of the South Summit, the main points of criticism observed are toward the Western-led liberalization of international commerce, American hegemony in world politics, and interference in the domestic affairs of developing nations (G77+China) by advanced industrialized nations (G7). Furthermore, the summit encouraged the South to adopt a common stance on crucial issues such as foreign debt, the fight against poverty, trade multilateralism, and access to high technology. Developing nations have expressed cohesive perspectives through the G77 to influence the global agenda based on the objectives enunciated in 1964.[25] 

For Cuba, the summit was a lever to encourage cooperation among developing nations and to collectively criticize the U.S. government for the imposition of sanctions. However, whether Cuba’s appeals would find international support is uncertain since many developing nations value their ties with the U.S. and might be reluctant to heed this plea. Perhaps the most positive outcome this summit offers is a chance for the South to continue the dialogue and form a common agenda to voice their grievances in a diversified setting. Through this summit, which was presided over by China, several southern leaders invoked collective autonomy as a goal, although Washington remains wary of ties between China and Cuba and is expected to strongly disagree with these expectations.[26] 


As the multicentered world evolves into multipolarity, developing countries of the Global South seek a louder voice, a more level playing field, and equitable outcomes to reform, or rebuild, the international economic system. The world is increasingly divided along competing economic blocs: the industrialized West is at the helm of “rules-based liberal order” of the G7; emergent players in the South such as India, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Russia, and South Africa claim more agency in the G20; and less developed, disadvantaged nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America gather around China in the G77. 

This is a more transactional world where nimble middle powers play great powers off one another and pursue their economic interests in a shifting stage of partnerships. There is some fluidity between these blocs and the transition from one to the other is more plausible than the rigid, bounded-order days of the Cold War. One can be a member of multiple blocs but not be dominant in all under the current power structure: the U.S. overshadows the G7, the middle powers have greater sway over the G20, and China leads the G77. The G77+China summit in Cuba was just another call on the long line of summits where the Global South consolidates its dissatisfaction with global governance and raises the quest for greater space in economic development. 

The G77 strengthens cooperation among developing countries and enables collective autonomy by pushing for reform of global financial institutions, restructuring of sovereign debt, and climate financing. It re-aligns and prioritizes the interests of the South, gives greater agency and participation in negotiating global issues such as food and energy security, financial autonomy, and alternatives to the U.S. dollar. Since developing countries are the most vulnerable to climate change, the G77 offers a platform to exchange valuable skills and know-how, hence this year’s theme of “science, technology, and innovation”. From this perspective, the “South Summit” tackled important developmental issues at a critical time of change in the world order. More than anything else, it raised the Global South’s profile as the center of economic gravity shifts away from the G7 to the G20 and G77.

[1] Sibulele Walaza, “The G77 +China’s Role in Trade Multilateralism: Advocating for South Agency” (Institute for Global Dialogue, 2014), 1,

[2] “Xi Jinping Meets with President of Cuba Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez,” Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of North Macedonia, China News, August 24, 2023,

[3] Editors, “What Does the G7 Do?,” Council on Foreign Relations (blog), June 28, 2023,

[4] United Nations, “The Group of 77 at Fifty,” United Nations (United Nations, 2014), 77,

[5] Walaza, “The G77 +China’s Role in Trade Multilateralism,” 1.

[6] Robert Jervis, “Realism, Neoliberalism, and Cooperation: Understanding the Debate,” International Security 24, no. 1 (1999): 42–63,

[7] David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1–63.

[8] Stephen D. Krasner, “State Power and the Structure of International Trade,” World Politics 28, no. 3 (1976): 317–47,

[9] Prof. David Steinberg, “IPE of Emerging Markets, Lecture 5: Liberalization of International Trade” (Johns Hopkins SAIS, February 22, 2021).

[10] Carlos A. Martinez-Vela, “World Systems Theory,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology (blog), 2021,

[11] J. F. J Toye and Richard Toye, “The Origins and Interpretation of the Prebisch-Singer Thesis,” History of Political Economy 35, no. 3 (2003): 437–67,

[12] Charles F. Doran, “Economics, Philosophy of History, and the ‘Single Dynamic’ of Power Cycle Theory: Expectations, Competition, and Statecraft,” International Political Science Review 24, no. 1 (2003): 13–49.

[13] “The G-77 plus China Alliance – What It Means for the Poorest Countries,” ODI: Think Change (blog), 2023,

[14] “The G-77 plus China Alliance – What It Means for the Poorest Countries.”

[15] “Beijing Is Optimistic about Upcoming G-77 plus China Summit in Cuba – Prensa Latina,” Prensa Latina (blog), August 15, 2023,

[16] “G77+China Summit in Cuba Seeks to Strengthen Voice of ‘Global South,’” France 24 (blog), September 14, 2023,

[17] James Stavridis, “Cuban Spy Base or Not, China Is Looking at the Caribbean,” Bloomberg.Com, June 13, 2023,

[18] Taniya Dutta, “G20 Summit: Here’s What You Need to Know as India Hosts World Powers,” The National, September 7, 2023,

[19] Darren Walker, “Can the G-20 Be a Champion for the Global South?,” Foreign Policy (blog), September 8, 2023,

[20] Henry Foy and John Reed, “G20 Backs Bigger Role for Reformed World Bank,” Financial Times, September 10, 2023, sec. Global Economy,

[21] “No G77: India Cancels Ministerial Presence at Summit of Largest Bloc of Global South,” The Wire, accessed September 15, 2023,

[22] Hung Tran, “Will the G20 Summit Help India Become the Voice of the Global South?,” Atlantic Council (blog), September 7, 2023,

[23] “A Seat for India at the World’s Most Powerful Table: What Biden’s Backing Means,” The Economic Times, September 9, 2023,

[24] Daphne Psaledakis and Humeyra Pamuk, “Top U.S. Treasury Official to Warn UAE, Turkey over Sanctions Evasion,” Reuters, January 28, 2023, sec. World,

[25] Walaza, “The G77 +China’s Role in Trade Multilateralism.”

[26] “China, G77 Developing Nations Hold Environmental Meeting in Cuba,” Nikkei Asia (blog), July 6, 2023,

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