Author: Sudheendra Kulkarni
Source: www.thequint.com (This is part one of a two-part series on whether India should participate in the BRICS Summit due in September.)
In the run-up to the summit of leaders in Xiamen, the Chinese Academy of Governance and the China International Publishing Group organised the BRICS Seminar on governance in the enchanting city of Quanzhou, about 100 kms away from Xiamen, in Fujian province. Emergence of BRICS-Plus
Apart from BRICS members, China invited participants from 16 other countries ─ including countries such as Chile, Guinea, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Egypt that do not even figure in the Next Eleven.
Speakers from these countries supported the idea of expanding BRICS, and making it an effective platform for voicing the needs, demands and aspirations of both the developing as well as the underdeveloped nations in the world. BRICS-Plus, they affirmed, would enable the organisation to play a more decisive role in global governance.
More strikingly, all of them praised China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), saying it would usher in a new age of globalisation, more inclusive, more democratic and win-win for all.
Building 'Strategic Mutual Trust'
The seminar paid little attention to the ongoing India-China military stand-off. Obviously, the Chinese hosts did not want a divisive bilateral issue to get any kind of focus in the midst of deliberations at a BRICS seminar. However, I raised it explicitly by saying there is an urgent need to peacefully resolve current crisis between India and China at Doklam. "I said the very credibility of BRICS would be called into question if our two countries allowed the dispute to be escalated into an armed conflict."
I stressed the crucial need for "an early and amicable resolution of this crisis because peace and friendship between India and China is very precious for our two countries, for all the neighbouring countries in Asia, and of course for the entire world".
I further said: "I hope and pray that the leaders of our two great nations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping, choose to be guided by the Asian wisdom – the wisdom of our two ancient civilisations – and find a non-military solution to the current crisis." To achieve this goal, I stated that the two strong-willed leaders should develop "strategic mutual trust" so that such crises never erupt again between the two countries.
I made two other points, reiterating what I had said at the Belt and Road Summit in Beijing. First, India should join China BRI as an equal partner ─ I underscored the caveat "as an equal partner".
Jointly with other participating nations, India and China should make BRI (also known as the One Belt One Road or OBOR initiative, a short hand for a massive infrastructure-economic-cultural connectivity project linking Asia, Africa, Europe and beyond) truly democratic, inclusive, consultative and participative with win-win benefits for all.
Second, as part of joining BRI, India should not only support the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) but suggest its extension to India, Afghanistan and Iran.
Moreover, India and China should cooperate in early implementation of the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Corridor, and interlink it with the CPEC and thus create a grand South Asian Economic Corridor (SAEC).
It would be history's greatest project to economically integrate South Asia. "This will lift the largest number of poor people in the world out of poverty and underdevelopment," I said.
To my surprise, Chinese participants in the seminar warmly welcomed both the idea of a peaceful resolution of the Doklam crisis in light of the "Asian Wisdom" and also the proposal for India-China-Pakistan cooperation to change the destiny of South Asia.
As acronyms go, BRICS is both an apt and ominous name for the transcontinental five-nation platform comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Apt because BRICS, which rhymes with bricks, suggests the group can be the building block for a new influential structure of developing countries challenging the domination of the developed West in the post-World War II world order. Ominous because bricks, if weakly made, are vulnerable to breaking.
BRICS in its very name carries the possibility of its fragmentation. The possibility does exist because of the absence of strong internal cohesion within the group. Perhaps the most manifest source of brittleness of BRICS is the current deepening mistrust between India and China, which even carries the seeds of an armed conflict over the prolonged military stand-off at Doklam.
There is already intense speculation, both in India and China, over whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the ninth BRICS Summit, scheduled to be held in Xiamen, in China's Fujian province, from September 3-5.
It is being said he might skip the summit and send a junior representative. If the situation near the India-Bhutan-China trijunction, or elsewhere along the long India-China border, worsens in the coming days, there is even the likelihood of India boycotting the BRICS summit.
An Indian boycott, or low-level representation at the BRICS summit, will certainly annoy China, which is hosting it for the first time under the leadership of President Xi Jinping.
Xiamen, on south-eastern coast of China overlooking Taiwan, has a special significance for Xi since this is where he first made his mark as a super-effective leader, becoming the city's deputy mayor in 1985. Thereafter, until 2002, he spent seventeen years in Fujian in various positions in the Communist Party. India's Absence Will Hit BRICS
India's boycott and open criticism of the ambitious Belt and Road global summit Xi had hosted in Beijing in May this year has already added considerable bitterness to India-China ties.
Modi's no-show at the BRICS meet in Xiamen would not only further embitter the Chinese leadership, but also place a question mark over the group's future itself.
Thus, BRICS faces an existential question as it approaches the second decade of its existence (it was established in 2009 as BRIC; South Africa became its fifth member in 2010). Will it survive, and how long will it survive, in its present form as an exclusive five-member group?
Why PM Modi Should Attend BRICS Summit
Xi's Dream of BRICS Completing Golden Decade
- Boycotting the BRICS summit or low-level representation will certainly annoy China which is hosting the meet for the first time.
- India's hostility towards BRICS stems from that fact that Pakistan could be an entrant into BRICS-Plus with the support of Russia, Brazil, and South Africa.
- Opposing China on BRICS-Plus policy doesn't bode well with India and Pakistan being inducted into SCO recently.
- By opposing BRICS-Plus in order to isolate Pakistan, India faces the danger of isolating itself from developing countries.
- Even Russia may not support India on the issue of boycotting BRICS.
Ironically, the likelihood of a Modi-minus BRICS summit has surfaced at a time when President Xi Jinping has been actively working on the idea of BRICS-Plus.
Addressing a meeting of the foreign ministers of the five member-nations in Beijing in June this year ─ significantly, India was represented not by Sushma Swaraj, minister of external affairs, but by her deputy VK Singh ─ Xi confidently said, "China is ready to shoulder the important mission of opening up of the second decade of BRICS cooperation. China is ready for discussion on BRICS-Plus cooperation pattern and forms."
His confidence was also evident when he refuted the critics' observation that the group's internal difficulties have "faded its colour" in the first ten years of its existence.
He asserted that BRICS is indeed headed for a "new golden decade".
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi has also reiterated the idea of BRICS-Plus, saying China would "hold outreach dialogues with other major developing countries and establish extensive partnerships and widen our circle of friends to turn BRICS into the most impactful platform for South-South cooperation." Apprehensions on Pakistan's Entry
India has rarely expressed such confidence about BRICS' future. If anything, India's leaders and influential strategic experts see BRICS increasingly as a China-centric and China-dominated platform.
Moreover, they are highly inimical to the idea of BRICS-Plus because Pakistan is one of the new countries China seeks to include in the group, with the support of Russia, Brazil and South Africa.
In addition to Pakistan, China would also like to see other major developing countries and emerging economies from different continents such as South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey, Iran, Bangladesh and the Philippines (from Asia), Nigeria and Egypt (from Africa) and Mexico (from Latin America).
One does not have to be partial to China to recognise that the entry of these potential new members into BRICS ─ which are collectively described as the Next Eleven, given the large size of their populations and their highly promising growth prospects ─ will make the organisation more representative of the aspirations of developing countries.
However, the mere fact that Pakistan could be one of the new entrants into BRICS-Plus is making the right-wingers in India see red. They also see several others in the Next Eleven to be pro-China.
All in all, they view BRICS-Plus as a way of decreasing India's standing in the organisation and, simultaneously, increasing China's position and clout in it.
PM Wrongly Advised on Belt and Road Summit
Prime Minister Modi was wrongly advised by his team of advisors into boycotting the Belt and Road summit in Beijing and criticising a super-ambitious Chinese project that is gaining growing support globally.
In the context of BRICS, I hope he is not once again wrongly advised into boycotting the upcoming Xiamen summit and opposing the concept of BRICS-Plus.
There is simply no basis for opposing China on BRICS-Plus because, just two months ago, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) became SCO-Plus by inducting, at its summit in Astana, both India and Pakistan as its newest members. It showed the hollowness of the Modi government's claim of "isolating Pakistan globally".
India and China are already together in both the New Development Bank (also known as the BRICS Development Bank, which is headed by KV Kamath, a renowned Indian banker) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), in which India is the second-largest shareholder.
India, along with China, is also an influential member of G-20 ─ which itself is a creation of the expansion of G-7 (a group of seven western powers plus Japan). Here, Modi should know that just as G-20 has come to matter far more than G-7, similarly BRICS-Plus will also soon become far more influential than G-7, thus ending the global domination of the West and announcing the emergence of a truly multipolar world order. India's Self-Isolation
By opposing BRICS-Plus in order to isolate Pakistan, India faces the danger of isolating itself from a large number of developing countries. Even Russia, India's longstanding friend, will surely not support the Modi government on this issue.
Of course, there are some differences among BRICS members and its potential new entrants over how to change the global order, how to reform the United Nations, UNSC World Bank and IMF, and how to reorient the global-regional trade and investment arrangements.
There are also legitimate differences over BRICS itself. But these differences cannot justify India's myopic self-isolation by moving away from the BRICS platform ─ or by trying to create a parallel such platform. Just as the Modi government's ill-advised idea of creating a SAARC minus Pakistan is a complete non-starter, any idea of creating a BRICS minus China would be silly.
China's rise is a reality India has to reckon with, just as India's progress is a reality China has to deal with. Our two great nations have to live together and work together. There is simply no alternative other than accepting this fundamental truth of our times. As a first step in accepting this truth, Modi and Xi Jinping should urgently find ways of resolving the Doklam crisis peacefully. But let's make no mistake: finding ways of achieving this goal will become far more difficult if Prime Minister Modi chooses not to attend the BRICS summit in Xiamen next month.