BRICS could improve China, India ties

In the coming days, leaders of China and India will come face to face at quite a few meetings. On Thursday, India will chair 13th BRICS summit followed by Tajikistan hosting a Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Dushanbe next week.


In the coming days, leaders of China and India will come face to face at quite a few meetings. On Thursday, India will chair 13th BRICS summit followed by Tajikistan hosting a Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Dushanbe next week.

Among others things, the regional implications of the Taliban's return to power in Afghanistan will be a big concern. Depending on what transpires at these two meetings, interlocutors from China and India could explore opportunities for more interactions during the 76th session of the UN General Assembly that begins later this month.

It should be noted that BRICS' foreign ministers began their parleys from the UN General Assembly session of 2006. Also, the BRICS summits have a unique character because, unlike other summits, they are preceded by 50-plus "pentagonal" meetings involving think tanks, academics, journalists, sports and business personalities, officials, advisers and ministers from the five countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), thereby setting the stage for the BRICS leaders' summit.

On the positive side, these multitudes of meetings build bonhomie among interlocutors. Over time, they also strengthen ground level constituencies, consolidating their mutual trust and cooperation that undergird BRICS' initiatives. This process becomes especially critical in the face of some BRICS members occasionally experiencing stress of mutual disconnect, even disenchantment driven by exogenous structural forces. For instance, the pandemic has weakened the bond as rapidly emerging economies that once united them in the original imagination of Jim O'Neil when he coined the term "BRIC" way back in 2001.

The rapid economic growth of China following its success in largely containing the pandemic at home has further sharpened its contentions with the United States and increased the gap between China and the rest of the BRICS economies. This has pushed the BRICS second-largest economy, India, closer toward the US and its Indo-Pacific strategy, which in turn has turned BRICS' economic agenda upside down, putting the limelight on politics and security, with its expanding domestic constituencies making BRICS' overall agenda far too unwieldy to be effective. BRICS parleys now cover cooperation in all possible sectors from space to spices.

This has seen an explosion of interlocutors from multiple state and non-state actors and agencies. Among these, those endowed with the freewheeling spirit have felt especially empowered in this new era of easy to access platforms of social media and online videoconferencing.

Against this tumultuous backdrop, the 13th BRICS summit aims to achieve deliverables across three main pillars: economy and finance; politics and security; and cultural and people-to-people relations.

The first pillar of economy and finance entails BRICS Economic Partnership Strategy 2020-25, operationalization of the BRICS Agriculture Research Platform, and cooperation in diverse areas such as disaster resilience, innovation, digital health and traditional medicine.

The second pillar of political and security cooperation seeks a joint declaration on reformation of the multilateral system and a BRICS Counter-Terrorism Action Plan, which was finalized by the BRICS National Security Advisers meeting last month.

And the third pillar of cultural and people-to-people cooperation aims to enhance regular exchanges among the five countries' youths, scientists, parliamentarians, academics, artists, and business and sports personalities.

How much each summit can achieve depends on the topical issues that weigh on all their parleys and processes. Bilateral issues, like China-India tensions, have become increasingly noticeable if not overbearing, and more recently the developments in Myanmar and Afghanistan have featured high at all regional and international gatherings.

How to collectively engage with the Taliban is likely to be on BRICS leaders' minds. The Taliban may distract BRICS from the pandemic and its resultant health and economic challenges, yet the pandemic will be the other top priority for this summit.

Last October, India and South Africa submitted the first proposal, seeking waiver for all World Trade Organization members on the implementation of certain provisions of the TRIPs Agreement (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) in relation to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19. In spite of Brazil initially not accepting that line, BRICS had evolved a consensus on it by the time the five members held their first online summit in November 2020. In this regard, coordination between China and India can go a long way in making BRICS effective.

To boost economic resilience and healthcare through BRICS initiatives, India seeks to create "a permanent, adequate and equitable solution to the Public Stock Holding programs for food security purposes" among BRICS countries. India has also talked of adoption of digital health technologies by building a cadre of health informatics professions using standardized curriculum across BRICS nations.

The BRICS' National Development Bank promises to be the backbone of these initiatives. The NDB is BRICS' flagship initiative and has already approved more than 80 projects in its member states worth $30 billion. And recently, the bank has expanded its membership by adding Bangladesh, Uruguay and the United Arab Emirates.

This shows China and India can put things in perspective to ensure BRICS remains a beacon of multilateralism based on equality, mutual respect and trust. This is reflected in the theme of the 2021 BRICS summit which is "BRICS@15: Intra-BRICS Cooperation for Continuity, Consolidation and Consensus" that seeks to strengthen its roots and revive its original spirits.

The author is a professor at, and chairman of, the Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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