Fourteen thousand feet above the sea level, at the Nathu La Pass on the India-China border, morbid danger signs warn visitors of dated land mines that might have remained from the war of 1962. Reflective of artful diplomacy from both sides, India and China have managed to metaphorically avoid stepping on another such land mine in the Doklam plateau, at the trijunction of India, Bhutan and China. Come September 3, another opportunity for the two Asian giants to take a step in the right direction will come up, when prime minister Narendra Modi meets Chinese president Xi Jinping, along with other leaders from Brazil, Russia and South Africa at the 9th annual BRICS Summit in Xiamen, China.
What began as an acronym coined by investment bankers at Goldman Sachs in 2001 to symbolise the engines of economic growth in the twenty first century, BRICS has evolved into something much bigger — a representation of the changing geo-political and geo-economic world order. India and China lie at the helm of this new order and they realise the importance of it.
The fact that the two countries released statements indicating disengagement at Doklam just a few days before the summit shows a realisation on both sides that the opportunities in cooperation for a greater say on the world stage far outweigh individual territorial ambitions that either of them might have. It can be argued that in intensive political disequilibria such as this, economics tend to be a stabilising force – which is the raison d’etre for BRICS.
If world history is anything to go by, there comes a major world event every few decades that shapes the next few. The global financial crisis of 2008 was one. The informal bloc of BRIC(S) nations was established as a response to the cracks that had begun to form in the global financial system lead by the Bretton Woods institutions and dominated by the west.
Much has changed in the years since. The rise and rise of China is not only the singular biggest challenge to US supremacy as well as western financial and political hegemony since the end of the Second World War, it has paved the way for the existence of a multi-polar world order. The BRICS nations have together promoted their exports, coordinated responses in international legal disputes, successfully negotiated for an increase in voting shares at the World Bank and in an increasingly overpopulated topography of multi-lateral institutions, have consolidated their reserves to become creditors of foreign aid rather than just borrowers of the same.
As the first decade of the existence of BRICS comes to a close, the bloc has achieved much economically – of course, there is much left to be desired politically.
Today, another major world phenomenon presents itself to the bloc – the increasing inwardness of the west. As the last decade presented an opportunity to make the world institutions more equitable economically, the next decade presents the opportunity to do so politically. For the success of that, India and China need to find common ground before the economic momentum that is behind them begins to fade.
The cry about the lack of coherence among BRICS nations, especially India and China, has often been over emphasized in western media outlets. The EU and the US were themselves at odds in several political and economic transatlantic agreements during the first five years of the GATT
(which then evolved into the WTO). In fact, some of the issues still remain. But that did not stop them from coming together to establish a world order as primary engines of economic growth.
Similarly it is true, for India and China, that there exist multiple points of divergence between the two countries, but that is also exactly why sitting on the same table is important.
It would be prudent for China to stop treating India as an economic laggard to itself that can be coerced into submission and realise that such actions only push India, against its will, towards the west. India on the other hand must continue to advocate for an increased joint collaboration with China in multi-lateral institutions, even if it’s voting shares in such institutions is second to China.
Russia, Brazil and South Africa will surely count on India and China to speak in one voice in the upcoming summit and showcase the points of convergences among the BRICS nations to the world. In line with the theme of the summit, which is “Stronger Partnership for a Brighter Future”, India and China must use BRICS to build a house, not a wall.