Increasing Chinese hostility towards India is a matter of some concern… Whether it is UNSC’s expansion or India’s NSG membership or the question of Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attacks in India or CPEC passing through PoK, China has continued to completely ignore our sensitivities even though it runs a hugely favourable trade balance with India. Now, New Delhi should aggressively seek to expand the BRICS grouping by bringing in 2-3 additional like-minded countries
The just concluded BRICS Summit in the relaxed and balmy ambience of Goa was undoubtedly the occasion for India to take diplomatic centre-stage. And India accomplished it with aplomb combining substance with the style and frills usually associated with such events.
The Goa Action Plan presented by Modi at the Summit compiled an impressive list of some 87 meetings of Ministers, parliamentarians, senior officials and technical-level experts apart from several initiatives for innovative people-to-people exchanges under India’s chairmanship of this grouping. The value of contacts and networks created through these interactions covering virtually the entire spectrum of economic activity cannot be dismissed lightly. Even the Declaration went beyond the usual inanities and addressed in a concrete manner various critical problems, including tax evasion, corruption, illicit cross-border financial flows and trade mis-invoicing. Focus of the Summit, as PM Modi himself underlined, was on effective implementation and institution building for enhancing intra-BRICS cooperation to supplement the excellent work being done by the BRICS Business Council. In this context, the decision to set up a BRICS credit rating agency and a Railway research network is most welcome. And judging by the commendable work done by the BRICS Development Bank in the very first year of its operation, particularly in the renewable energy sector which is a priority area for PM Modi, these new institutions should prove quite useful.
At the political level, even though we did not succeed in getting Jaish-e-Mohammed of Masood Azhar named alongside ISIS in the declaration – which was only to be expected in view of China’s known antipathy – we did manage to get a strong condemnation of recent terrorist attacks “against some BRICS countries, including that in India.”
Modi also emphatically drew attention of the BRICS leaders to the role of Pakistan as the fountainhead of international terrorism. In fact, India’s choice of BIMSTEC as the outreach partner as against the more obvious SAARC grouping was quite significant from the standpoint of our diplomatic efforts to isolate Pakistan. It signalled that India was willing to work with other regional and sub-regional organisations excluding Pakistan if our efforts to foster regional cooperation through SAARC continued to get blocked by Pakistan.
The first meeting of BRIC Foreign Ministers (South Africa joined the grouping later) took place in New York in September 2006 on the margins of UN General Assembly setting in motion periodic high-level exchanges. On the completion of ten years, we need to introspect and ask ourselves as to where is BRICS headed. It was set up mainly with a view to searching an alternative to the existing world financial architecture although by now its agenda covers a wide range of political and security issues as well. In that sense, it was to be positioned as a counterpoise to G-7 even as both India and Brazil were rightly never comfortable with any attempts to steer the group to take an anti-West posture.
Representing nearly half of world population and a quarter of world GDP with prospects of continued high growth rate of over 5 per cent per annum, BRICS does have considerable weight and clout on the world stage.
Its setting up naturally led to curiosity and even suspicion on the part of world powers. The activities of BRICS are closely monitored by others and our Missions are routinely flooded with requests for briefing from diplomatic colleagues.
The global geo-political situation in the last ten years has undergone significant changes and this has impacted the functioning and future prospects of BRICS. For one, India’s relations with the USA have moved several notches upward, acquiring strategic salience after civil nuclear cooperation agreement, which may have reduced the urgency for seeking alternative platforms to
repudiate western dominance of the global institutions, in so far as we are concerned.
Increasing Chinese hostility towards India is also a matter of some concern and the resulting tensions could well unravel the inherent lack of political coherence within BRICS, which is generally imperative for the growth and sustenance of any multilateral organisation.
Whether it is UN Security Council’s expansion or India’s NSG membership or the question of Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attacks in India or CPEC passing through PoK, China has continued to completely ignore our sensitivities even though it runs a hugely favourable trade balance with India. Around ten years ago, I participated in a track-2 India-China dialogue facilitated by Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew, who assured us that China needed peaceful relations with India, at least for the next decade or two, in order to sustain its growth and development. He has evidently not been proved right.
The evolving global construct characterised by US-China superpower rivalry and continuing US-Russia antipathy would point towards growing alignment between India and the USA in the emerging balance of power. While that may indeed be the ultimate reality check, it would not be in our interest to put all our eggs in one basket, particularly at a time when the norm in our multi-polar world is to optimise our relations with a host of diverse and often competing world powers.
It follows that BRICS is important for us in terms of providing us with crucial leverages on the changing global geo-political dynamics. Apart from valuable networking advantages, it also accords us a window to the global big table. This aspect assumes significance against the backdrop of extremely dim prospects of India securing permanent seat on the UN security Council anytime soon because of the campaign by coffee club countries actively supported by China.
In its present configuration, China’s dominance of BRICS appears somewhat overwhelming. In view of this, we should aggressively seek to expand the grouping by bringing in 2-3 additional like-minded countries. I would suggest Mexico from Latin America, Indonesia from Asia and Nigeria from Africa. There are many potential candidates and a careful examination of their credentials and suitability would be needed. Even if the addition makes the group a bit unwieldy, our long -term interests would perhaps get served better.
(Ambassador Virendra Gupta retired from the Indian Foreign Service recently. His last assignment was as India’s High Commissioner to South Africa, which hosted BRICS Summit in 2014)