Leaders of the five-nation BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India,China and South Africa) are meeting for the 8th Summit in Goa during 15-16 October. There is crumbling globalisation and emerging cold war with a Sino-Russian axis posing a challenge to the sole superpower, USA, in Asia and Europe. Both Chinese Pesident, Xi Jinping and Russian President Putin have scores to settle with USA in trying to pave the way for a multi-polar world. Understandably, each is aiming to create her own sphere of influence.
India as the largest democracy and with a vibrant economy, has been endeavouring to project herself as an economic power. With this ambition she has to steer through a world of growing conflicts and help reshape a new international economic order.
BRICS, conceived as an economic power house more than a decade ago, has had its setbacks with both Brazil and Russia currently in recession while South Africa struggles for recovery from the sharp fall in prices for its minerals. Russia and Brazil are likely to see signs of improvement in 2017 after a period of severe contraction.
China is re-balancing its economy as a consumption and services-oriented model away from its focus on investments and exports. This has subdued its growth and helped India emerge as the fastest-growing economy. Of course, India has to tackle several other internal challenges.
In this geo-political setting, besides the slowdown of global economic growth and trade, the Goa Summit is likely to be overshadowed by the more serious concerns of the host country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi would certainly put terrorism at the centre of the deliberations, in the context of increasing cross-border terror attacks from militant groups based in Pakistan. In this, she had to contend with Pakistan's "all-weather"ally, China, which continues to feed Islamabad's military ambitions.
The bilateral sideline summits between Prime Minister Modi and the Chinese and Russian Presidents will command greater attention, especially in the light of the totally unexpected Russian participation in naval exercises with Pakistan. It came as a total surprise for India, given its long special relationship with Russia as a trusted friend and as the largest supplier of its defence needs. Both sides have to reset the future partnership including India's participation in energy ventures in Russia.
The more contentious issues are with China: there is the unsettled border question. There is China's rejection of India's membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group; and her vetoing at the United Nations the resolution to ban Pak-based terrorist outfit Jaish leader Masood Azhar, supported by the US,UK,France, India and 14 other countries.
Ahead of summits, Chinese officials have always tried to play down differences, raising hopes of new initiatives to address them. eg. their professed readiness to discuss with India to "explore possibilities" on India joining the NSG; but in these China wants to include Pakistan in the group, ostensibly, to make a "consensus approach."
The BRICS Summit takes place amidst a background of a structurally weakened global economy, stagnation in investment, productivity and growth, decline in trade volumes, rising unemployment, accelerating rich-poor income disparities... Globalisation has taken a backlash, populism is on ascent, anti-trade and anti-market forces have gained momentum.
In sum, the great expectations on this grouping continue to be held as an annual ritual.