China backs India in hosting BRICS; Is it still relevant?

As India has taken over the responsibility and host of the BRICS events for this year, has been endorsed by China in this endeavour.

Efforts will also be made to strengthen and expand ‘BRICS Plus’ (File photo: IE)

By Dr Aparaajita Pandey,

As India has taken over the responsibility and host of the BRICS events for this year, has been endorsed by China in this endeavour. The debates and discussions about the relevance of BRICS and also its greater impact on the Sino- Indian relations have risen from dormancy yet again. The press communiqué mentions that it is the intentions of the BRICS nations to further greater cooperation and strengthen the relations between the states involved and also to move forward the three-pillar-driven agenda of greater political, economic, and cultural cooperation.

Efforts will also be made to strengthen and expand ‘BRICS Plus’. BRICS Plus is an initiative to widen the BRICS initiative keeping the primary importance of the five founding members but also opening it up to ‘a circle of friends’ and consequently be involved in greater south-south cooperation. The initiative is aimed at providing opportunities to developing economies for communication and consultation. The initiative is not just aimed at building capabilities and cooperation mechanisms with emerging economies; it is also a path for BRICS towards a greater global presence and eventually global governance.

Withstanding the above mentioned, it is worth mentioning that the Indian hosting of BRICS and the Chinese support of the same is also being perceived as an opportunity to build stronger Sino- Indian relations. While Wang Yi, the Chinese Foreign Minister is yet to confirm whether the Chinese President Xi Jinping will be attending the BRICS summit that would be scheduled later in the year, however, if tradition is to be believed then the chances of President Xi attending are high since he previously attended all the annual summits that have been held over the years. While it is true that BRICS summits would give both India and China an opportunity to work in close cooperation with each other it would be wrong to reduce the fate of the cryptic and labyrinthine relationship between the two states to an annual summit.

There are also larger implications of the relevance of the five-member block. The suspicions about its relevance, future, and value have been questioned since the inception of the block. BRICS was born on the table of the Goldman Sachs’ chief economist – Jim O’ Neill. In the year 2001, O’ Neill coined the term BRICS; he believed that Brazil, Russia, India, and China were countries that displayed promising economic trajectories and were ready to surpass economies that have conventionally held the top positions in the world.

It is imperative to comprehend the fact that from the very conception of this idea, BRICS was never believed to be an organization of any consequence. It was a group of countries that were supposedly on an upward swing economically, and these burgeoning economies were supposedly great markets for investors. Such a myopic albeit long-term ambition for the BRICS nations meant that they were not inherently imprisoned by the dynamics of geography or the need for similarity in political frameworks, or even the need for multilateral or in some cases bi-lateral cooperation.

Brazil, Russia, India, and China were just countries that were arbitrarily grouped together in the files of an economic brief and were predicted to show economic growth that would surpass the six largest western economies by 2041. The predictions were later revised to reach that goal much earlier first to 2039 and then to 2032.

BRICS since its inception has gradually but conclusively expanded its diplomatic engagements. The BRICS began with annual meetings of Heads of States and those of finance ministers. Since its inception was economic in nature; greater coordination and cooperation in economics was an organic development during the BRICS summits. However, the augmentation of the BRICS diplomatic activities now includes not only coordinated policy positions, but also greater people to people contact and dialogue, notwithstanding that the issues of discussion and discourse are usually carefully crafted to avoid conflict.

The annual summit diplomacy that was restricted to conventional track one dialogue now has been opened to include experts of various sectors. It is not uncommon to find the governors of Central Banks, National Security Advisors, ministers of Science and technology, those from the agriculture ministry, disaster response authorities, environment ministers, health ministers, labour ministers, and heads of Think Tanks, members of Parliaments, prominent industrialists, and members of the house of commerce to be a part of BRICS summits. This culture of inclusivity is not just a gradual expansion of ties but also recognition of the fact that there are greater commonalities between the nations of the BRICS than previously attributed to the group. It also reiterates the belief of the nations that common solutions and coordinated public policy would yield better results for all those involved in the decision-making process.

While the BRICS have been considerably cohesive as a unit it would be fallacious to assume that there is a lack of existence of disputes between the member nations. The BRICS members for long have been accused of being too different from one another and not erroneously. China is an economy much bigger than all the members; it has been estimated that the Chinese economy is roughly thirty-nine times the size of the South African economy. The Russian and Chinese status as permanent members gives them a greater share in decision making and global governance. At the same time their lack of initiative and support on the question of reform in the Security Council in context of expanding its membership has neither gone unnoticed nor has it remained without resentment by the other member countries.

It is important to understand that as much as BRICS seems like a forum that could dissipate at any time it has displayed resilience and persistence since 2008. The forum is not just important to its members as a forum for South-South cooperation and economic security nets; it is also an alternative to convention. It signifies the rise of a multi – polar world that is ready to challenge conventions and break the proverbial wheel. It points towards global systems that might eventually be more egalitarian in nature. BRICS is necessary for the perpetuation of an alternative narrative and existence of multiple global systems.

(The author is an Asst. Professor at the Department of Public Policy and Amity University, NOIDA and a PhD from Centre for Canadian, US, and Latin American Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University. She can be reached at . Views expressed are personal.)

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