THE BRICS SUMMIT – An Evaluation

THE BRICS SUMMIT – An Evaluation

The economic row between the US and China also opens up new possibilities for India in Africa, which New Delhi must not hesitate to exploit. In this context, India must use BRICS in its desire to maintain a balance between New Delhi's status as a leading regional power and its erstwhile identity as the leader of the developing world. This balance can be strengthened as seen by India's deepening engagement with Africa - especially over the last four years. The sense of ties can be gauged from the International Solar Alliance Founding Conference in March 2018 that took place in New Delhi – during which more than forty heads of State and Government from Africa attended.

For those who believe in the 'multilateralism' of global politics and even for its sceptics, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit 2019, that took place in Johannesburg in South Africa would be a matter for interest. Given the global scenario with the United States pushing for a unilateralism by opting out of multilateral agreements, BRICS – by having the other major rising global powers – could provide an argument in support for a pluralistic or multi-polar world.

Significance of BRICS Today

When the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) was created in 2009, these countries maintained high growth rates and enjoyed greater social stability. Today, almost 10 years after its first meeting and with the addition of South Africa in 2011, there has been a rise of sceptics who doubt the continuity of the initiative. They are dispersed geographically, their economies are in different stages of development and there is a fair degree of ideological dissonance between them. And unlike other economic associations, BRICS does not seek to set up any common political or security plan.i

However, the recent Johannesburg Declaration points to a few interesting facts that could indicate the way BRICS is moving forward. In the 2019 Summit, the BRICS leaders seem to have committed with unprecedented emphasis to the principles of “democracy” and “multilateralism”. As compared to the previous Xiamen declaration, "democracy" was mentioned half a dozen times in the present declaration (the word was mentioned thrice in 2017 declaration); and "multilateralism" was mentioned 23 times in the Johannesburg declaration, as against seven times in the Xiamen declaration last year. 

The idea of 'multilateral' and multi-polar world assumes significance as United States keeps pulling itself out of various international agreements (such as the TPP, UNESCO, and UN Human Rights Council) thereby creating rifts between the global giants (as evidenced in the 2018 G-7 Summit); and the trade war between US and China. In fact, as the Trump administration continues to favour a 'unilateral' policy, the BRICS nations' commitment to a multilateral world provides hope for cooperation and mutual growth. It also affords India and China a space to make their stand - especially with regards to the 'global South'.

The trade war between China and the US has its repercussions in Africa as well. After all, the US and China are two of the largest investors in the continent, and the latter is the biggest trading partner for some of the continent’s most significant economies, including South Africa, Nigeria, and Ethiopia.

The economic row between the US and China also opens up new possibilities for India in Africa, which New Delhi must not hesitate to exploit. In this context, India must use BRICS in its desire to maintain a balance between New Delhi's status as a leading regional power and its erstwhile identity as the leader of the developing world. This balance can be strengthened as seen by India's deepening engagement with Africa - especially over the last four years. The sense of ties can be gauged from the International Solar Alliance Founding Conference in March 2018 that took place in New Delhi – during which more than forty heads of State and Government from Africa attended. Under the Africa Outreach initiative, there have had visits to all African countries at Ministerial level.ii

New Delhi is, in fact, strengthening its outreach in Africa based on its traditional historical ties with the continent. But this is in contrast with the way China has approached Africa - Beijing has tried to impress Africa with the scale of its resources and the ambition of its projects like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). However, India-African ties will only be reinforced going forward, chiefly due to both their commitments to a multipolar world that allows for sovereign equality and democratic decision-making.

BRICS and India – China Relations

There were concerns that geopolitical tensions between India and China could test the foundational principles of BRICS – respect for sovereign equality and pluralism in global governance. These were not unfounded. The Doklam standoff between the two; China’s thinly veiled attempts to co-opt nation-states, which are integral to its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by pushing for a ‘BRICS plus’ model – are the perfect examples.

However, a positive tone has emerged post the famous informal summit in Wuhan between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Indeed, India has stood up to the Chinese border disturbance at Doklam and has continued to take a principled and consistent position on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The result was that the Chinese President accorded the Indian Prime Minister the honour of an informal Summit, which is rare and usually reserved for American presidents.

At a time when China is facing negativity with the Trump administration’s clampdown on tariffs and when voices are growing around the world against the predatory practices of the BRI, it is important for Beijing to work together with New Delhi - given the shared global economic climate. Since both Asian powers are trying to attract the resource-rich African continent, the 2018 BRICS summit in Johannesburg, will, therefore, allow them to take a step back and look at their bilateral engagement more holistically.

This Sino-Indian partnership is not new. Throughout the early 1990s, both spoke in one voice against western interventionist policies in the 1990s and stood up against the West in global trade and climate change negotiations. The recent weakening of this engagement has been partly because Beijing seemed keener on reaching a bilateral understanding with major western powers without taking New Delhi into account. However, since India remains to be an emerging economic power, it could help bolster China's partnership with the West and at the same time contribute towards shaping the global economic architecture.

In this context, the Johannesburg Declaration seems to provide some optimism. In effect Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing the Plenary Session of the 10th BRICS summit in South Africa, said that India would work with other member states of the economic bloc to prepare for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.iii This Industrial Revolution is building on the Third - the digital revolution - that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by "a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres".iv India's role, going forward in the Fourth Industrial Revolution phase, will be significant - particularly in the field on national and international security.

Conclusion:

Moving forward, BRICS will have to utilize the leverage it has gained as a multi-regional grouping in the areas of as trade, infrastructure finance, urbanisation and climate change. The modest progress in people-to-people connections will be a bonus. Platforms such as the BRICS Academic Forum and Business Council have proved to be useful in improving their understanding of each other’s industry, academia and government. Furthermore, the institutionalization of the New Development Bank (NDB) and the Contingency Reserve Arrangement support the idea that BRICS can deliver concrete results.

BRICS will continue to remain relevant over the next decade if each of its members make a realistic assessment of the initiative's opportunities and inherent limitations. While BRICS itself is unlikely to form the fulcrum of foreign policy for any of its members, it will continue to be an important instrument in their global strategy.

1. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/brics-first-next-ten-years/

2. http://www.mea.gov.in/media-briefings.htm?dtl/30140/Media+Briefing+by+Secretary+ER+on+Prime+Ministers+ upcoming+visit+to+Rwanda+Uganda+and+South+Africa+July+20+2018

3. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/modi-brics-2018-india-4th-industrial-revolution-1297585-2018-07-27

4. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/01/the-fourth-industrial-revolution-what-it-means-and-how-to- respond/

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.

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