Stronger China, losing Russia: India's BRICS story in trouble

Kanwal Sibal
Kanwal SibalOct 11, 2016 | 10:27

Stronger China, losing Russia: India's BRICS story in trouble

With the eighth BRICS summit taking place in Goa on October 15-16, one should reflect on the importance of the grouping in today's context. When first formed - as BRIC - it created a stir.

The coming together of Russia, China, India and Brazil was seen as an unavowed bid by key non-Western countries to challenge the hegemony of the West over global affairs.

BRIC - and later BRICS with South Africa's inclusion - was seen as a step towards multipolarity, a concept that emerged in the wake of US unilateralism, its regime change policies, and its use of democracy and human rights as a weapon of intervention in other countries in disregard of their sovereignty.

The BRIC countries believed in adherence to the traditional principles for conducting international relations such as non-interference in the internal affairs of countries and respect for national sovereignty, besides according primacy to multilateralism as enshrined in the United Nations.


They were against the use of the concepts of democracy and human rights selectively to destabilise legitimate regimes.

The grouping also wanted reform of the international financial institutions to reflect the shift of global economic power towards Asia, demanding in particular a redistribution of IMF quotas.

A longer term aim was erosion of the hegemony of the US dollar by promoting trade in national currencies.

Russia, as the driving force behind the BRIC grouping, dominated it initially. For it, this group spanning the three largest countries of Asia and Latin America compensated for its reduced international status after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia emphasised multilateralism as it gave it a role in decision making denied by US unilateralism.

PM Narendra Modi with US President Barack Obama. (Photo credit: AP)

During this early phase China, focused on building its economic strength, kept a low profile internationally, and let Russia take the leadership in challenging the West.

India saw advantage in BRIC membership as it shared many of the group's concerns about international governance and it too sought reform of the international financial institutions.

For India, increasingly driven towards the US for investment and technology needs, BRIC membership helped maintain a balance in foreign policy and retain strategic autonomy.

Nurturing our traditional relationship with Russia, the need to engage China and strengthen ties with Brazil - a member of the Group of Four countries seeking permanent membership of the UN Security Council - were objectives that BRICS membership served.

The scope of the BRICS agenda has become so vast that by this yardstick alone the group could claim functional success.

It ranges from energy, e-commerce, narcotics, think tanks, education, youth affairs and ICTs to interbank cooperation, trade unions, culture, labour and employment, population, agriculture, S&T and innovation, telecommunications, disaster management, anti-corruption, media, legal cooperation and so on.


BRICS has academic, business, parliamentary and financial forums. Its national security advisers meet.

The signal successes of BRICS - the establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB) as well as the Multilateral Contingent Reserve Arrangement, have been viewed, along with the Asia Infrastructure Investment Fund, as initiatives under Chinese leadership to set up rival institutions to those of Bretton Woods.

The BRICS summit declarations are inflated - the Fortaleza and Ufa declarations had over 70 paras, though to what extent the agreed texts represent a real convergence of policies is open to question.

One can actually argue that beyond its financial sector initiatives, the BRICS group receives little international attention today. Multipolarity is no longer the rallying concept it was.

US failures in West Asia and Afghanistan, its reluctance under Obama to embroil itself in external entanglements and the rise of China have diluted concerns about US hegemony.

The Russian economy is in trouble with the fall in oil prices. Brazil is in a state of political and economic disarray. The South African economy is under stress.


China is facing an economic slowdown. Its conduct in the South China Sea has alienated not only its neighbours but also raised concerns in India. China has openly opposed India's NSG membership.

Its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project is a geopolitical provocation. Its repeated opposition in the Security Council to India's bid to have Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar declared an international terrorist reveals the huge gap between BRICS declarations on terrorism and China's actual conduct.

India's trade gap with China has become even worse. Growing distrust is affecting Chinese investments in India. India has steadily moved closer to the US even in the defence sector.

The joint strategic vision with the US for Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions is incompatible with the BRICS framework. With serious deterioration of its ties with the US, Russia has strengthened its strategic relations with China.

It is leaning towards China on the South China Sea issues. Russia has ceded leadership of BRICS to China as the much stronger economic actor.

This has changed the internal balance within BRICS to India's disadvantage. India's trade with Russia is stagnating despite BRICS.

It amounted to $7.83 billion in 2015, which is a decline of 17.74 per cent over 2014. Russia has sent uncomfortable signals to India by initiating defence cooperation with Pakistan and conducting the first ever military exercises with it last month.

All this shows that while BRICS has value as a platform for India to engage with key non-Western countries in areas of shared interest, our vital interests are not protected or advanced by this grouping.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)


Last updated: October 11, 2016 | 14:09
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