Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s statement in Beijing on March 8 this year on the sidelines of a National People’s Congress session that the current forum for exchanges between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa should be converted to BRICS Plus needs to be reviewed early and decisively by Delhi. Despite existing political relationships within BRICS, including between India and China, BRICS has shown a certain degree of resilience, establishing a modus vivendi of sorts in addressing relevant issues, as per a seemingly focused agenda. Wang has called upon BRICS “to explore modalities to hold outreach dialogues with other major developing countries.”
It appears quite likely that Beijing, which is expected to host the next meeting of BRICS summit in September this year, has projected a major reform plank in its structure only after considerable due diligence.
That too, most likely on the basis of an ‘internal efficacy audit’ by the Chinese security and intelligence services, known to play a mentoring role of dynamic determination in shaping Chinese foreign policy. It was President Xi Jinping who had earlier drawn the ‘five fingers analogy’ to describe BRICS as a unified fist when the five come together. Back-tracking from the essence of one’s own description seems both incredulous and, perhaps, a bit manipulative.
It is now clear that Beijing is seeking to redraw the lines of BRICS before its next annual meeting. Evidently, both within the Chinese military and in the ruling party higher echelons, a logical line of thought seems to have erupted to the effect that the extant BRICS’ agenda of action is no longer co-terminus with Chinese policy goals of the future.
The Chinese leadership is now having second thoughts about the innate strength and relevance of the five-country body. China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and on the question of reform of this body the Chinese stratagem is one of stoic opposition, reflective more of adherence to right wing conservatism than to any leftist prospects of a dramatic departure from the existential norms. Beijing has been disinclined to even discuss any issues related to reforms in the United Nations and its Security Council that are aggressively pushed by some members of BRICS, particularly India and Brazil.
Reverting to BRICS, Beijing once again seems back-pedaling as a frontispiece for its globally most favoured and the chosen strategic ally, Pakistan’s cause for future membership as
constituent of BRICS Plus.
The same cushioning role to protect Islamabad had also
been performed in proceedings of the Goa Summit of 2016 wherein China issued a significant ‘immunity card’ to Pakistan to ensure that it was not identified’ as an agent of trans border terror. Besides Pakistan, names of Sri Lanka and Mexico also figure in the Chinese plan of intent for an outreach towards more inclusiveness. If BRICS outreach is the sole, honest goal that China wants addressed, it is inexplicable why it wants to keep out Japan, South Korea and Canada from the reckoning within the BRICS Plus ambit.
Prior to contemplating any expansion of BRICS’ contours, there are some vital issues that arise. Will it be prudent for Beijing and Delhi and other capitals of BRICS members to explore possibilities of creating more internal ‘real energy’ through greater economic synergy? According to a United Nations University study by Wim Naudé and others, published in 2015, “the foremost need for BRICS is to drive the structural economic transformation of lagging economies through innovation, taking into consideration their stages of development” based on experiences and structural reform credentials of Russia, India, China, Brazil and South Africa. Secondly, whether there is any coherence of views within BRICS at all for any such incremental intakes of national entities proposed singularly by China. Under these grounds, should not the other “four fingers” come out with their alternate postulations on BRICS? There are thus many issues on the table.
In the meantime, Americans today in their utter frankness are asking themselves, “where does the deep state end and the constitutional republic begin”? In a similar vein, China, a very important country in the world, should be asking of itself, “where do whimsical strategies evaporate and mature strategy and policy lines merging in
consonance with the world at large, truly begin? China’s diplomatic, strategic, tactical and economic proximity with Pakistan is truly acknowledged by the world at large. But those linkages should ideally be confined to a bilateral scope of things, rather than be thrust on to the BRICS’ format.
Mohan Das Menon
Former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat