India came out in flying colours in the 9th BRICS meeting at Xiamen last week. Indeed, the second diplomatic success following Doklam’s peaceful disengagement after 74 days of India-China military stand-off. Importantly, for the first time, BRICS leadership resolved to fight terrorism together and mentioned Pakistan-based terrorist groups.
Undeniably, a clear departure from Chinese intransigence on eschewing any mention of Pakistan as a terror hub. Recall, at Goa, due to Beijing’s objection, terrorism was not discussed at all. Asserted Chinese President after BRICS leaders meetings and a bilateral with Modi: “We should put our relations on the right track and China will seek guidance from Panchseel, the five principles agreed between the two countries for peaceful co-existence.”
Clearly, a profound and promising statement for co-operation inasmuch as relations between India and China had plummeted quite low in the recent past. Added Foreign Secretary Jaishankar, “Talks between the two Heads of States were forward-looking not backward looking”. However, although India appears to be the gainer in this meeting; a successful summit concluded to the satisfaction of both India and China.
How did it come about? What were the drivers for reconciliation and promise of partnership between New Delhi and Beijing? The naysayers and the prophets of doom would argue that China makes right sounds in international forums but would not adhere to its promises.
Beijing is known for duplicitous behaviour. Some China watchers also warn against being carried away by Chinese bonhomie as they do not really mean it. Critics would remind us of Hindi-Chini bhai bhai days that preceded the India-China wars in 1962. Such apprehensions may come true or might not. Times have changed whereby there is greater transparency and accountability both in words and actions.
Pertinently, BRICS was launched in 2006 largely at Beijing’s behest to create an alternative power centre in political and economic terms. Both China and Russia were wary of countering America’s growing power in the world. Beijing and Moscow sought to create a multi-polar world to promote multi-lateralism.
BRICS was meant to be a hedge against American domination of world politics. Brazil and South Africa joined with their respective calculations. India was wary of American calling the shots in Asia without a countervailing force. Consequently, India in search of markets found in China a big economy. As an immediate neighbour it was in New Delhi’s interest to stay as a friend and partner in BRICS with China.
Undeniably, BRICS has progressed since its launch. A new Development Bank to support development in BRICS countries has been set up at Shanghai and US$ 1.5 billion has been invested in seven infrastructure projects.
The second package is of $ 2.5-3 billion. A financial mechanism Contingent Reserve Arrangement which protects members against fluctuations in their currencies is also in place, similar to ‘stabex’ stabilisation of foreign exchange set up by the European Commission in its Lome Convention. Recall, an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was set up early last year.
The other objective of BRICS is to help improve global governance and reform of the global financial architecture. BRICS countries represent 40 per cent of the world population. International political experts suggest that BRICS is better than G-20 which is too unwieldy.
So far so good. But, as SAARC is stalled by India-Pakistan rivalry, BRICS viability is being threatened by New Delhi-Beijing tension. Stated London’s Kings College Prof of Chinese Studies Kerry Brown: BRICS is promising but it requires stronger partnership for a brighter future. Perhaps the Chinese negotiators heard him at Xiamen and put their stamp on a stronger partnership with India.
Undoubtedly, there are a few discernible drivers for Chinese diplomacy to accommodate India’s biggest concern over Pakistan sponsored terrorism. New Delhi made Beijing realise that they have a role in global governance as the space has been vacated by US as it is retreating into protectionism under Donald Trump. Hence, China has the opportunity to lead the gloablisation process.
Two, Beijing’s new ally Moscow seems to have prevailed on China to take a stand on terrorism and not over-protect Pakistan which is on the international radar for hosting terrorist groups and could do so at the risk of heavy loss of credibility. Beijing is under a cloud as China is the only country supporting North Korea which continues to conduct nuclear tests.
Three, Beijing began to reckon India’s growing clout in international politics, its diplomatic ability to garner support and make friends. It realised that their military push and shrill media rhetoric would not work anymore: Sun Tzu’s Art of War – tiring out the opponent, subdue the enemy without fighting.
Four, China’s strength in the world lies in its $ 12-trillion economy built by international trade, not its diplomacy or military. Wherein, it did not want to jeopardise its economy through bad diplomacy. China is in business with India in almost every sector, solar energy to smart cities, construction to turbines, toys to technology. Huawei has alone 22,000 employees in Bangalore. The Chinese mobile phone is advertised by the world popular Indian cricket team. Beijing could not risk all of these huge business opportunities.
Five, the Communist Party of China Congress which meets once in five years is to meet in October and Xi Jinping who has been bestowed the ‘Core Leader’ status by the Party, an honour given to towering leaders like Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin, is most likely to be re-elected. That would secure his position till 2022. Thus, the Party would not like its leader to fumble at BRICS in their own country. Xi Jinping was conscious of the loss of image if BRICS was stalled at Xiamen.
Six, Beijing is concerned about the new axis built around its territory comprising Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and India fully backed by America and Israel. It would not like to alienate New Delhi completely. On India’s part, it knows it’s competing with China and by 2032 might overtake the Chinese population. If not anything else, it could try to reap the demographic dividend as the biggest population of the world. Therefore, it has no cause to foster antagonism with China, instead trying to catch up with Chinese economy while tackling issues which its vibrant often chaotic democracy throws up.
Many other issues too were discussed by BRIC leaders like voting share in IMF and WB, BRICS energy research platform, SMES, joint information network etc. But, what overshadowed the summit was the build-up of tensions between Beijing and New Delhi. However, for now, the air is clear and clouds of enemity have passed. Post-Xiamen, the two countries need to maintain peace and stability in the border areas and work together in mutual benefit and progress.
South Block mandarins can claim credit for back-to-back wins in Doklam and Xiamen. But, their wins do not defeat China. The onus is on New Delhi to continue to engage Beijing in a win-win approach. In international politics, there are no permanent friends or foes what counts is one’s national interest. New Delhi must learn this dictum by heart.
By: Dr D K Giri
(Writer is Professor (International Politics), JMI, Jamia Millia Islamia, a central university)