THE BRICS WALL OF CHINA
China’s intransigence was the defining feature of the Goa summit India’s performance at the Goa BRICS summit, which it chaired, has to be evaluated in the light of the realities of the grouping. BRICS, which began as a geopolitical project, has failed to become more coherent internally. To achieve its objectives, especially the promotion of multipolarity, BRICS should have actively cultivated more internal solidarity at a time when the US had not recovered from its financial woes and domestic sentiment against further military entanglements abroad was growing, the Eurozone was in trouble and the EU itself was in some disarray after Brexit and the refugee crisis. On the contrary, divergences within BRICS have grown in critical areas, loosening further the mortar binding it together.
China has begun to openly oppose India in several sensitive areas, such as India’s NSG membership and the issue of terrorism. China’s position that India’s non-NPT status makes it ineligible for NSG membership is intended to expose the limits of US accommodation of India on nuclear issues, besides keeping a strategic rein on India. China is also underlining that building Pakistan against India and denying India any diplomatic advantage over Pakistan in any forum is in China’s national interest. Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi raising the issue of our NSG membership with President Xi Jinping more than once, the Goa summit saw no change in China’s position.
China is shielding Pakistan from external pressure to act against terrorist groups targeting India. It is treating the terrorism issue between India and Pakistan as a bilateral one and not an international problem. Despite pressure by us, China did not feel diplomatically obliged to soften its obstructive stand on the issue in the UN Security Council. It could have taken cover under UN resolutions and the growing international consensus to combat terrorism collectively by agreeing to a formulation that could have given some satisfaction to India, but it chose not to do so. It obviously assumes that it can deal with political differences and economic ties on separate tracks, believing that India needs access to China’s financial resources to fuel its growth.
The Goa Declaration is expansive on terrorism in other parts of the world or generically. Ironically, it speaks of “the relentless pursuit against terrorist groups so designated by the UN Security Council…” and mentions the “significant increase in terrorist activities in Afghanistan”, but pointedly omits any reference to terrorism directed specifically at a BRICS member. Worse, it condemns “the recent several attacks, against some BRICS countries, including that in India”, without labelling them as “terrorist” attacks. India’s failure as host to get a better formulation points to China’s sturdy opposition to recognising India as a victim of terrorism to prevent any finger-pointing at Pakistan.
The geopolitical differences within BRICS are illustrated by the absence in the Goa Declaration of any reference to OBOR—President Xi’s flagship project that Russia supports—or the South China Sea issues on which, again, Russia is lending support to China’s opposition to the Hague ruling. For India, clearly, both OBOR and South China Sea tensions are aspects of China’s political, military and economic muscle-flexing that raise geopolitical concerns. India’s greatly improving ties with the US at a time when US-Russia relations have plummeted and China confronting the US in the western Pacific add to the geopolitical confusion within BRICS. Russia’s military overtures to Pakistan add to the muddle. The Goa Declaration once again avoids giving support to India’s (and Brazil’s) candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Once again, it is China’s hand at work.
Prime Minister Modi was right in his unprecedented philippic against Pakistan (without naming it) at the BRICS summit—and at the BIMSTEC gathering—on its terrorist misdeeds. This message was addressed as much to China and Russia as to Pakistan that for India, terrorism is a core issue. The decision to invite BIMSTEC leaders to the BRICS summit was a diplomatic masterstroke to isolate Pakistan under China’s nose and stimulate our Act East policy. The BIMSTEC outcome document is much more supportive of India’s concerns on terrorism. The Goa Declaration has 109 paras compared with less than 75 at Fortaleza and Ufa. India organised 112 events as part of BRICS activities and took 24 key initiatives, many more than in the case of Brazil and Russia. If BRICS is to be judged by activities and not results, the grouping can claim success. That we organised a BRICS Wellness Forum says it all. THE GOA DECLARATION AVOIDS SUPPORTING INDIA’S AND BRAZIL’S CANDIDATURE FOR PERMANENT MEMBERSHIP OF UNSC. IT’S CHINA’S HAND AT WORK