The 9th BRICS conference is in motion in Xiamen in the Fujian Prefecture of The People’s Republic of China. For those who do not know, BRICS is an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. It was founded informally in the sidelines of the General Debate of the UN General Assembly in New York City, United States in September 2006. Its first formal summit was held in 2009 in Yekaterinburg, Russia in June 2006 as BRIC. This excluded South Africa, which joined in 2010.
From being a trade bloc representing the need of the five most powerful emerging economies of the world, the BRICS nations have started to bunch together in a stronger manner. Not only is this true economically but interesting as a viable political, ideological and cultural bloc. This year the BRICS conference increased their scope by including Egypt, Guinea, Mexico, Tajikistan and Thailand in the summit. As the Chinese Foreign Secretary stressed, for a more ‘broadly based partnership.’
A political debate a day before the summit between the premier news agencies of the five nations revealed the developing views of forming a new centre of balance. A balance shifting away from Americanism and Euro-centralism, the world’s economic power shifting Eastward and Southward.
The question that came up repeatedly was the role of this bloc. It comprises of 40 percent of the world population. Has a combined nominal GDP of US$16.6 trillion, which is equivalent to approximately 22% of the gross world product. It consists of a combined GDP (PPP) of around US$37 trillion. And this has an estimated US$4 trillion in combined foreign reserves. However, it has little to no say in world affairs like the G7 does. The anti-western tone was nostalgically familiar to that of The Non Aligned Movement of the Cold War.
Apart from the rhetoric, the biggest talking point of the conference was the coming together of the Indian PM Narendra Modi and the Chinese President Xi Jinping. They were up till the last month staring at calls for a full fledged Himalayan conflict owing to the altercation over the Doklam Plateau. The standing down of both the parties and softening of the Communist Chinese rhetoric against India, all point to a paradigm shift in China’s policy towards India.
One of the big surprises of the meeting was Xi’s reaffirmation of the doomed Panchsheel agreement, whose violation by the then Chinese government had led directly to the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. The conciliatory tone was displayed very prominently. There might be good reason behind it, too.
Some analysts point out that de-escalation was necessary to make BRICS conference work. Considering that China was to host the conference and it had to be a grand success. It was necessary because the 19th National Conference of The Communist Party of China is happening in Beijing in October,2017. This extremely important political caucus will make or break the presidency of President Xi.
Notably, Modi knows this well. And so does President Putin. Brazil is a regional power in South America, but its soft power does not reverberate well for a Portuguese nation surrounded by a overwhelmingly Hispanic neighbourhood. South Africa has majorly withdrawn from the affairs of Southern and Western Africa in the Post-Apartheid era. The government lacks the will and the internal stability to project itself like it once did in Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
This, however is not true for India and Russia. India is powerfully expanding to be a soft power and a military power, both at the global stage. This is one major issue of contention between India and The People’s Republic. Russian Federation, in the aftermath of losing its vast Soviet Empire, retired in a rotting shell of decay and devastation. But under Putin, this too has changed. The Strongman has propelled the Russians to relative prosperity and a military power to reckon with. The Syrian incursion of the Ground, Air and Naval forces of The Russian Federation opened our eyes to this new geopolitical reality.
China knows this, and for the first time in its history as a regional superpower, it is giving ground, rather than annexing it. The BRICS resolution condemned and called for action against terror groups. Many of these groups operate in Pakistan, and thus, this is seen as an act of betrayal by the Pakistanis. Thus, this hailed as a major diplomatic victory for the Indians. The resolution also calls TTP or Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan a terror group. This automatically turns Pakistan from a nation harbouring terror to a nation of victims. Hence, also giving its ally a diplomatic leeway. This also highlights how seriously the Chinese are now taking the Uighur militancy in the restive autonomous region of Xingjian.
All said and done, this version of the BRICS conference will be different. This one will have a different impact and message, than the rest. The western hegemony is over. We have the numbers, we have the money and now, you have to listen to us.