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18 October, 2016

BRICS summit yields little

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A verbose statement at the end of an international event is usually an attempt to cover up sparseness of the outcome. When high expectations are raised it may even become necessary to pad up public statement with platitudes to contain possible disenchantment.

The Goa declaration issued on Sunday at the end of the two-day summit of BRICS, a five-nation group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) which accounts for 47 per cent of the world’s population, ran into more than 7,200 words. It is a good example of talking much and saying little. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi viewed the BRICS summit as yet another forum to use to carry forward the campaign to isolate Pakistan, which he launched after the attack on India’s army base at Uri.

Before the meet, there was a media campaign to make it appear that terrorism was the main issue before it. As soon as the meet ended, friendly media began propagating the idea that Modi had scored another great success in his campaign.

The Goa summit did condemn strongly terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stress that there could be no justification whatsoever for any acts of terrorism. But, then, so did the summit held at Sanya, China, five years ago.

Of course, there was a reference to the terrorist attacks on India, which was as follows: “the recent several attacks against some BRICS countries, including that in India.” There was no mention of Pakistan or cross-border terrorism. How could they find their way into the joint statement when Pakistan’s best friend, China, is the BRICS member with the most economic clout? 

On the eve of the summit, the Chinese media had reported that there is no change in Beijing’s stand on India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group and its demand that the UN brand Pakistan-based Masood Azhar a terrorist.

Realising that it cannot have its way at the summit, the Indian government played up the BIMSTEC (short for Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) outreach planned as part of the BRICS summit as more important than the summit itself. This grouping, which includes India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka, was in the limbo since its formation a few years ago. It suddenly became a favourite as it does not include Pakistan or China.

When BRICS took shape the economies of its members were growing at a fast pace and the International Monetary Fund had projected that by this year their combined GDP would exceed that of the US. The recent modest recovery enabled the US to raise its GDP to more than $18 trillion, but the BRICS total fell short of the projected figure as a result of slowing down of their economies. 

In the beginning, by virtue of the political traditions of its members, BRICS appeared to have the capacity to evolve as a group that can counter the influence of the US, the sole surviving superpower. The New Development Bank floated by BRICS was widely seen as an attempt to build an alternative to the US-dominated IMF.

BRICS’s presumed anti-American potential has dimmed with the recent change of government in Brazil and the cosy relationship Modi has forged with the US, exemplified by the military logistic agreement which the two countries signed recently. However, the lone superpower dispensation is palpably on the decline and new synergies are in evidence in many regions, including India’s neighbourhood. 

Russia has been moving close to China in recent months, and a few weeks ago it participated in military exercises in Pakistan. Taking into account India’s sensitivity, the Russians got the Pakistanis to shift the exercises out of the Gilgit area, which was under the control of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir during the British period. But that was not enough to dispel India’s chagrin. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping came to Goa after visiting Bangladesh where he committed more than $23 billion for a slew of projects over the next five years. This is ten times more than what Modi offered when he went to Dhaka last year. China and Bangladesh signed 26 agreements and about 30 memoranda of understanding during the Xi visit. 

The summit itself may not have given Modi much to cheer but it became an occasion for renewal of Indo-Russian ties. Modi and President Vladimir Putin sang paeans of the special and privileged nature of their strategic partnership. The two countries also signed three big defence deals. ;; Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 18, 2016

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