India founded Brics. It should not disengage from the key grouping - Hindustan Times
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India founded Brics. It should not disengage from the key grouping

Aug 29, 2023 10:09 PM IST

The utility of BRICS lies in the membership of developing economies, the alternative economic institutions, and the opportunity to further bilateral relations

The only momentous development at the 2023 Brics Summit in Johannesburg was the expansion of the group to include six more countries — Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — from January 1, 2024. Whether this varied grouping will continue to be called Brics, or be known by a new name, is yet to be clear.

PM Modi poses with BRICS nations' leaders(via REUTERS) PREMIUM
PM Modi poses with BRICS nations' leaders(via REUTERS)

Many analysts and observers proclaimed that the expansion is a win for China. This is a ridiculous conclusion because India’s imprint can also be clearly seen on the list of newly admitted nations. Apart from Iran, none of them are staunchly against the United States in particular and the West in general. Hence, the possibility of the expanded Brics becoming a West-hating group is slim. Furthermore, while China may have good relations with all six countries, India, too, has strong ties with each of them.

The Brics economic agenda has been implemented quietly and pretty efficiently. The New Development Bank (NDB) – first under the stewardship of KV Kamath and now headed by Dilma Rousseff of Brazil – has financed 96 projects worth $32.8 billion in sustainable development. The Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) aimed at forestalling short-term balance of payments pressures and strengthening the financial stability of developing nations is proving to be a welcome channel outside the traditional International Monetary Fund route. With the addition of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, we can expect both arrangements to benefit from their huge foreign exchange reserves. Hence, while there was a geographical rationale for the expansion, there were also sensible economic reasons for selecting the six countries.

Additionally, there is the issue of whether Brics can develop to be the voice of the Global South. No one wants the group to grow uncontrollably and replicate the cacophony of the erstwhile Non–Aligned Movement (NAM). Whether China, the second largest economy in the world, and Russia, a great power, can conceptually be a part of the Global South is a questionable proposition. Can China utilise an expanded Brics in its own competition with the United States (US)? Very unlikely, given that each member of the grouping has strong views and national positions of its own. None of them want to get entangled in a bruising battle between the existing major power and the aspiring one. In fact, most of them will want to use Brics to balance between the two.

Where, then, lies the utility of Brics for India? First, it has many of the largest developing economies of the world as members. That could prove to be useful for India, particularly as competition between the US and China intensifies in the coming years. Second, the economic institutions developed by Brics provide a good alternative for all developing nation States, including India. Third, remaining within Brics is important in furthering ties with countries such as Russia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Being with them provides another dimension to our bilateral relationships. Finally, India is a founding member of Brics, unlike the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and we should think about it as being as much our grouping as it is China’s. Staying within Brics will enable us to play the game as much as any other member country, for which we must retain a long-term perspective of strategic patience.

The short Modi-Xi meeting on the sidelines of the summit created an unnecessary storm. By predicting that such a meeting would happen, commentators needlessly put pressure on themselves, to the extent that they had to wring their hands when nothing happened till the late hours of the summit. When will we stop predicting events and focus on reporting and analysing them?

Our Prime Minister (PM) was absolutely correct in conveying that a normal relationship between India and China cannot be expected as long as the border areas are tense and not tranquil. In other words, PM Modi clearly indicated to Xi Jinping that normal relations would require peace to be restored on the borders. Peace in the frontier areas of eastern Ladakh can, in turn, only be regained when the status quo ante is restored there. So far, while disengagement has taken place in some parts of east Ladakh, it has not happened at Depsang and Chumar. India will have to ensure that it does not resile from this position until we get what we are asking for. If we do not stand by our stated stance, we shall run the risk of conveying the wrong message to the Chinese — that we do not stick to principled stances and can be forced to negotiate on anything and everything. India cannot afford to waffle or compromise on eastern Ladakh.

To a large extent, getting our messaging to China right will be an important marker of the success of our foreign policy. So far, we have been doing well in this important matter and have ticked many of the right boxes.

Gautam Bambawale, a former Indian ambassador to China, is trustee and Koena Lahiri is policy research associate at Pune International Centre. The views expressed are personal

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