BRICS: Push for Fair World Order

BY INDER MALHOTRA

DURING its short existence, BRICS, an association of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, has made an impressive showing. Initially consisting of the first four countries and known as BRIC, the association had held its first summit at Yekaterinburg in Russia in the summer of 2009.

The next year the second summit took place at Brasilia, and the latest and the third at Sanya in the Chinese island of Hainan. It was here that South Africa was added to the association, and the five emerging powers issued a clear call for a world order that is “equitable, democratic and multi-polar”. The “unipolar world order”, dominated by the sole surviving superpower after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, had become a thing of the past anyhow long enough ago. There is no question of its resurrection.

Indeed, by the dawn of the new millennium it had become clear that the fast growing economies of China, India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa collectively would overtake the present Western dominance of the global economy. This is what has led to the G-20 replacing the G-7 as the instrument of global economic governance. BRICS is now destined to take the process further. However, the consensus among the ‘Emerging Five’ does not mean that there are no differences among them. There surely are and some are important.

Growing Chinese Influence
For instance, shortly before the Sanya Summit, the governor of China’s central bank, Mr Zhou Xiaochuan, spoke of creating a “super sovereign currency” to replace the dollar as the currency of global trade. China’s “Chiang Mai Initiative” is calculated to develop an “alternative” to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Quite clearly, with a three trillion foreign reserves and its foreign aid exceeding the outflow of funds from the World Bank, China wants to flex its economic muscle. But this is no part of the agendas of the association as a whole. On the contrary, India and some others have a problem with China’s under-valued currency that is causing huge trade deficit to this country at a time when India-China commerce has risen to the record figure of $ 61 billion.

That is where the meeting between Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh and Chinese President, Mr Hu Jintao on the edges of the Sanya Summit proved useful. As Dr Singh told the media persons accompanying him, Mr Hu acknowledged that it was for China to bridge the trade gap.

Even more important is the sudden change in China’s general approach towards this country. Over the last two years, the northern neighbour had been over-assertive. Not content with issuing stapled visas to Indians living in Jammu Kashmir (which amounted to questioning Indian sovereignty over this state) Beijing refused a visa to Lieutenant-General Jamwal, who was to lead a delegation for talks with China, because he headed the Northern Army Command that includes J&K in its jurisdiction. No wonder, India suspended military exchanges with China on which the latter is now keen. Consequently, the two countries have agreed to resume military contacts. An officer of the Northern Command of the rank of a Major-General would lead the Indian delegation. There are indications that the problem of stapled visas may also be out of the way.

No ‘America Bashing’
No less significant is the recognition by both sides that peace and tranquility along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that has some “gray areas” leaves much to be desired. President Hu has undertaken to strengthen the existing machinery to deal with this problem. How far this assurance would be translated into reality remains to be seen. However, both sides should do all they can to produce the desired result. After all, the two neighbours with huge trade between them cannot afford to exchange blows.

Understandably, there is some speculation about the causes of this sudden change from Chinese over-assertiveness to relative conciliation. One view is that perhaps the middle-level leaders took the earlier confrontational decisions without clearance from the top leadership, which is now trying to control the damage. An impression exists that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) tends to be more aggressive and act autonomously which is perhaps encouraged by the impending change in the party leadership next year when the 10-year tenure of Mr Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao ends.

Reverting to the broader economic issues before the Sanya Summit, the point must be made that China is fully conscious that whatever its complex equation with the United States, “America bashing” is not, and cannot be, any part of policy of other four members of BRICS. Indeed, they consider cooperation with the US necessary, if only because the gargantuan American market is vital for all emerging economies, including China’s. Pursuit of clean nuclear energy, especially after the grievous crisis at Fukushima is another crucial area where close cooperation among major powers is vital. A joint strategy on the transfer of technology and the flow of financial funds to developing countries is also called. That is where the five emerging powers have agreed to use their own currencies rather than the dollar.

Increased Say on Security
A welcome decision taken at Sanya was that in addition to close economic cooperation and shared policies on global economic issues BRICS must have full consultations on security. The National Security Advisers of member countries would be meeting in China soon and this would become a regular feature, covering also economic strategies in a milieu involving brisk competition across the globe, especially for acquiring raw materials.

One message from the Sanya Summit is loud and clear: While the US would remain the mightiest country and cooperation with it would go on, it cannot be dominant in the multi-polar or rather multi-centric world. It is in this context that the summit’s observations on the situation in West Asia, particularly the stalemate in Libya, assume significance. The summit did not name NATO or its bellicose members such as France and Britain, but made it clear that military intervention for regime change is not acceptable. Instead, the summit offered full support to the high initiative of the African Union to settle the Libyan problem through negotiations.

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain are virtually screaming against their NATO partners for “not doing enough” to save Libyans, which is a euphemism for getting rid of Colonel Gaddafi. Libya’s ruler for the last 42 years is a tyrant and deserves no sympathy. But his overthrow should be brought about by the Libyan people, not by foreign military intervention.

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