BRICS Johannesburg Summit: Why India should not let autocratic China dominate the dialogue

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On 20 July, a BRICS currency would not be on the agenda of the bloc’s 15th summit, which is going to be held in Johannesburg this August. Earlier, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had said that the currencies would very much remain a national issue for a long time to come, while the South Africa’s Central Bank governor also pointed to the banking and fiscal union along with macro-economic convergence required for the purpose.

When in 2001, Goldman Sachs’ economist Jim O’Neill thought a set of emerging economies would come to dominate the world by 2050, he thought of four: Brazil, Russia, India and China, and this was the undergoing idea that led to the formation of the group which became a cohesive geopolitical bloc only by 2009 and was joined by South Africa in 2010.

The aim of the organisation was to give reality to the ‘rise of the rest’ and to ensure more plurality in world economic, investment and financial models. In fact, the purpose behind the formation of New Development Bank, a BRICS response to the hegemony of Bretton Woods twins, was to “mobilise resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in emerging markets and developing countries”.

It was as such very much of a response to the unipolar world having the US as the only superpower both strategically and financially. This organisation was seemingly a reactionary step against the arm-twisting of third world growing economies done by an economic model spearheaded by the IMF and World bank seemingly dominated by the US, being Eurocentric in nature.

Clearly the organisation stood for multilateralism and a more diverse and inclusive global financial system.

But over time things changed, in March 2013, Xi Jinping took over the office of Chinese President from Hu Jintao and the doctrine of “Peaceful Rise” gave the way to a more assertive “Chinese Dream”. This got even more evident in the second presidential term of Xi, from 2018 onwards, which oversaw trade war starting just a few months before the official beginning of Jinping’s second tenure, the advent of the ‘democratic’ Biden administration in the US, COVID-19 pandemic and finally Russia-Ukraine war. These events even more pronounced the tightening of the global system drifting away from multilateralism.

In Xi’s third presidential term it, China seems to be more overtly competing for the global position vis-à-vis the US. This is even more visible in the way it seeks to dominate the agenda of the multilateral organisation it is a part of. But before we emphasise this, the Biden administration deserves ‘credit’ for pushing Russia even more into the Chinese fold.

This has been especially benefiting for China, as it gets Russian support in crucial multilateral institutions to create a more anti-West and pro-authoritarian orientation in these organisations, further helping China to realise its vision across the world — central Asia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East etc.

The very recent example is Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, where China pushed for Xi Jinping’s pet project ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, clearly indifferent if not aversive to the concerns of New Delhi (the host of the summit) about the fact that China Pakistan Economic Corridor (a part of BRI) violates India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

And editorials of Communist Party of China’s mouthpiece Global Times call India’s refusal to sign the paragraph affirming support to BRI and Economic Development Strategy for 2030 which had “too many Chinese catchphrases” as “peculiar” clearly showing the outlook that SCO interests are coterminous with that of China. An article stated: India’s distinctive character, combined with its wariness, vanity, and desire to compete with China, has created an unusual sensitivity or even rejection of China’s voice.

World knows how China uses debt diplomacy, assertive voice and military threat to push for its interests across the geopolitical arenas. And, coming to India, clearly Indian advocacy to its strategic autonomy, multilateralism and rule-based international order apart from that a democratic governance is what discomforts China, which is very eager to be accepted as a superpower and quite wishful in creating a “Chinese Century”.

In quest of this eagerness, it sought to push for a more bilateral world as a multipolar world might translate more into an “Asian Century” and as historically evident, China knows its preferences very well as compared to any other player in global politics.

In such a case, it drops a huge responsibility on India and also on other BRICS nations to ensure that the ideals for which the institution was established should not be compromised to favour the domination of a particular member over the international sphere.

Reportedly, China is a driving force behind expansion of BRICS and further de-dollarisation. According to writer Prashant Prabhakar Deshpande, “The Chinese government is pushing nations around the world to join the bloc and accept the soon-to-be-released currency with the intention of dethroning the US dollar from its global reserve status. Russia and China are also said to be fast-tracking a payment technology that could.

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