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At the BRICS summit, terrorism remains India’s big concern

The expectations are high after the Xiamen Declaration which was celebrated as a victory of Indian diplomacy last year

analysis Updated: Jul 24, 2018 18:39 IST
Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomes Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other dignitaries to the 7th BRICS Summit in Ufa (PTI)

As the grouping of five countries meets for the 10th BRICS summit at Johannesburg on July 25, this diverse and disjointed group of nations with varying trajectories, even serious bilateral disputes, continues to be seen as yet another ‘alphabet soup’ with limited potential to transform global governance structures. China, which constitutes two-thirds of the economic power of BRICS, has major difficulties with India, the group’s second largest economy. Russia remains entangled with the US on many global flashpoints and Brazil and South Africa are preoccupied with their own regional and domestic problems. So what does India stand to gain from staying on board with BRICS?

No doubt the rapid rise in intra-BRIC trade from $29 billion in 2000 to $319 billion in 2010 (when South Africa joined), and then to $744 billion last year provides a catchy explanation to underline BRICS’ expanding partnerships. But wasn’t this triggered simply by the overall rapid rise in their global commerce? China’s foreign trade during 2000-2017 rose from $47 billion to 4.1 trillion which is much higher compared to rise in intra-BRICS trade.

As regards its contribution to creating alternative global governance structures, even as the New Development Bank and its regional centre in Johannesburg have emerged as efficient institutions and the currency reserve pool has evolved as per expectations, the BRICS Credit Rating Agency remains mired in deliberations.

A more credible argument to underline BRICS’ potency would be in highlighting the multi-pronged innovative strategies in strengthening BRICS constituencies at home and credibility worldwide. This will be the source of BRICS’ enduring success in materialising Jim O’Neil’s forecast of the BRIC grouping (S was added later) emerging as a force to reckon with, overtaking the G7 grouping of industrialised countries by 2035.

First, in building domestic constituencies, it is important to note that all BRICS summits are preceded, not just by dozens of official meetings but also by events involving sports, media and the youth that generate social networks and goodwill for institutionalising BRICS. This includes initiatives such as the MoU for Regional Aviation Partnership Cooperation that BRICS nations will sign this week or in India taking the lead in digitising the BRICS education and training sectors. Such state facilitation promises to promote greater trade and investments, encourage intra-BRICS tourism as also educational, cultural and information exchanges.

Second, efforts at strengthening the credibility of BRICS worldwide saw the grouping introduce the BRICS+N formulation at their 2014 Forteleeza summit. This was an attempt to start dialogue with leaders of the regional developing economies that saw them holding additional dialogue with select Southern American countries. At the 2015 Ufa summit, this outreach was formalised in a dialogue with leaders of the Eurasian Economic Union and the 2016 Goa summit held a similar outreach with BIMSTEC leaders. But at the Xiamen summit last year, BRICS+N was upgraded to ‘BRICS Plus’ mechanism of ‘friends’ and instead of regional powers, the BRICS outreach dialogue invited representatives from five major developing economies from around the world.

The Johannesburg summit this week is expanding the BRICS outreach further. It will hold dialogue in both formulations: BRICS+N outreach (involving African such as Angola, Ethiopia, Gabon, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia) and also ‘BRICS Plus’ dialogue with ‘friends’ (which will include national leaders from Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Jamaica, and Turkey) as also the secretary general of the United Nations. This truly makes BRICS an event with global overtones and its implications become stronger in face of US President Donald Trump’s tariff war which portends a majority of BRICS members potentially being identified as US adversaries.

Such an expanded audience bodes well for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s genre of diplomacy. But as this summit sees BRICS expanding its reach and launching new initiatives, it poses an uphill task for the Indian team that needs to surpass the high benchmark of the Xiamen Declaration which was celebrated last year as a victory for Indian diplomacy. The 2017 Xiamen Declaration devoted several paragraphs in specifically naming Pakistan-based terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed condemning “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations”, undertaking to combat financing of terrorism at the Financial Action Task Force as also seek “expeditious finalisation and adoption of [India-initiated] Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism”. Terrorism remains the foremost issue for India with little change in ground realities. Thus, while highlighting India’s concerns and capabilities, the country’s representatives will need to dig deeper into building BRICS constituencies and enhancing its credibility.

Swaran Singh is professor of international relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jul 24, 2018 18:39 IST