Written By: Stefan Venceljovski
The landscape of global geopolitics is undergoing a transformative shift that is challenging traditional notions of North-South dichotomies. This shift has muddied our understanding of the Global South, North and the contemporary geo-political landscape. For this reason, this paper argues for a re-examination of our traditional ways of dividing the world, Global North and Global South. In this transformation, this paper argues a novel paradigm has emerged — the Global Middle. This conceptual framework seeks to understand states that manifest hegemonic influence and leadership characteristics traditionally associated with the Global North while sharing the same features and histories that emerge from the Global South. This paper delves into the complexities of this new conceptualization, shedding light on countries such as China and India, which defy conventional categorizations and challenge preconceived notions of global power dynamics.
Historically marginalized and oppressed, these nations have risen above the constraints of their past, positioning themselves as economic powerhouses to exert their agency and shape the global agenda. The Global Middle represents a departure from the conventional narrative, highlighting the agency and sovereignty of countries that navigate a unique trajectory between the Global North and the Global South.
China and India are prominent examples of this emerging paradigm. While not fully embraced as members of the Global North, these nations exhibit economic prowess that transcends the expectations placed upon traditionally marginalized countries. This paper employs a nuanced analysis as the primary lens through which to explore the Global Middle phenomenon, emphasizing how economic factors contribute to the agency and sovereignty of these nations.
By dissecting the foundations of the Global Middle, this paper aims to re-examine the mechanisms through which these countries assert their influence on the global stage. Unlike their counterparts in the Global South, China and India have harnessed economic and hard-power strength to resist historical oppressions and redefine their roles as global leaders and masters of their agency. The economic prism allows for a comprehensive examination of how the Global Middle navigates international relations, negotiates power dynamics, and crafts narratives that challenge the prevailing norms of global politics.
Defining Our Terms and Providing a Context
Before we can examine the novel concept of a Global Middle, it is imperative that we lay a context of what we mean by the Global South and the Global North to create a shared understanding in the future.
Both terms stem from the calamity of the Cold War. Global South and Global North emerged as geopolitical descriptors during the Cold War, particularly in the context of the First, Second, and Third Worlds. Coined by Alfred Sauvy in 1952, “Third World” referred to developing, sometimes neutral nations, distinct from the advanced capitalist “First World” and socialist countries of the “Second World.” The Cold War polarization saw the Global North, mainly comprising North America and Europe, aligning with the capitalist bloc. At the same time, the Global South, spanning Africa, Asia, and Latin America, often represented the non-aligned or developing nations. After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, the term “Third World” waned, giving way to the more neutral-sounding Global South, reflecting geographical and geopolitical commonalities among nations. The historical legacies of colonialism, imperialism, and the Cold War continue to shape the dynamics between the Global South and Global North, with the former asserting itself economically and politically in a post-Cold War era.
s perhaps the easiest out of the three to define, given the above context. “Global North” refers to historically developed and economically advanced countries, often located in the Northern Hemisphere. These nations have historically held significant economic, political, and technological influence on the global stage. The governments of the Global North also enjoy a hegemonic power over other countries and have historically been able to exert their agency and sovereignty over other nations and peoples. The Global North concept characterizes countries and regions with higher income levels, industrialization, and established political power structures, such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the European Union of Counties, Canada, Japan, and many other countries traditionally associated with 21st-century hegemonic power due to the collapse of the Second World after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The Global South, however, is a little tricky to define. In contrast, the “Global South” typically refers to less developed or developing countries, often situated in the Southern Hemisphere, which may face economic challenges and have historically been marginalized internationally. The term has been used to amalgamate the “Second World” countries and the “Third World” together in the post-Cold War period. Reflecting geographical and geopolitical commonalities among nations, the historical legacies of colonialism, imperialism, and the Cold War, the term Global South is an attempt to bring together countries and peoples traditionally excluded from the “First World,” now the Global North. In this way, the Global South is more than just a series of countries; it represents a shared fluid identity that can be stretched to include communities like North America’s black and Indigenous communities and those in countries divorced from their governments.
In simpler terms that fit the scope of this paper, it is helpful to think of the Global North and Global South this way – the Global South occupies a subordinate position in the global hierarchy due to historical processes such as imperialism and economic disparities with emphasis on the material aspects of power, and the effects of imperialism in so far as they have propped up Global North countries as hegemons and power brokers with agency and Global South countries as a second class with little to no agency.
A Global Middle
With a context for the contemporary paradigm, we can now attempt to define what we mean by a Global Middle. When examining the Global Middle, what we see is consistent with Global South countries; they share histories of oppression and marginalization by great powers, often those coming from the Global North, but unlike Global South countries, they have unique agency to act by their interests outside the influence of Global North Hegemons. These Global Middle countries are not so alike with the Global North brought into their circle but share key characteristics that set them apart from Global South countries and place them in a middle ground. To best illustrate this, we will look at two countries – China and India, as examples of Global Middle countries with the agency to act but with fundamental aspects of what defines the Global South.
China is perhaps the most apparent Global Middle country. Its unique ability to challenge Western hegemony in the face of increased pressure from countries like the US has set it apart from the Global South, while its firm opposition to and exclusion from the Global North would suggest its place in the Global South. More so than that, China has had the unique ability among Global South Countries to exact its agency over others through initiatives like the Belt and Road project that has created Chinese-led and funded infrastructure projects across Asia and Africa. This ability to exert and garner financial leverage is a power often only reserved for Global North countries. With this initiative, China has leveraged prestige and capital to gain advantages in ways that other Global South Countries cannot. China’s status as the second biggest economy with rapidly growing potential further bolsters this influence. With an economy barely rivalled by the US, China has proven to be an economic powerhouse with abilities to end negotiations with sheer market leverage. This is coupled with a vast and growing army that is increasingly technologically advanced and superior to its neighbours and Global North countries. This has made it increasingly threaten Global North’s interests in areas critical to Global North’s strategies, like Taiwan and the Middle East. 
All this is to say that despite being a traditional Global South country, it does not act like one. There is little ability for the North to exert any severe pressure without risking a military and economic confrontation that leaves the parties devastated. China has proven to be able to exercise immense agency over issues like Taiwan and in economic development spheres in Africa. However, this does not erase China’s history as a country that faced great famine, poverty, and conflict, as well as oppression by Global North powers. Its history and commonalities with other Global South countries connect it to the Global South idea. However, shared history aside, China exerts Global North levels of influence and impresses its agency on the international system – something not possible by the average Global South country. In this way, China sits somewhere in the middle, connecting to the broader community of the Global South through its place as an opposing power to the Global North while simultaneously operating based on principles only granted to the Global North.
India is another complex state that is worth examining. This is another case that finds itself seemingly, squarely in the box of the Global South by its geographic position and storied history of colonial repression and eventual independence. But just as China does, India can act with privileges granted to those countries only in the Global North due to an amount of agency not available in other Global South countries.
India has seen its growth rate soaring by almost every metric as it has entered the centre of multilateral diplomacy accomplished and institutionally strong. With a storied history of resistance through its expulsion from colonial powers and participation in the Non-Aligned Movement during the Cold War, India has always been outside the binary of the periphery and core as a state that can forge its path. Take, for example, the killing of Canadian man Singh Nijjar, an alleged Indian terrorist, which resulted in limited consequences other than strained relations and a few exploded diplomats. While disputed by the Indian government, the Canadian authorities violently identify India as the perpetrator. This indicates one of two things – The Indian government committed the assassination, saying that India is comfortable with exacting its agency upon global north powers as opposed to it and that countries are limited in what they can do to publish India due to its importance as an economic power. Or two, India did not perpetrate the crime. Canadian accusations are false, indicating that India is seen as a power capable and willing to assert its agency upon other countries. In both cases, India is seen as a power able to break the rules with little consequence. India’s status as a Veto Power country, as posited by Amrita Narlikar, also lends credibility to India’s position as a country outside the Global South. Its ability to leverage its sheer economic weight and immense population allows it to end negotiations by simply walking away, something most countries can not afford and almost no other Global South country is capable of. 
In this way, India emerges as a nuanced case within the context of global geopolitics, challenging conventional categorizations of North and South. While its historical narrative aligns with many Global South nations, India exhibits a unique blend of agency and privilege akin to Global North powers. Its participation in multilateral diplomacy, institutional solid foundations, and strategic use of international organizations showcase India’s ability to navigate the global stage with finesse. The controversial incident involving the alleged assassination of Singh Nijjar exemplifies India’s capability to act with limited consequences, either revealing its bold assertion of agency or challenging accusations with diplomatic resilience. Moreover, India’s Veto Power status reinforces its position as an influential player capable of shaping negotiations to its advantage. India’s complex geopolitical standing transcends the simplistic North-South binary, positioning it as a formidable force that can defy established norms and wield influence on the global stage and somewhere in the middle.
Discussion and Conclusion
In the face of a shifting global landscape, this paper proposes a paradigm shift in our understanding of geopolitical dynamics, urging us to reconsider the traditional dichotomy of the Global North and Global South. The emergence of a Global Middle serves as a novel conceptual framework that captures the complexities of states exhibiting characteristics of both traditional categories. China and India, as exemplified in this analysis, challenge conventional definitions, showcasing a unique blend of historical oppression, economic prowess, and geopolitical influence. As presented in this paper, the Global Middle represents a departure from the established narrative, emphasizing the agency of nations navigating a distinctive trajectory between the Global North and the Global South. The lens employed here provides a nuanced understanding of how economic factors reshape power dynamics and global narratives. However, it is crucial to acknowledge this concept’s inherent complexity and fluidity.
China’s economic ascendancy and strategic initiatives, such as the Belt and Road project, position it as a formidable player on the global stage, challenging the expectations associated with traditional Global South countries. Despite historical commonalities with the Global South, China’s ability to exert influence comparable to the Global North underscores the need for a more nuanced classification. Similarly, India’s multifaceted geopolitical standing challenges simplistic categorizations. Its historical narrative aligns with many Global South nations, yet its agency and privilege, as demonstrated in multilateral diplomacy and institutional strength, align more closely with Global North powers. The controversial incident involving the alleged assassination of Singh Nijjar further underscores India’s ability to act with limited consequences, adding complexity to its position within the global hierarchy.
While the concept of the Global Middle adds value to understanding the evolving global order, it is essential to recognize that further analysis is needed. Questions surrounding the classification of countries like Brazil, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and others that exhibit global north levels of agency but traditionally fall into the Global South paradigm persist, emphasizing the fluid terminology and concepts. The cases of China and India highlight the inadequacies of rigid classifications, stressing the need for ongoing exploration and refinement of the Global Middle concept.
In conclusion, the Global Middle offers a fresh perspective that enables us to grasp the nuanced realities of countries navigating between historical oppression and contemporary global influence. However, as we redefine the Global Middle, we must acknowledge the intricacies inherent in this evolving paradigm and recognize that ongoing analysis is essential for a more comprehensive understanding of the diverse geopolitical landscape. In examining a proposed Global Middle, a more rounded version of the Global South can emerge as we set parameters for classification. In turn, these classifications allow us as citizens and scholars to attempt to understand better how our world functions.
 Jorge Heine, “The Global South Is on the Rise – but What Exactly Is the Global South?” The Conversation, November 13, 2023, https://theconversation.com/the-global-south-is-on-the-rise-but-what-exactly-is-the-global-south-207959; Andrew Hurrell, (2013). Narratives of Emergence: Rising powers and the end of the Third World. Brazilian Journal of Political Economy, 33 (2): 203-221.
 Siba Grovogu. “A Revolution Nonetheless: The Global South in International Relations.” The Global South 5, no. 1 (2011): 175–90. https://doi.org/10.2979/globalsouth.5.1.175.
 Here we define agency as the ability to effectively establish and work towards domestically driven goals on the world stage with out unsolicited and over baring influence or meddling from other powers. A country with complete agency has the ability to do what it pleases to further its own interests within the global system.
 Raymond Hinnebusch, “The Middle East in the World Hierarchy: Imperialism and Resistance,” Journal of International Relations and Development 14, no. 2 (2011): 213–46, https://doi.org/10.1057/jird.2010.3 exposits this way of thinking best in the context of the Middle East.
 A long history of British oppression during the Opium wars and China’s place as a 2nd world country during the Cold War also suggest that it is a Global South country. These points are worth mentioning but are outside of the general scope of this paper.
 James McBride, Noah Berman, and Andrew Chatzky, “China’s Massive Belt and Road Initiative,” Council on Foreign Relations, February 2, 2023, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-massive-belt-and-road-initiative Lily Kuo and Niko Kommenda, “What Is China’s Belt and Road Initiative?” The Guardian, accessed November 21, 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/cities/ng-interactive/2018/jul/30/what-china-belt-road-initiative-silk-road-explainer.
Evan A Feigenbaum, “Is Coercion the New Normal in China’s Economic Statecraft?,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 25, 2017, https://carnegieendowment.org/2017/07/25/is-coercion-new-normal-in-china-s-economic-statecraft-pub-72632; Zongyuan Zoe Liu, “China’s Current Economy: Implications for Investors and Supply Chains,” Council on Foreign Relations, August 21, 2023, https://www.cfr.org/report/chinas-current-economy-implications-investors-and-supply-chains.
Michael Schuman, “China Could Soon Be the Dominant Military Power in Asia,” The Atlantic, May 5, 2023, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2023/05/china-military-size-power-asia-pacific/673933/; Lindsay Maizland, “China’s Modernizing Military,” Council on Foreign Relations, February 5, 2020, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-modernizing-military.
See: Yuanyue Dang, “China Stationed up to 6 Warships in Middle East over the Past Week: Reports,” South China Morning Post, October 24, 2023, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3238536/6-chinese-warships-present-middle-east-over-past-week; 1. Reuters, “Taiwan Reports Increased Chinese Military Drills Nearby,” The Guardian, November 19, 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/nov/19/taiwan-reports-increased-chinese-military-drills-nearby; for just 2 of the most recent examples of Chinese ability to exert pressure and influence with its military.
 See Jin Yu Young, “What We Know about Canada’s Claims against India about a Sikh’s Killing,” The New York Times, September 20, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/article/canada-india-nijjar.html; and Leyland Cecco and Hannah Ellis-Petersen, “Canada Has Evidence Linking Indian Diplomats to Killing of Sikh Activist, Media Reports,” The Guardian, September 22, 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/sep/22/canada-evidence-indian-diplomats-sikh-activist-murder-hardeep-singh-najjir.
 Amrita Narlikar (2007) All that Glitters is not Gold: India’s rise to power, Third World Quarterly, 28:5, 983-996, DOI: 10.1080/01436590701371702. Page 983-985
Cecco, Leyland, and Hannah Ellis-Petersen. “Canada Has Evidence Linking Indian Diplomats to Killing of Sikh Activist, Media Reports.” The Guardian, September 22, 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/sep/22/canada-evidence-indian-diplomats-sikh-activist-murder-hardeep-singh-najjir.
Dang, Yuanyue. “China Stationed up to 6 Warships in the Middle East over the Past Week: Reports.” South China Morning Post, October 24, 2023. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3238536/6-chinese-warships-present-middle-east-over-past-week.
Feigenbaum, Evan A. “Is Coercion the New Normal in China’s Economic Statecraft?” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 25, 2017. https://carnegieendowment.org/2017/07/25/is-coercion-new-normal-in-china-s-economic-statecraft-pub-72632.
Heine, Jorge. “The Global South Is on the Rise – but What Exactly Is the Global South?” The Conversation, November 13, 2023. https://theconversation.com/the-global-south-is-on-the-rise-but-what-exactly-is-the-global-south-207959.
Hinnebusch, Raymond. “The Middle East in the World Hierarchy: Imperialism and Resistance.” Journal of International Relations and Development 14, no. 2 (2011): 213–46. https://doi.org/10.1057/jird.2010.3.
Hurrell, Andrew (2013). Narratives of Emergence: Rising powers and the end of the Third World. Brazilian Journal of Political Economy, 33 (2): 203-221.
Kuo, Lily, and Niko Kommenda. “What Is China’s Belt and Road Initiative?” The Guardian. Accessed November 21, 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/ng-interactive/2018/jul/30/what-china-belt-road-initiative-silk-road-explainer.
Liu, Zongyuan Zoe. “China’s Current Economy: Implications for Investors and Supply Chains.” Council on Foreign Relations, August 21, 2023. https://www.cfr.org/report/chinas-current-economy-implications-investors-and-supply-chains.
Maitland, Lindsay. “China’s Modernizing Military.” Council on Foreign Relations, February 5, 2020. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-modernizing-military.
McBride, James, Noah Berman, and Andrew Chatzky. “China’s Massive Belt and Road Initiative.” Council on Foreign Relations, February 2, 2023. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/chinas-massive-belt-and-road-initiative.
Narlikar Amrita (2007) All that Glitters is not Gold: India’s rise to power, Third World Quarterly, 28:5, 983-996, DOI: 10.1080/01436590701371702
Reuters. “Taiwan Reports Increased Chinese Military Drills Nearby.” The Guardian, November 19, 2023. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/nov/19/taiwan-reports-increased-chinese-military-drills-nearby.
Schuman, Michael. “China Could Soon Be the Dominant Military Power in Asia.” The Atlantic, May 5, 2023. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2023/05/china-military-size-power-asia-pacific/673933/.
Siba Grovogu. “A Revolution Nonetheless: The Global South in International Relations.” The Global South 5, no. 1 (2011): 175–90. https://doi.org/10.2979/globalsouth.5.1.175.
Young, Jin Yu. “What We Know about Canada’s Claims against India about a Sikh’s Killing.” The New York Times, September 20, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/article/canada-india-nijjar.html.