Information Bulletin of the BRICS Trade Union Forum
Issue 9.2021
2021.03.01 — 2021.02.07
International relations
Foreign policy in the context of BRICS
Is it time for damage control in India–Russia ties? (Пришло ли время устранить ущерб в отношениях между Индией и Россией?) / India, March, 2021
Keywords: expert_opinion, political_issues

The 2021 BRICS leaders' summit, slated to be organised by India as the chair, might present an opportunity to hold the bilateral summit on the same dates.
Indian Foreign Secretary, Harsh Shringla's visit to Moscow on 17-18 February — his first trip abroad this year — was an important indication that bilateral mechanisms have been set in motion ahead of the India–Russia annual summit. Bilateral visits by Deputy Prime Minister, Yuri Borisov, and Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, to New Delhi are to follow soon. The 2021 BRICS leaders' summit, slated to be organised by India as the chair, might present an opportunity to hold the bilateral summit on the same dates.

A vertically structured relationship

Last year's Putin-Modi meet was skipped, provoking much debate in Indian media and the expert community about a rift in the relationship. It was unsurprising that the Russian President Vladimir Putin did not come to Delhi in person, given that he has not been on a foreign visit since January 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, two questions still remain unanswered. First, why was a virtual dialogue not organised? Second, why did senior Russian officials not visit India at a time when their foreign colleagues were interacting with their respective Indian counterparts in-person despite the pandemic?

This is especially relevant given the 'top-down' decision-making in the India–Russia relationship, which is part of the problem. As a result, when the annual summit is called off, it leads to suspension of all the preliminary progress, and bilateral cooperation loses momentum. This has been visible in the case of India's US$ 1 billion line of credit for the Russian Far East announced in September 2019 that is yet to be utilised. Another example is the delay in Reciprocal Logistics Support Agreement, which remains at a protracted finalisation stage.

When the annual summit is called off, it leads to suspension of all the preliminary progress, and bilateral cooperation loses momentum.

It could be argued that in the absence of sufficient preparatory work, the agenda for the leaders' discussion was vague, which became the reason for postponing the summit. To avoid such a situation in the future, a possible solution would be more regular joint ministerial meetings under the '2+2' dialogue format. Both India and Russia have such an arrangement — at the level of foreign and defence ministers — with several other countries. This format has the potential to deal with issues related to the bigger geopolitical picture and might add more dynamism to discussions on bilateral matters. Does India–Russia 'strategic and privileged partnership' deserve a closer interaction? Could the '2+2' dialogue bring about more deliverables for the relationship going forward? These are open-ended questions.

Geopolitical bottlenecks

During his visit, apart from meeting with Russian officials, Shringla also had an interaction with renowned professors and aspiring diplomats at the Russian Diplomatic Academy. He also had a separate meeting with Russian strategic affairs experts. This reveals New Delhi's intent to deliver its vision of the current world situation not only to Russian government but also to civil society representatives whose voice in Russia, though often ignored by decision-makers, still shapes public opinion.

In his remarks at the Diplomatic Academy, the Indian foreign secretary candidly pointed out that "no geopolitical discussion can be complete without a mention of the Indo-Pacific" and elaborated on New Delhi's vision of the region. He further expressed hope that India and Russia "will agree much more than they will disagree on the strategic direction, the inherent and necessary multi-polarity, and the security and prosperity" in three strategic geographies — "Eurasia, Indo-Pacific and the Russian Far East, and the Arctic."

In his remarks at the Diplomatic Academy, the Indian foreign secretary candidly pointed out that "no geopolitical discussion can be complete without a mention of the Indo-Pacific" and elaborated on New Delhi's vision of the region.

Shringla's remarks on the Indo-Pacific are particularly significant against the backdrop of the December 2020 comments by Lavrov in which he yet again lambasted American "Indo-Pacific strategies," "anti-China games" and presumed that India had been an object of Washington's "tough pressure" on defence cooperation. Lavrov resorted to some damage control a month later, calling India a "very close, very strategic, and very privileged partner." These words, however, scarcely cover up divergent views on the Indo-Pacific since in the same statement Russia's top diplomat juxtaposed India's inclusive approach toward the region with "confrontational" ones of the US, Japan, and Australia.

Despite the never-ending Moscow's critique of the Indo-Pacific and Quad — something that obviously does not sound appealing to the Indian government — New Delhi has been consistent in its efforts to promote links between the Indo-Pacific and the Russian Far East. Speaking in Vladivostok in 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi predicted that "the Far East will become a confluence of the Eurasian Union on one side and the open, free, and inclusive Indo-Pacific on the other." That proposition has started to materialise with experts from India, Russia, and Japan mulling over the prospects for trilateral cooperation in the Russian far-eastern region. The willingness of India and Russia to promote regional cooperation is also visible in proposals for joint economic projects in the Far East and the Chennai-Vladivostok maritime trade route.

The changing situation in South Asia adds a complex strategic background to the Moscow–New Delhi partnership.

However, it is highly unlikely that Moscow will change its mind on the idea of the Indo-Pacific soon — the whole concept being seen only through the prism of the US' strategic documents labelling Russia as a 'malign actor.' Apart from this, the changing situation in South Asia adds a complex strategic background to the Moscow–New Delhi partnership.

The Afghan crisis is far from being settled. While Russia and India realise the changing dynamics in the war-torn country, they have stuck to different positions. After a period of inactivity, Russia is back again at the forefront of peace efforts, proposing itself as the venue for intra-Afghan talks as well as 'major external stakeholders,' or "enlarged troika" meeting. Earlier this year, Moscow accorded a warm welcome to the Taliban delegation led by Deputy Peace Negotiator, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai. Then, on 17th February, the Afghan crisis was discussed at Lavrov-Shringla talks and two days later Zamir Kabulov, Kremlin's point person on Afghanistan, visited Islamabad where he met Pakistan's Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa and Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Kabulov in his recent interview to Sputnik said that Russia believes that the Taliban adheres to the Doha agreement "almost flawlessly… which cannot be said about the Americans." While Russia demonstrates profound understanding of and even some respect for Taliban's objectives and demands, India holds the Taliban responsible for atrocities in Afghanistan that inhibit peace in the country. As Shringla stated in his speech in Moscow, "[t]he rise in violence and targeted killings of Afghan activists is not conducive to the ongoing peace process."

While Russia and India realise the changing dynamics in the war-torn country, they have stuck to different positions.

Here the role of Pakistan can hardly be ignored, wherein Russia's outreach no longer seems innocent. This is an increasingly cosy relationship backed by common interests. Moscow and Islamabad seem to view the Afghan endgame in a similar fashion — without Ashraf Ghani and his cabinet, and with some interim structure including an adequate number of Taliban's representatives. There is a caveat though: Unlike Pakistan, Russia believes that an Afghanistan entirely under Taliban's governance is a bad idea and does not endorse Taliban's rhetoric on the Islamic Emirate.

The growing consensus on the Afghan conundrum is only part of Russia–Pakistan dialogue, which is also propped up by joint energy projects and potential defence cooperation. Several Russian media, quoting Gen. Bajwa, have reported recently about Islamabad's "contracts with Russia on supplies of anti-tank weapon systems, air defence systems, and small arms."

This report was not confirmed officially, but neither was it denied by the Russian side. A deal, perhaps a more limited one than Pakistan would want, seems quite possible as Moscow appears to be making overtures for defence exports to Pakistan, regardless of India's requests to follow 'a policy of no arms supply to Pakistan.'

The growing consensus on the Afghan conundrum is only part of Russia–Pakistan dialogue, which is also propped up by joint energy projects and potential defence cooperation.

On top of all these frictions, it is the 'Russia plus China' equation that should worry New Delhi the most. Russia has seen increased political, economic, and military cooperation with China. This also stems from their relationship with the West, in particular the US "dual containment policy" against the two.

However, not withstanding its close partnership with Beijing, Moscow has refused to take sides between India and China. It is interested in a good relationship between its two Asian partners, and works hard to strike a fine balance between them. This was evident in its posture during the India–China standoff in eastern Ladakh in 2020. Russia expedited military supplies to India several weeks after the Galwan clash having "responded positively to every defence requirement that India had." This is in line with Beijing and Moscow being reluctant to back each other up on territorial disputes. May this approach change in the future?

The navigation between conflicting interests across Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific will define the trajectory of India-Russia ties in the near-term.

It is clear that Russia's ties with the West will remain strained for the remaining period of Putin's presidency, and it will continue to gravitate, even if with some setbacks, towards China. Given the nature and structure of Russia-China cooperation, Moscow's dependence on Beijing is prone to grow further which may be fraught with consequences.

The navigation between conflicting interests across Eurasia and the Indo-Pacific will define the trajectory of India-Russia ties in the near-term. With many variables at play, unless the two manage to marry their aspirations and goals in strategic geographies, the road ahead may turn even more bumpy than before.
My vision of 2021 (Мое видение 2021 года) / Russia, March, 2021
Keywords: expert_opinion, quotation

At the request of the editors of International Affairs magazine, the renowned Kanwal Sibal, India's Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia, expresses his assessments of the situation in the world and forecasts of development in the coming year 2021.

International relations will remain in flux in 2021. The international community has been further fractured in recent years for several reasons. The slowdown of the global economy, anti-globalisation sentiments and the widening disparities between and within nations are some of the sources of international instability that will continue in 2021.

At the geopolitical level tensions arising from the dilution of US dominance of the global order, the rise of China and its expansionist policies in the South China Sea and the general sharpening differences with the US under Trump, the demonization of Putin's Russia and resistance of Russia to western pressure will continue to mark the international scene in 2021.

The disarray in Europe with Brexit and differences over issues of democracy and human rights between western European and east and central European countries, as well as the consequences Trump's hectoring of Europe, especially Germany, over trade and defense issues that caused strains in the transatlantic alliance, are realities that will need grappling in 2021.

The churn in the Middle East will continue with the mounting Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry rooted in Iran's regional ambitions and the Shia-Sunni conflict, the fall out of Turkey under President Erdogan becoming increasingly Islamic, seeking the leadership of the Islamic world and reviving its Ottoman era ambitions that include military interventions in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. The loss of Arab support for the Palestinian cause, as well as that of the US leading to a dramatic breakthrough in ties between Israel and key Gulf and North African monarchies, are developments that will continue to shape Middle East politics in 2021.

To believe that multilateralism was a reality until America First under Trump eroded it would be wrong. On security issues in particular the UN Security Council has been ineffective since long. With greater antagonism between US on the one hand and Russia and China on the other, the outlook for 2021in terms of collective decision making to address global security issues remains poor. On the other hand, with the US joining the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the World Health Organization (as well as willingness to re-enter the JCPOA with Iran) can be viewed as positive developments for the working of these international agreements and bodies, but that will not change the underlying disregard of multilateralism by the US when it does not suit its interests.

The international trade architecture has been coming under strain for some time primarily because of US frustrations with the WTO that led it to emasculate its dispute settlement body by obstructing nominations to its panel. Added to this are accusations against China's unfair trade practices in violation of the WTO rules that have led to a trade war, and the emergence of regional free trade arrangements that have diluted the WTO architecture. The developing consensus on the need for WTO reforms will be on the agenda in 2021.

The sharpening of US-China trade differences over trade have now expanded to China's access to critical technologies, the calls for decoupling from the Chinese economy in critical areas by the West and India as well, even if is slow, will be realities that will cause strains in the management of the global economy, already under stress because of the Covid pandemic.

The ratification of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment may run into trouble because of growing reservations about Chinese policies towards Europe, including its 17+1 arrangement that includes several EU countries and the Balkan states, that are seen as undermining European unity. The new US administration is reaching out to Europe to forge a joint approach towards China on trade technology and investment issues. Progress in this regard will begin to shape the relations between the West and China in 2021, depending on how the transatlantic consensus proceeds. China' of course, will make efforts to keep US and Europe divided as far as possible with its economic levers. 5G issues, besides cybersecurity, will be a significant part of western efforts to oust Huawei from telecommunication networks as the Chinese company has technological lead in this area, which raises security concerns.

Transatlantic ties, strained by Trump's policies, will certainly begin to improve in 2021, but divisive issues remain. The extraterritorial application of US laws is one such, putting Europe in a position where it cannot pursue its interests independently of the US, as, for example, in the case of US sanctions against Iran. This has fuelled sentiment in Europe, especially in France in favor of Europe's strategic autonomy. As part of the anti-Russian reflexes of the Biden Administration, efforts to strengthen NATO will be made. On data protection issues, including privacy, tax issues relating to the operations of US Social Media giants, there will be US-Europe tussles. These will , however, go beyond the two, as in the case of Australia. India too is grappling with regulatory issues relating to the operations of these US controlled tech giants.

On Iran, despite the Biden Administration's willingness to return to the JCPOA, the outlook is unclear because of Iranian demands for the lifting of sanctions in advance, the influence of the powerful Jewish lobby on Washington's Middle East policies that might touch the core interests of Israel, and the changed political landscape in the Middle East.

The outlook on US-Russia ties remains somber. The anti-Russian reflexes of the Biden Administration will play out in 2021 to the detriment of bilateral ties as well as EU-Russia ties. Even though the arms control architecture has been spared a final blow with the extension of the START Treaty, US pressure on Russia will increase, with the EU also now considering additional sanctions on Russia after the Navalny episode. This policy of applying sanctions unilaterally by the West which is contrary to international law - now emulated by China- risks getting more steam with the new Democratic administration and its focus on human rights. Geo-politically, the short sightedness of US-Europe in refusing to see how their Russia policy is self-defeating and only limits their capacity to meet the China challenge is baffling.

Despite voices in US think tank circles and Wall Street to accommodate China and pursue a policy of competitive co-existence, 2021 is likely to see continuing tensions in US-China ties. The Biden Administration has been prompt to signal its commitment to the security of its East Asian allies and its readiness to resist any further Chinese encroachment in the South China Sea. It has promptly undertaken Freedom of Navigation operations, sent in carrier groups into the area, and raised the level of its political treatment of Taiwan and underlined its defense obligations to it. It has raised the pitch on the violation of of human rights of the Uighurs and invited the head of the Tibetan government in exile to the White House. All these initiatives are seen as serious provocations by China. Biden has spoken about the need to engage China on Climate Change and health issues but developing a middle course on China will be difficult for him in view of the depth of antagonism towards China in the US Congress and public opinion in general. President Xi Jinping is now widely regarded as an imperious, assertive figure determined to expand China's ambitions that are seen as hegemonic, The July 1, 2021 centenary celebrations of the Communist Party of China will be an occasion for the Chinese leader to unveil his plans, ambitions and world view, and this will shape more the international thinking about his country.

2021 should see a strengthening of the Quad, which has already met at Foreign Minister level in February. US efforts to organize a virtual Quad summit could meet fruition this year. The Indo-Pacific concept will retain its maritime security dimension, with efforts to assure ASEAN of its centrality in developing an Asian regional security architecture while, at the same time, involving Indonesia to back the concept. India will continue to reason with Russia about the salience of this concept and the Quad for India's maritime security in view of Moscow's reservations.

India will be holding the BRICS summit in 2021. With Chinese aggression against India in Ladakh, India's earlier policy of finding common ground with China despite serious border differences has run its course. Yet, the India-Russia bilateral equation is strengthened through platforms such as BRICS, SCO and RIC (Russia, India, China dialogue). India will continue to build stronger understandings with Russia in 2021, with the missed annual summit scheduled for 2020 taking place in 2021. Defense and energy ties with Russia, apart from consolidating larger geopolitical understandings ,will continue to be given priority attention.

India will continue to focus on the responsibility of the international community bilaterally, regionally and internationally to deal with the challenge of terrorism facing the international community. The change in thinking in the Gulf monarchies such as UAE and Saudi Arabia on Islamic extremism should contribute to this combat. However, the situation in Afghanistan, with the prospect of the Taliban gaining power in that country on the back of continuing terrorist violence against its own people and the reported presence of ISIS elements in the country will be a source of regional and international concerns.

Climate Change issues will be in focus in 2021, with the COP 26 scheduled in November 2021 in the UK. America's adherence to the Paris Agreement and Biden's personal commitment to Climate Change issues will see a more determined effort to push the agenda, with emphasis on countries making commitments for reaching the goal of a carbon free economy by a set date. China has announced 2060 as that date, and the EU and the UK have committed to 2050. America has announced a carbon pollution free power sector by 2035 and net zero emissions by 2050. India will be pressed to announce a date. Russia has not announced a date as yet. The negotiations will not be easy as countries like India, while announcing that they have met their NDC targets, will raise the issue of climate justice and that of the developed countries meeting their financial commitments.

The Covid pandemic has disrupted the global society as a whole. With new waves and mutations in some countries, the challenge is far from over. Countries at large are facing economic recession and their focus in 2021 will be inward looking. However, a strong multilateral effort is need to address the consequences of the pandemic, but it is absent. There has been national competition for developing vaccines; the issue of equitable availability of vaccines at affordable prices is paramount. International solidarity in this regard will be tested in 2021, especially with the WHO embroiled in a controversy over its perceived manipulation by China. The revival of the global economy will be major challenge in 2021. This is also connected to the achievement of SDGs by the UN membership.

The G7 has become obsolete but it is meeting in the UK in June this year. It can at best formulate an agenda for the western economies with some international impact, but will have limited relevance in terms of a wider international effort to address the current international issues. The scheduled G20 meeting in October in Rome will be more meaningful. In a different context, that of meeting the challenge of authoritarian regimes such as China, the 5G and critical supply chains issues, the UK Prime Minister has launched the idea of the G7 expanded to a D10, a group of democratic countries with the inclusion of India, South Korea and Australia. Biden has in mind a Summit for Democracy. How much this idea will take shape in 2021 will need watching.

Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu Attends Video Meeting of BRICS Coordinators (Вице-министр иностранных дел Ма Чжаосю принял участие в видеовстрече координаторов БРИКС) / China, March, 2021
Keywords: foreign_ministers_meeting

On February 24 to 26, 2021, Coordinator of China's BRICS affairs and Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu attended the video meeting of BRICS Coordinators. Special envoy of BRICS affairs and Director-General of the Department of International Economic Affairs of the Foreign Ministry Wang Xiaolong and others also attended the meeting.

Ma Zhaoxu said that when the COVID-19 pandemic is still ravaging around the world, as an important cooperation platform for emerging markets and major developing countries, BRICS countries need to play a significant role in deepening international anti-pandemic cooperation, promoting world economic recovery and improving global governance. The five countries should build consensus on cooperation, enhance policy coordination, deepen the BRICS strategic partnership, and fully promote BRICS three-pillar-driven cooperation in the areas of economy, peace and security and people-to-people exchanges, in order to jointly accomplish new achievements, improve the wellbeing of the people in BRICS countries and the world, and advance the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.

India took over the BRICS chairmanship on January 1, 2021. The meeting of BRICS Coordinators was aimed to exchange views on the theme, prioritized areas and arrangements of BRICS cooperation this year, launching the preparations for the 13th BRICS Summit.

The ANC and the Great China Illusion (АНК и иллюзия Великого Китая) / South Africa, March, 2021
Keywords: expert_opinion, political_issues
South Africa

In Barack Obama's recent account of his first term as president, A Promised Land, there is a telling story about the UN Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen in 2009. When Obama arrived the conference was deadlocked. The US had promised to give financial aid to help poorer countries transition to cleaner energy but the EU nations were demanding a binding treaty which developing countries, including the BRICS states, didn't want.

In particular, says Obama, "China, India and South Africa appeared content to let the conference crash and burn and blame it on the Americans". The best hope for a deal would be if Obama could get the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, onside. But Wen was clearly lining up the BRICS states to block a deal.

Obama had hoped to meet with Wen but Wen simply disappeared and it was clear that he was ducking a meeting. Rumours circulated that he was already on his way out to the airport though some said he was still in the conference building. However, Wen was then spotted in a conference room several floors up. Obama turned to Hillary Clinton: "When's the last time you crashed a party?" "It's been a while", she laughed. So with a gaggle of staffers and Secret Service agents, Obama and Clinton made their way upstairs and burst in on a startled Wen who was sitting together with Prime Minister Singh (India) and Presidents Lula (Brazil) and Zuma (South Africa), together with a large contingent of Chinese staffers and secret service men. To the general astonishment Obama just pulled up a chair for himself and suggested they make a deal. "Lula and Zuma looked sheepishly down at the papers in front of them", Obama records. He then cut to the chase and said he assumed they were about to let the conference fail and try to blame it all on the Americans.

Well, he said, they might not succeed in that because if that's what they did he, Obama, was going straight back down to tell the whole conference that he'd come there willing to commit the USA to huge new reductions in greenhouse gases and also to offer billions of dollars to help poorer countries but that the BRICS countries had decided it was better to turn down those offers and do nothing. He would then say the same to all the poorer countries and broadcast this news to the poor people of BRICS, who would be among the chief victims of climate change. Was that what they wanted?

The Chinese minister for the environment went crazy, shouting and red-faced, at this threat. Obama demanded a translation but Premier Wen waved it away – "what the environment minister said was unimportant" – and asked to see the text of the agreement Obama wanted. Manmohan Singh seemed entirely unfazed by the whole episode and, after listening carefully, also agreed to look at the text. Within an hour the deal was done, the EU were persuaded to come onside and the conference was saved. As Obama boarded Air Force One one of his aides commented "I gotta say, boss, that was some real gangster shit back there". Which indeed it had been. Obama comes from Chicago, after all.

The interesting thing for South Africans – and other BRICS citizens – is the picture which emerges of the Chinese being in such complete control that Wen Jiabao felt quite confident of changing direction on the spot when he realised he might be heading for a propaganda disaster. There was no attempt to consult the other BRICS leaders (though Russia, which was not present, would doubtless have been treated differently and of course India too could not be taken for granted). Lula and Zuma come across as mere schoolboys among adults, altering direction the moment the Chinese gave the order.

Brazil and South Africa, after all, are pretty well bust, share junk status and would love to get Chinese financial assistance. Lula was shortly to go to jail and Zuma could well follow him. They were beggars at the banquet, awed by Chinese power.

It is, of course, not news that the ANC idolises China. It is also in love with Cuba and Venezuela and the liberation movements of southern Africa. This is a very odd list, including some of the world's most unsuccessful, corrupt and undemocratic governments.

The ANC talks about these states as if they were success stories, though of course it cannot have escaped the ANC's notice that all these states are complete failures. However, the ANC is entirely aware that China is a huge and powerful success, well able to stand up to the West and destined soon to overtake America economically and perhaps even militarily.

That a formerly under-developed country can do this is the dream of "the global South". And China is Communist ("progressive"), talks the same Marxist language as the ANC and professes solidarity with the rest of the Third World. For years there has been a constant flow of ANC ministers and office-bearers to China, all returning with wondrous tales of lightning construction and glistening modernity. When Ramaphosa talks of building a new city or of bullet trains there is no doubt that what he is talking about is copying China. The ANC is low on confidence and self-esteem and although it will never admit it, it has certainly noticed that things are falling to bits in South Africa, that unemployment and inequality are worse than ever, and, in a word, that the ANC government has failed. Hence the frantic wish that "we must learn from China", that the ANC party school must be designed on Chinese lines and so on.

It is as if China has some secret magic trick that the ANC wants to capture and learn. David Masondo, the deputy finance minister who is keen to boost the government's economic plan, Operation Vulindlela, does so by explaining how Deng Xiaoping's structural reforms rescued China from the horrors of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution and launched it into headlong growth. He then concludes that "Operation Vulindlela should be used as our Deng Xiaoping moment, albeit within our constitutional democratic order".

The last phrase is interesting, a half admission that China is not democratic. In fact of course, it is a totalitarian dictatorship. South Africans, reared like Hong Kong Chinese in the more liberal atmosphere bequeathed by a British colonial culture, would never stomach China's ruthless oppression.

China persecutes its Muslim Uighur and Tibetan minorities in a way shocking to South Africans, even if the ANC is careful never to criticise such abominable behaviour. In China trade unions are forbidden and those who try to organize them are thrown in jail. Economic growth depends on prodigiously hard work, high productivity, and huge re-investment ratios – 30-40% of GDP – which are achieved by ruthlessly suppressing consumption.

China would never dream of giving welfare grants to the poor or sky-high salaries to public service workers. And Chinese growth has been achieved through the sweeping privatization of huge parts of its economy. This then is the magic behind China's success – and the ANC has no intention whatsoever of copying it. Instead it kow-tows to China – most recently refusing to condemn the Myanmar coup because the Myanmar generals are under China's wing – and somehow kids itself that this sort of camp-following will cause some of China's success to rub off on us.

This is crazy. It means trading away one's independence for a mirage. The infatuation with China felt by ANC leaders suggests that while they are aware of the ANC's own colossal failure they do not really understand why it has occurred. Meanwhile, in their desperation, they are willing to clutch at straws.
Investment and Finance
Investment and finance in BRICS
Global Gas Market Development Depends Largely on Brics Countries: Novak (Развитие мирового рынка газа во многом зависит от стран БРИКС: Новак) / Jordan, March, 2021
Keywords: expert_opinion, energy

The development of the global gas market largely depends on the Brics countries, whose energy balance will witness natural gas' growth by almost 50% by 2040, says Alexander Novak, deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation.

Addressing an online gathering during the GECF Global Gas Outlook 2050's fifth edition, Novak said, 'In addition, the potential for the LNG market is growing. Already, Russia is fourth among the world's largest producers. We intend to increase production from the current 29mn tonnes to 120-140mn tons of LNG a year and take up to 15-20% of the market by 2035.

Commending the GECF for developing a rigorous forecasting and analytical potential in-house, Novak said, 'The weight and reputation of the GECF in the gas industry is steadily growing and we expect that it will continue to play a key role in shaping further vectors for the development of the gas industry, establishing mechanisms to ensure the stable and safe functioning of the gas market.

Addressing the gathering via a statement, Viktor Zubkov, special representative of the Russian President for Cooperation with the GECF and chairman of the Board of Directors of Gazprom, said, 'The Global Gas Outlook, being launched today, presents a quality assessment of how macroeconomic conditions, energy policies, prices and investment decision have their influence on the development of natural gas markets (worldwide).

'At the same time, this new edition closely examines the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on global energy markets and focus on the strengthening role of natural gas in the energy transition.

BRICS bank loans China billions for post-epidemic recovery (Банки БРИКС ссудили Китаю миллиарды на восстановление после эпидемии) / China, March, 2021
Keywords: ndb, covid-19, investments

SHANGHAI, March 2 (Xinhua) -- The BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) announced Tuesday that it approved 7 billion yuan (about 1.08 billion U.S. dollars) of emergency assistance program loans to support China's economic recovery from COVID-19.

The loan is the second emergency loan approved by the NDB to help China fight the epidemic, following the 7 billion yuan loan approved and disbursed in 2020.

The program will support the restoration of production activities and stable employment in the country and promote sustainable economic development.

In April 2020, the bank set up a mechanism to offer emergency assistance program loans to its member countries, assisting them in combating the pandemic. It has so far approved seven anti-virus-related emergency loans, totaling about 7 billion U.S. dollars.

The NDB is a multilateral development bank founded in 2014 by BRICS member countries Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, to support infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS countries and other emerging economies. It formally opened on July 21, 2015, in Shanghai. Enditem

NDB Board Of Directors Approves Rmb 7 Billion Emergency Program Loan For Supporting China's Economic Recovery From Covid-19 (Совет директоров НБР одобрил чрезвычайный программный заем в размере 7 млрд юаней для поддержки восстановления экономики Китая от COVID-19) / China, March, 2021
Keywords: ndb, covid-19, investments

On February 26, 2021, the Board of Directors of the New Development Bank approved RMB 7 billion Emergency Program Loan to the People's Republic of China for Supporting China's Economic Recovery from COVID-19. The Program is to support China's priorities for economic recovery efforts in response to COVID-19, including (i) supporting the restoration of production activities in key sectors adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; and (ii) supporting the measures to reinforce and sustain the achievements of early economic recovery.

Following the first emergency loan of RMB 7 billion to China approved and fully disbursed in 2020, the captioned Program is the NDB's second emergency assistance loan to China in response to COVID-19. Based on the current stage of economic recovery in China, the Program will support restoring production and job creation in the country. The Program will also contribute to sustainable development of China's economy over the long term.

The Program will be implemented by two implementing agencies, namely the Export-Import Bank of China (EximBank) and the Agricultural Development Bank of China (ADBC). EximBank and ADBC will in turn provide financing for projects in the sectors directly and mostly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic such as trade, logistics, agriculture, health, labor-intensive infrastructure sectors, as well as innovative and high-tech infrastructure promoted by the Chinese Government to sustain recovery and to support sustainable development. The implementation arrangement maximizes the envisaged impacts of the Program through on-lending by the leading development banks in China.

Supporting the Government's prioritized sectors, the Program will contribute to mitigating the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on the Chinese economy. More specifically, the Program will help to revive economic activities and resume productivity in the key sectors, and consequently generate employment opportunities in the near term. Additionally, the Program will also help to achieve sustainable economic development over the medium- to longer-term and contribute to full restoration and further development of supply chains, as well as the development of infrastructure in line with China's New Infrastructure Initiative.

Background Information

The NDB established the Emergency Assistance Facility in April 2020, to provide up to USD 10 billion in crisis-related assistance to its member countries, including USD 5 billion for financing healthcare and social safety-related expenditures, as well as USD 5 billion for supporting economic recovery efforts. In total, the NDB Board of Directors so far has approved seven COVID-19 related emergency assistance programs with a total amount of around USD 7 billion.

The NDB was established by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to mobilize resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies and developing countries, complementing the existing efforts of multilateral and regional financial institutions for global growth and development.

Political Events
Political events in the public life of BRICS
Russia: New Law requires express consent for making personal data available to the public and for any subsequent dissemination (Россия: новый закон требует явного согласия на доведение персональных данных до всеобщего сведения и на любое последующее распространение) / Russia, March, 2021
Keywords: expert_opinion

Amendments to the Russian general data protection law (Federal Law No. 152-FZ on Personal Data) adopted at the end of 2020 enter into force today (Monday, March 1st), with some of them having the effective date postponed until July 1st. The changes are part of a legislative package that is also seeing the Criminal Code being amended to criminalize disclosure of personal data about "protected persons" (several categories of government officials). The amendments to the data protection law envision the introduction of consent based restrictions for any organization or individual that publishes personal data initially, as well as for those that collect and further disseminate personal data that has been distributed on the basis of consent in the public sphere, such as on social media, blogs or any other sources.

The amendments:

  • introduce a new category of personal data, defined as "personal data allowed by the data subject to be disseminated" (hereinafter PDD – personal data allowed for dissemination);
  • include strict rules for initially making personal data available to an unlimited number of persons, but also for further processing PDD by other organizations or individuals, including for further disseminating this type of data – all of this must be done on the basis of specific, affirmative and separately collected consent from the data subject, the existence of which must be proved at any point of the use and further use;
  • introduce the possibility of the Russian regulator enforcing this law ("Roskomnadzor") to record in a centralized information system the consent obtained for dissemination of personal data to an unlimited number of persons;
  • introduce an absolute right to opt out of the dissemination of personal data, "at any time".
The potential impact of the amendments is broad. The new law prima facie affects social media services, online publishers, streaming services, bloggers, or any other entity who might be considered as making personal data available to "an indefinite number of persons." They now have to collect and prove they have separate consent for making personal data publicly available, as well as for further publishing or disseminating PDD which has been lawfully published by other parties originally.

Importantly, the new provisions in the Personal Data Law dedicated to PDD do not include any specific exception for processing PDD for journalistic purposes. The only exception recognized is processing PDD "in the state and public interests defined by the legislation of the Russian Federation". The Explanatory Note accompanying the amendments confirms that consent is the exclusive lawful ground that can justify dissemination and further processing of PDD and that the only exception to this rule is the one mentioned above, for state or public interests as defined by law. It is thus expected that the amendments might create a chilling effect on freedom of expression, especially when also taking into account the corresponding changes to the Criminal Code.

The new rules seem to be part of a broader effort in Russia to regulate information shared online and available to the public. In this context, it is noteworthy that other amendments to Law 149-FZ on Information, IT and Protection of Information solely impacting social media services were also passed into law in December 2020, and already entered into force on February 1st, 2021. Social networks are now required to monitor content and "restrict access immediately" of users that post information about state secrets, justification of terrorism or calls to terrorism, pornography, promoting violence and cruelty, or obscene language, manufacturing of drugs, information on methods to commit suicide, as well as calls for mass riots.

Below we provide a closer look at the amendments to the Personal Data Law that entered into force on March 1st, 2021.

A new category of personal data is defined

The new law defines a category of "personal data allowed by the data subject to be disseminated" (PDD), the definition being added as paragraph 1.1 to Article 3 of the Law. This new category of personal data is defined as "personal data to which an unlimited number of persons have access to, and which is provided by the data subject by giving specific consent for the dissemination of such data, in accordance with the conditions in the Personal Data Law" (unofficial translation).

The old law had a dedicated provision that referred to how this type of personal data could be lawfully processed, but it was vague and offered almost no details. In particular, Article 6(10) of the Personal Data Law (the provision corresponding to Article 6 GDPR on lawful grounds for processing) provided that processing of personal data is lawful when the data subject gives access to their personal data to an unlimited number of persons. The amendments abrogate this paragraph, before introducing an entirely new article containing a detailed list of conditions for processing PDD only on the basis of consent (the new Article 10.1).

Perhaps in order to avoid misunderstanding on how the new rules for processing PDD fit with the general conditions on lawful grounds for processing personal data, a new paragraph 2 is introduced in Article 10 of the law, which details conditions for processing special categories of personal data, to clarify that processing of PDD "shall be carried out in compliance with the prohibitions and conditions provided for in Article 10.1 of this Federal Law".

Specific, express, unambiguous and separate consent is required

Under the new law, "data operators" that process PDD must obtain specific and express consent from data subjects to process personal data, which includes any use, dissemination of the data. Notably, under the Russian law, "data operators" designate both controllers and processors in the sense of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), or businesses and service providers in the sense of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).

Specifically, under Article 10.1(1), the data operator must ensure that it obtains a separate consent dedicated to dissemination, other than the general consent for processing personal data or other type of consent. Importantly, "under no circumstances" may individuals' silence or inaction be taken to indicate their consent to the processing of their personal data for dissemination, under Article 10.1(8).

In addition, the data subject must be provided with the possibility to select the categories of personal data which they permit for dissemination. Moreover, the data subject also must be provided with the possibility to establish "prohibitions on the transfer (except for granting access) of [PDD] by the operator to an unlimited number of persons, as well as prohibitions on processing or conditions of processing (except for access) of these personal data by an unlimited number of persons", per Article 10.1(9). It seems that these prohibitions refer to specific categories of personal data provided by the data subject to the operator (out of a set of personal data, some categories may be authorized for dissemination, while others may be prohibited from dissemination).

If the data subject discloses personal data to an unlimited number of persons without providing to the operator the specific consent required by the new law, not only the original operator, but all subsequent persons or operators that processed or further disseminated the PDD have the burden of proof to "provide evidence of the legality of subsequent dissemination or other processing", under Article 10.1(2), which seems to imply that they must prove consent was obtained for dissemination (probatio diabolica in this case). According to the Explanatory Note to the amendments, it seems that the intention was indeed to turn the burden of proof of legality of processing PDD from data subjects to the data operators, since the Note makes a specific reference to the fact that before the amendments the burden of proof rested with data subjects.

If the separate consent for dissemination of personal data is not obtained by the operator, but other conditions for lawfulness of processing are met, the personal data can be processed by the operator, but without the right to distribute or disseminate them – Article 10.1.(4).

A Consent Management Platform for PDD, managed by the Roskomnadzor

The express consent to process PDD can be given directly to the operator or through a special "information system" (which seems to be a consent management platform) of the Roskomnadzor, according to Article 10.1(6). The provisions related to setting up this consent platform for PDD will enter into force on July 1st, 2021. The Roskomnadzor is expected to provide technical details about the functioning of this consent management platform and guidelines on how it is supposed to be used in the following months.

Absolute right to opt-out of dissemination of PDD

Notably, the dissemination of PDD can be halted at any time, on request of the individual, regardless of whether the dissemination is lawful or not, according to Article 12.1(12). This type of request is akin to a withdrawal of consent. The provision includes some requirements for the content of such a request. For instance, it requires writing contact information and listing the personal data that should be terminated. Consent to the processing of the provided personal data is terminated once the operator receives the opt-out request – Article 10.1(13).

A request to opt-out of having personal data disseminated to the public when this is done unlawfully (without the data subject's specific, affirmative consent) can also be made through a Court, as an alternative to submitting it directly to the data operator. In this case, the operator must terminate the transmission of or access to personal data within three business days from when such demand was received or within the timeframe set in the decision of the court which has come into effect – Article 10.1(14).

A new criminal offense: The prohibition on disclosure of personal data about protected persons

Sharing personal data or information about intelligence officers and their personal property is now a criminal offense under the new rules, which amended the Criminal Code. The law obliges any operators of personal data, including government departments and mobile operators, to ensure the confidentiality of personal information concerning protected persons, their relatives, and their property. Under the new law, "protected persons" include employees of the Investigative Committee, FSB, Federal Protective Service, National Guard, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Ministry of Defense judges, prosecutors, investigators, law enforcement officers and their relatives. Moreover, the list of protected persons can be further detailed by the head of the relevant state body in which the specified persons work.

Previously, the law allowed for the temporary prohibition of the dissemination of personal data of protected persons only in the event of imminent danger in connection with official duties and activities. The new amendments make it possible to take protective measures in the absence of a threat of encroachment on their life, health and property.

What to watch next: New amendments to the general Personal Data Law are on their way in 2021

There are several developments to follow in this fast changing environment. First, at the end of January, the Russian President gave the government until August 1 to create a set of rules for foreign tech companies operating in Russia, including a requirement to open branch offices in the country.

Second, a bill (No. 992331-7) proposing new amendments to the overall framework of the Personal Data Law (No. 152-FZ) was introduced in July 2020 and was the subject of a Resolution that passed in the State Duma on February 16, allowing for a period for amendments to be submitted, until March 16. The bill is on the agenda for a potential vote in May. The changes would entail expanding the possibility to obtain valid consent through other unique identifiers which are currently not accepted by the law, such as unique online IDs, changes to purpose limitation, a possible certification scheme for effective methods to erase personal data and new competences for the Roskomnadzor to establish requirements for deidentification of personal data and specific methods for effective deidentification.

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