22 October 2016
Building with BRICS
Source: By Salman Haidar: The Statesman
Goa has just played host to an impressive group of Heads from different parts of the world, weighty figures who lead countries that have recently emerged into prominence and collectively bid fair to re-shape processes of international cooperation. BRICS, whose Summit meeting brought these high dignitaries to India, is a relatively new grouping of emerging countries, that is to say of countries that have come out of relative obscurity in global councils and are now vigorously thrusting ahead. Members of BRICS have already become crucial participants in the global economy and collectively the group has formidable potential for the future. It commands a good part of the world’s manufacturing and trading capacity and has shown dynamism at a time when the global economy as a whole has slowed down. Though some of the members have recently been through bad times they are turning the corner and, as the Goa meeting showed, BRICS as a group retains its vitality and is poised for an enlarged international role.
One of the principal challenges for BRICS is to work collectively to re-order international structures of cooperation that date back to the beginning of the post-war era. The Bretton Woods agreements of the immediate post-war have long been recognized as in need of reform to meet present day requirements, for they give undue weight to the original signatories in institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. The developing countries have long laboured to redress the balance, and though they have made some advances, the original structures have not been significantly changed. Now that BRICS has come into being it can be hoped that there will be new momentum in the process of restructuring the institutions, for economic success has bestowed new capacity on the emerging countries to re-shape them and to adopt more equitable procedures.
It is significant that along with BRICS Goa hosted a meeting of Heads of the BIMSTEC countries. This was an Indian initiative of considerable symbolic value, billed as an outreach, and with the great merit of proclaiming BRICS’s intention of expanding its circle of cooperation. BRICS is thus not an inward looking group trying only to maximize the benefits of its members but as a body seeking to establish closer ties with other like-minded groups.
Economic decisions as identified in its earlier meetings were reaffirmed in Goa, for these have given BRICS distinctiveness and practical significance. In this context, the New Development Bank came in for mention and there was general satisfaction at what it had been able to achieve in its short period of existence. The agreement on Contingent Reserve Arrangements is another important decision of BRICS and it was reaffirmed in Goa where its operationalization was announced. Goa thus marked an important stage in the emergence of BRICS in the global economy.
Economics may be the core area but the political dimension of BRICS was very much in evidence at Goa. As in so many other multilateral meetings, much of the action took place around the margins of the main conclave. A very useful meeting of this nature was the one between Prime Minister Modi and Russian President Putin, as a result of which some of the shadows that have recently tended to creep into this very important relationship were dispelled. The announcement of major arms deals between the two countries soon after the top-level meeting in Goa showed that, notwithstanding doubts expressed in some quarters, their relations were in good shape and set to develop further.
The Goa Summit took place at a time when Indo-Pak ties were in great disrepair as a result of the cross-border attack at Uri. India has worked hard to ensure that Pakistani actions in support of terror should be highlighted in all international forums, and it was to be expected that there would be intensified focus on this issue at Goa. In the lead-up to the Summit the anticipated SAARC meeting had to be cancelled as some of the members did not agree to take part after the terror attack at Uri. At the Summit and in the bilateral meetings that accompanied it India was assiduous in driving home to the participants the need for international solidarity in standing firm against terrorism in every form. The conference document was clear and strong on this point and can be seen as another important step in isolating countries that provide sly encouragement to terrorist groups.
However, though there was nominal solidarity, and indeed nobody could oppose the decision to denounce terrorism in all its forms, there were differences within the group on what was implied by their collective stand. India sought a clear condemnation of the tactics adopted by Pakistan and the point was forcefully made in the outreach Summit that added BIMSTEC to the BRICS group. Despite the prevailing sentiment on this point, no formal position pinpointing Pak actions could be adopted, nor did it prove possible to put Pak-backed terror groups in the same category as some other such groups in the Middle East that were specifically mentioned in the communiqué. This was because China stood in the way and held out against steps that could unambiguously name or identify Pakistan. Thus Pakistan was able once again to take advantage of its close association with China to mask its complicity in terror.
Though it could have wished for more India went along with the final conclusions of the meeting. As host country it had responsibility for ensuring that conference differences should not get out of control and that the solidarity of the group should not suffer owing to disagreements on specific issues. And though the final communiqué was less forthright than it might have been, there was compensation in that Goa provided a platform and permitted wide dissemination of the message India wished to convey.
Thus BRICS was able to handle the obvious differences between India and China on matters involving Pakistan. These differences have been on view for many years and could not be expected to disappear through the agency of BRICS. However, India-China relations remain friendly and their overall cooperation continues to grow, as shown by the decision of the Chinese President to make a personal visit to Goa. This is one of the important results of the Summit and should not be obscured by differences on some issues.
As a collective body, BRICS is still evolving and its international voice is progressively strengthening. It can be expected to play a bigger part in international affairs as the instruments it has developed, the Bank and the CRA prominent among them, extend their reach. Goa showed that BRICS is well launched on its chosen path of bringing greater dynamism and equity into global affairs.