Facing China at Brics, India stands its ground - Hindustan Times
close_game
close_game

Facing China at Brics, India stands its ground

Aug 24, 2023 09:33 PM IST

India's growing economic potential and favourable global strategic environment position it as a rising power within Brics and a challenge to China's dominance

Since its inception in 2010, the Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (Brics) grouping was designed as a multilateral institution based on sovereign equality and consensus-driven decision-making among its member States. Yet, internal asymmetries and power differentials within the group were never far from the surface. Over the years, as the top performer, Beijing amassed massive economic and military power to dwarf the rest of the members. Today, unlike when Brics first came into shape in the late 2000s, China cannot be classified as either a developing country or an emerging market economy. It has already attained the status of a great power that is competing with the United States (US) across domains and throwing its weight around all continents. Even though Chinese foreign policy is unilateral and aggressive, staying invested in Brics enables Beijing to cock a snook at the US and stake a claim to be the spokesperson of the Global South. In other words, Brics is a useful lever for President Xi Jinping to play great power politics with Chinese characteristics.

The Johannesburg summit revealed how far India has come on the international stage(via AFP) PREMIUM
The Johannesburg summit revealed how far India has come on the international stage(via AFP)

But the party pooper in what China thought could be its own show is turning out to be India. While the Chinese economy is decelerating at the end of a four-decade-long marathon boom, India is clocking faster economic growth and is predicted to outpace all Brics members in the coming decade. By virtue of its growing Gross Domestic Product (GDP), economic potential and favourable global strategic environment, India looks set to reduce the power gap with China and establish itself as an alternative pole in the international power configuration. At the Johannesburg Brics summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi exuded the self-confidence of a genuinely rising power by talking up prospects of India becoming a $5 trillion economy and promising that “India will be the growth engine of the world” and a trustworthy provider of solutions to the Global South. Just as China shrinks demographically and economically and enters a phase of Cold War-like confrontation with the US, India is projecting itself to be a more flexible and credible actor to meet the needs of the international community.

Take, for instance, Modi’s call for intensified cooperation in space technology at the summit. His proposal for a Brics Space Exploration Consortium can concretise Indian assistance to build the space-faring capacities of developing countries. This idea carries more weight after India made history as the first country to land on the south pole of the moon. Modi’s address to the world from the Brics summit venue, stating that the success of Chandrayaan-3 belonged to all of humanity and that “India will help moon missions by other countries”, harked back to an era when American and Soviet leaders adopted a universal tone and vowed publicly to share the benefits of their cutting-edge space explorations.

Modi played to India’s comparative advantages in other domains too. He touted India’s landmark Unified Payments Interface (UPI), which is being adopted in more than a dozen countries, as a viable medium for digital public goods and commercial exchanges. Although China and Russia, the perpetual anti-western players in the bloc, are pushing for an over-ambitious Brics currency and de-dollarisation, India’s suggestion to integrate digital payments systems was more practical and beneficial to the Global South. Preventing a renminbi-isation, i.e. a Chinese monetary and fiscal domination in Brics and across the developing world, appears to be guiding India’s strategy.

The other Indian contribution at the summit was to rally support among invited African countries by reminding them that India’s G20 presidency took the landmark initiative of proposing permanent membership for the African Union (AU) in the G20. Modi even reiterated it in his address to assembled African leaders. This move is more than mere symbolism, as African nations resent undemocratic global institutions where they are left out without a place at the high table.

Africa is at a crucial crossroads. The assumption that Africans have to depend primarily on Beijing because of its willingness to keep dishing out loans for physical infrastructure construction projects is not sustainable as China’s economy slows down and its capacity to absorb humongous losses from non-repayable debt in Africa declines. A model different from the Beijing consensus is sorely required in the Global South. India’s proactive diplomacy at the Johannesburg summit, including its push for digital public infrastructure that can give India-made 5G and 6G telecom networks a global presence, offered glimpses of that alternative.

The most contentious aspect at Johannesburg was that of Brics’ expansion, with China pushing for the inclusion of as many as 22 new members. On this deeply fractious matter, too, India put its foot down. By insisting on a per capita GDP benchmark and excluding candidates who will be more of a burden than an asset, India may have staved off the institutional capture of Brics by China. It is not a coincidence that five of the newly admitted member States — Argentina, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — are formal strategic partners of India, while the sixth invitee, Ethiopia, coordinates with India in multilateral forums. Though the six nations also partake in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, none is abjectly beholden to China and none can be taken for granted.

The Johannesburg summit revealed how far India has come on the international stage. Yes, China is still leaps ahead of other members of Brics, but India’s surge, predicated on its concrete achievements, is all set to democratise and level the playing field. Watch this space.

Sreeram Chaulia is dean, Jindal School of International Affairs. The views expressed are personal

Tell us what your First Vote will stand for in a short video & get a chance to be featured on HT’s social media handles. Click here to know more!

Get Current Updates on India News, Elections 2024, Lok sabha election 2024 voting live , Karnataka election 2024 live in Bengaluru , Election 2024 Date along with Latest News and Top Headlines from India and around the world.

Continue reading with HT Premium Subscription

Daily E Paper I Premium Articles I Brunch E Magazine I Daily Infographics
freemium
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Share this article
SHARE
Story Saved
Live Score
OPEN APP
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Sunday, May 26, 2024
Start 14 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Follow Us On