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BRICS, more fruitful bilateral meetings

The Brasilia summit will perhaps be remembered for the opportunities it afforded for bilateral meetings. Ties with Brazil and South Africa have been expanding in several fields, most prominently in science and technology, environment, health, nutrition, and defence. Modi’s discussions with China’s Xi Jinping helped to ease bilateral relations.

Prime Minister Modi demonstrated extraordinary enthusiasm while proposing a series of programmes to help further cooperation in different sectors among the BRICS partners at the summit in Brasilia in early November. In the Donald Trump era, with multilateralism, international trade and rules-based world order are facing serious problems; the summit had emphasised the need for building a common platform for global reform in an era of multilateralism. Modi said: “we must form a collective strategy to strengthen and improve the United Nations, World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and other international organisations.” That the current global environment is unfriendly was fully reflected in the final declaration which said that trade tensions and policy uncertainty “have taken a toll on confidence, trade, investment, and growth …”

Modi won major support for his campaign against terrorism and the need for a unified global effort to counter this menace and announced that India will host a BRICS workshop on digital forensics. He also brought the focus on the need for a push to programmes for sustainable water management and sanitation, fitness and health, and cooperation in film technology, banking on the experiences of Hollywood.

Started as bric and expanded to brics

The 11th summit only served to highlight the disparities among the five nations forming the acronym BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Caught as they are between the developed world and the poorer majority, a shared desire for the world to accord them a larger role brought them together. The idea for the so-called emerging economies to come together originated from two Goldman Sachs papers in the early 2000s and it took some concrete shape when the leaders of India (Dr. Manmohan Singh), Russia (Vladimir Putin) and China (Hu Jintao) met on the margins of the Group of 7 (8) summit in 2008 in St Petersburg. It started with four members when it was BRIC, it became BRICS when South African joined in 2010.

From the very start, it was clear that BRICS shared no-long term common interests. Of the five, Russia under Putin who had visions of regaining the lost superpower status was a totalitarian state. Like China, which had begun to develop muscle and was aiming to become a superpower? The two communist countries had little in common in any sector with the other three, which were all democracies trying to develop strengths to stand up. In the past ten years, each of the five bloc members has taken its own road to economic development. The three non-communist countries have taken steady steps to develop closer cooperation among themselves in the fields of trade, education, science, and defence. They, in fact, have their own separate trilateral consultation known as the IBSA Dialogue Forum. On the other hand, Russia has become a belligerent world power and a powerful China has not hesitated to push its vision and its interests. India for its part will hope that China will abide by the spirit of the summit statement on countering terrorism and advise its ally Pakistan against adventures across the border.

The current scenario

The Brasilia summit will perhaps be remembered for the opportunities it afforded for bilateral meetings between the leaders. Modi’s discussions with China’s Xi Jinping must have helped ease some of the tensions that have crept into the bilateral relations, mostly over Pakistan and China’s calculated support to its ally in Islamabad and the changes that India has sought to make in Kashmir. Ties with Brazil and South Africa have been expanding in several fields, most prominently in science and technology and environment, health and nutrition and defence. Brazil was keen on a tie-up in space science and more than two decades ago tried in vain to get India to launch its communication and weather satellites. When official Delhi proved unresponsive, Brazil turned to China. Bilateral relations have strengthened considerably in the past decade. When Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro arrives in Delhi in January next year to be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day celebrations, he will have much to give and take. An ultraconservative who fashions himself after Donald Trump, he will find the climate in Delhi conducive. Take away the tyranny of distance, the two countries have enviable similarities.

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