The strong stance in support of openness in the global economy sends a clear signal: the BRICS members are willing to work together and defend the current international order threatened by isolationist sentiments in other G20 members.
By Karin Costa Vazquez
Brazil´s apparent lack of interest in taking a leadership role in global governance has led critics to question the efficacy of the Brazilian pro-tempore presidency of the BRICS and what Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa can concretely achieve together this year. The recently concluded meeting of the BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs in the city of Rio de Janeiro confirmed these concerns. With loose commitments and avoidance of politically sensitive issues, the meeting gave a margin for small victories of individual countries in thorny issues like India’s strides to prevent and counter-terrorism.
Until the 2016 BRICS Summit in Goa, a joint approach to terrorism was out of sight despite India’s endeavors to have the theme included in the final declaration. The contrasting stances taken by India and China was the main factor leading to the stalemate: while India portrayed the matter as a regional problem and lobbied to have Pakistan-based terrorist groups blacklisted for their acts of terror in Jammu and Kashmir; China thwarted India’s initiatives to assert Pakistan as a terror-funding state. Despite the 2016 Goa Summit being held just after a terrorist attack against an Indian Army bastion in Uri, the Pakistan-based terrorist groups Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) did not feature in the official documents.
At the BRICS Summit in Xiamen the following year, China accepted India’s bid to take in a provision condemning JeM, LeT, Tehrik-e-Taliban, and the Haqqani Network in the final declaration. India construed the episode as a notable diplomatic negotiation amid the Doklham standoff with China on the eve of the Summit. The merriment did not last long as Pakistan was in distraught to see China’s backing of India’s proposal. Foreign Minister of China Wang Yi immediately clarified that China acknowledged Pakistan as a victim of terror, and not as a sponsor. Later in the year, China blocked India’s proposal of blacklisting JeM leader Masood Azhar during a special United Nations Security Council session. When India again pushed to blacklist Masood Azhar at the United Nations in 2019, China endorsed the pledge, but no mention was made to JeM’s terrorist activities in India in the final document.
The statement of the meeting of the BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs deplored recent terrorist attacks in some BRICS countries, in reference to the JeM suicide attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s town of Pulwama earlier this year. It also called for specific measures like countering radicalization, blocking sources and channels of terrorist financing, dismantling terrorist bases, and countering misuse of the internet by terrorist entities through information and communication technologies. Despite acknowledging the work of the BRICS Working Group on Counter Terrorism, a comprehensive counter-terrorism approach by the five countries is unlikely unless India and China agree on similar perspectives on terrorism.
A BRICS consensus over the resolution of the Syrian conflict and the Venezuelan crisis is also in the pipeline. The Ministers limited expressing their concerns at conflicts and situations in the Middle East, North Africa, and other regions that have a significant impact at the regional and international levels. Russia’s closeness to Assad’s regime has been contrary to BRICS proposal for “Syrian-led, Syrian-owned” negotiation process as the only legitimate solution for the war-torn state. India and China’s economic interests in the Middle East could lead to a negotiable solution with Russia, but Brazil and South Africa’s diplomatic narratives do not favor military action in the war-torn state. Brazil’s support to the US-backed Juan Guaidó in Venezuela, in turn, has isolated the country from the other BRICS.
Another controversial issue is how the BRICS will respond to the US-China trade war in view of the relative stagnation of intra-BRICS trade. On the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka last month, the five countries committed to “transparent, non-discriminatory, open, free and inclusive international trade,” striving to strengthen the role, function and dispute settlement mechanism of the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the central pillar of the multilateral, rules-based trade system. These principles were included in the statement of the meeting of the BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs.
The strong stance in support of openness in the global economy sends a clear signal: the BRICS members are willing to work together and defend the current international order threatened by isolationist sentiments in other G20 members. Continuing a trend from previous summits, the BRICS reiterated its emphasis on upholding the key principles of global governance, firmly opposing trends of unilateralism, populism and protectionism.
However, there is still no sign of a multilateral commitment to boost intra-BRICS trade. Proposals include the establishment of new intra-BRICS arrangements and mechanisms like a payment system in local currencies and a BRICS preferential trade agreement. The latter was supported by Jim O’Neil ahead of the 10th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg in 2018 to boost free trade among the five countries and render the US trade policies less relevant to any of them and the rest of the world.
Lastly, the statement of the meeting of the BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs included vague commitments to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sustainable Development Goals and the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Despite emphasizing the centrality of people in BRICS and the need to deepen people-to-people exchanges, track II diplomacy remains underutilized compared to previous years.
The meeting of the BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs signaled that the 11th pro-tempore presidency of the BRICS shall be remembered by a lack of consensus on major topics and a feeble protagonism of its host, Brazil.
(Author is Associate Professor, Assistant Dean for Global Engagement, Director, Center for Africa, Latin America and Caribbean Studies School of International Affairs | O.P Jindal University. Views expressed are Personal)