The 8th BRICS Summit in Goa in October this year, India came close on the heels of the G-20 Summit at Hangzhou in China and appears more or less to have had the same agenda except that it was smaller in size and therefore brought into sharper focus the contradictions within. The BRICS grouping remains an unbalanced one. China is in a league of its own in the BRICS – both in economic terms as well as increasingly in the political sphere. India is the only other member that has a strong economy – the other three economies are in various stages of stress. However, the grouping is also about taking political positions and here once again, China’s dominant weight has seen statements taking on anti-Western tilt.
Among the many meetings and forums held in the run-up to or during the BRICS summit itself were those involving the national security advisors, youth leaders, young diplomats, women parliamentarians, central bank governors and sister cities, and the ministers of finance, health, education, environment, tourism, disaster management, agriculture, telecommunications and science and technology as well as issues of urbanization, migration, non-tariff measures, infrastructure financing and communicable diseases. As a result, the final declaration at the end of the 8th BRICS Summit in Goa, India was a massive document that seemed to cover almost every issue possible.
While this range of issues and themes reflects the great potential of the grouping to effect decisive change in global politics, economy and development, given the state of the economies of Russia, Brazil and South Africa and the slow pace of implementation of the Indians, what we can expect will likely be an inability to follow through consistently on many of these issues.
The hosting of the BRICS summit and the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) summits one after the other but with a brief overlap that allowed various leaders from the two groupings to meet, India was also signaling to the Chinese, given that one of the important features of BIMSTEC is the absence of China. The signal here was that while India was open to economic cooperation with China, the latter also had to acknowledge India’s geopolitical interests. New Delhi would promote simultaneously organizations where it had the leading role distinct from those created by the Chinese or where they dominated.
At the meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the BRICS Summit, two issues dominated – China’s resistance to India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and its refusal to criticize Pakistan for state-sponsored terrorism. New Delhi did not get far on either subject. While the BRICS Declaration itself addressed the subject of terrorism, when referring to attacks, the formulation ‘against some BRICS countries, including that in India’, effectively downplayed the qualitatively different and more serious nature of the terrorist attacks against India. In fact, only the ISIL and the former al-Qaeda affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, are mentioned by name both of which are threats to Russia and perhaps to China but really not to India. Not even the Taliban in Afghanistan is named leave alone those Pakistani-based outfits targeting India.
While the sanctity of international law has been highlighted with respect to outer space there is not a single mention specifically of maritime issues, a domain where China has been found wanting and willfully ignoring UNCLOS. The emphasis on ‘countering misuse of the Internet including social media by terror entities’ and ‘combating the use of ICTs for criminal and terrorist purposes’ while a common interest of all parties has the somewhat distinct stamp of the Chinese even if it were proposed by another country, for it is of a piece with China’s already heavy policing of the internet domestically. The fact that the need for ‘open’ use of ICT is immediately accompanied by its use to also be ‘secure’ shows the emphasis of the governments involved and also underlines the incipient threat to democratic expression everywhere. Further, while there is call for an ‘open…secure’ Internet and it is talked of as a ‘global resource’, such offensive applications as hacking and cyber industrial espionage – where both Russian and Chinese citizens have been found to be at the forefront – did not find mention as issues affecting the openness and security of the Internet.
In the references to the outcome of the G-20 meeting in Hangzhou, the inclusion of the RMB into the Special Drawing Rights currency basket the need for reform of international financial institutions, the Declaration is rather too China-centric and what is more in the ‘commitment to resolutely reject the continued attempts to misrepresent the results of World War II’, the Declaration lends itself clearly to an anti-America and anti-Japan stand, all of which is also contrary to Indian interests. It would seem that despite being the host, India’s major achievement was in the pomp and ceremony of the summit rather than in the substance. New Delhi seems to have been outmaneouvred by the Chinese with support from the Russians and either indifference or support from the Brazilians and South Africans. These trends will only likely consolidate themselves given that China is the next host of the BRICS summit in 2017.
A version of this article was published as Jabin T. Jacob. 2016. ‘Tough Talks: BRICS talks reveal dissension in the ranks’, Strategic Vision for Taiwan Security, Vol. 5, Issue 30, December, pp. 4-8.