Structuring a new BRICS
Two large countries of BRICS — India and China — are facing terrorism and challenges of energy security. Russia has plenty to offer, but the problem for BRICS is that the member states do not have a coordinating structure which can chart out an effective energy policy for Global South. As for terrorism, all three countries are facing a similar threat, aided by state and non-state actors. But China, for the sake of its friendship with Pakistan, is hell-bent on saving the terror sponsor
The 10th BRICS Summit which took place in Johannesburg recently can be understood in the context of two major developments which shook the global geopolitics. These are: A growing trade war among the rising powers in which some of the BRICS states are involved; second, a fluctuation in energy prices especially in the aftermath of likely re-imposition of sanctions by the United States on Iran from the next week of this month.
It is understood that these two things to some extent shaped the present BRICS Summit Declarations.
Moreover, one subject which got maximum attention in the BRICS Summit is global trade and its ramifications on international relations. The Summit called for “a favourable external environment for sustained growth of global trade. “Because of trade disputes there is a wedge between two trans-Atlantic trade partners, i.e, the USA and the European Union. However the moot point that needs to be highlighted here is how far China behaves itself when the issue of trade comes into picture in the international arena.
It may be underlined that within the BRICS bloc the bilateral trade relations are not on equal footing. It has been argued that over the years Russia is acting as a “resource appendage” to China. The bilateral trade is also largely favouring China. Same is the case with India. As reported, Russian and Chinese firms are at loggerheads over supply of oil, impinging bilateral trade relations.
One factor which is impeding the free flow of trade among these powers of BRICS is lack of mutual trust. Despite a decade of its existence, BRICS failed to articulate a coherent trade policy which can bring the member states together. It is in this perspective, what BRICS states need, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his speech at the BRICS Summit highlighted, is the removal of “protectionism and restrictive trade practices”.
Second issue which the Johannesburg Summit discussed at length was related to technology and digitalisation process and how BRICS states can able to adapt to the “Technological Revolution”. The Summit highlighted that “trade and technology are vital sources of inclusive growth”.
It may be underlined here that geographically diverse regional groupings such as BRICS require information technology urgently for its effective functioning. It is in this context that Modi highlighted the notion of “Fourth Industrial Revolution” and emphasised the need for creating a synergy between “new industrial technology and digital interface”.
As per a recent report of Global Innovation Index (GII), 2018, China is in the top 20 innovative countries. Similarly the GII report says that India’s position is at 57. It may be added here that despite existence of innovative industries and a significant leap by the BRICS countries to harness technologies they have not initiated any coordinated efforts to pool their common talents to harness economic development. The need of the hour for the BRICS countries is to overcome the “digital gap” with the advanced countries of the West.
One of the major problems what some of these BRICS countries, like India and China, is confronting now is access to energy. On the other hand, Russia is one of the largest producers of oil and gas along with Brazil, which took a lead in the production of bioethanol. But the problem for BRICS is that they do not have a coordinating structure which can chart out an effective energy policy for Global South. In case of a global turmoil over energy, two major BRICS countries, India and China, are going to suffer most. Even though Russia is a major producer of energy, it is also facing problem because of American sanctions. The recent Iranian crisis because of sanctions will further aggravate the problem for these two countries. What BRICS countries need is an institutional mechanism to develop a common response to energy crisis. These two countries are not only major consumer of global energy but are in competition to tap energy from global market. It has also been observed that China, because of employing unfair practices, blocked India from acquiring energy blocks in Africa and Eurasia. Despite these contradictions within the BRICS countries, the recent Summit at Johannesburg agreed to establish “BRICS Energy Research” body.
The Summit also underlined the fact that the member states of BRICS “continue to strive for universal energy access, energy security, energy affordability, reduced pollution and environmental conservation.”
The 10th BRICS Summit Declaration also gave call for a resolute fight against terrorism. Understanding the seriousness of the problem, the Summit gave a call for “the responsibility of all States to prevent financing of terrorist networks and terrorist actions from their territories.”
It may be underlined here that three member states of BRICS — India, Russia and China — have been facing this menace for years. In fact, there is a common pattern of terrorist threats in these three countries. For instance, terrorist groups operating in these three countries are receiving patronage both ideological as well as logistical from Pakistan and non- state actors like Taliban. However, the problem regarding fight against terrorism emanates from the fact that China despite being a part of BRICS always demonstrates double standard in its fight against terrorism, especially those emanating from Pakistan. Recently the Financial Action Task Forces (FATF) in its latest report put Pakistan under stricture for its dubious role in providing sanctuary to terrorists on its soil. Pakistan’s role in aiding and abetting terrorism can be substantiated from the writing of Pakistani scholar Saqlain A Shah, who in an article dated December 4, 2017 highlighted the fact in Pakistani newspaper Daily Times, said, “The state of Pakistan is allegedly responsible in creating this monster of religious fanaticism.”
Obviously, Shah’s reference is towards Islamabad’s role in harbouring religious extremism and terrorism. Even at the UN, China used its veto to save Pakistan from being declared a terror sponsor. Similarly, it has also been observed that China in collusion with Pakistan is also supporting radical groups like Taliban which is wreaking havoc in Central and South Asia. Russia, which has suffered heavily because of threat from radical forces, is reaching out to the Taliban forces for promoting its own geopolitical interests. On the other hand, India is facing threat to its security from these radical forces, largely aided and abetted by Pakistan.
The issue of multipolarity got maximum attention in the recently concluded BRICS Summit. As the Johannesburg Declaration stated, “We reiterate our commitment to shaping a more fair, just and representative multipolar international order …which excludes the imposition of unilateral coercive measures”.
It may be recalled here that when BRICS as an regional body came up, there was expectation from many quarters that it will chart out a new “ Brettenwood” system in the global political economy. However, looking at the strategic behaviour of China, it appears that achieving this goal is like a mirage. The “imperial ambitions” of China in bringing different countries under its own sphere of influence through OBOR is evident when in 2017 address to the BRF Forum in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping tried to project Chinese geoculture of “Middle Kingdom complex”. To ensure a multipolar world, China should give up its own global hegemonic ambitions and ensure peaceful resolution of disputes, especially with its neighbours and fellow BRICS members like India and Russia.
What BRICS requires at present is not adding more or more global issues to its declaration in a mechanical manner. Eather it should take steps to address them meaningfully.
For the last ten years this regional grouping failed to evolve a norms for this bloc which will add necessary vibrancy to this regional organisation. While Global South is a feasible alternative norms, it is quite difficult to practice looking at the dominant role of China. On the other hand, the Indian strategic doctrine of Panchasheel will provide the necessary vibrancy to this regional grouping by nurturing new norms.
(The writer teaches at School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)
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