BRICS Summit: India appears to be a misfit in the China-led axis after Doka La crisis

Let's say if B, R and S side with C on BRI, then I will be left isolated. Similarly, I may also be sidelined if C, R, B and S refuse to endorse its line on Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.

Without putting the readers through any more confusion, let's be clear. The upcoming Xiamen edition of the annual BRICS Summit could be a defining moment for the emerging-economy grouping as India and China, two key members, seek to reconcile post-Doka La blues and strike some sort of an understanding amid increasingly divergent geopolitical trajectories.

 BRICS Summit: India appears to be a misfit in the China-led axis after Doka La crisis

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese president Xi Jinping. PTI

The scenario mentioned above are just two examples of irreconcilable differences that might crop up. China, which seeks the emergence of a Sino-centric global order, won't have difficulty in getting Russia and South Africa to endorse its grandiose Belt and Road Initiative. China has grand plans for Africa within the BRI framework while Russia, which recently struck a $11 billion deal with Beijing for cross-border projects, has made it a fulcrum of bilateral ties.

As far as Brazil is concerned, China is its single-largest investor. A Xinhua report says that in the first four and a half months of 2017, Chinese firms have pumped in "$5.67 billion through mergers and acquisitions in Brazil, representing 37.5 percent of the country's total investment."

Even the most optimistic of Indian negotiators won't take Brazil's support for India's reticence on BRI for granted, leaving India isolated if China plans to use BRICS as yet another platform for BRI hype. India's position on BRI violating its sovereignty (a core concern) is well known. New Delhi was the only major nation to sit out the recently held BRI jamboree.

Similarly, India may find itself sidelined again if it seeks to deliver a strong message against Pakistan's role as the 'mother ship of terrorism', as it did during last year's edition in Goa.

On Thursday, China stopped just short of warning India against raising the issue of terrorism, specifically Pakistan's role in it. "China is willing to work with Pakistan and other countries to enhance cooperation on counter-terrorism and protect regional security and stability. We have taken note of the concerns of the Indian side on counter-terrorism issues of Pakistan, but I don't believe that it should feature prominently during the Xiamen Summit," China's foreign ministry said at a media briefing in Beijing.

The subtext is interesting and points to the deep chasm that exists between India and China even on a topic of global concern such as terrorism — one of the core issues on which BRICS members are expected to reach a consensus. China cannot possibly hope that Pakistan-sponsored terror will stop being a part of India's discourse. Yet in its warning to India and steadfast defence of Pakistan, China is trying to push through that agenda.

For India, more worrying signs emerged on Friday when Russian president Vladimir Putin, writing for The Times of India newspaper, touched on a range of issues to be discussed during BRICS Summit including terrorism but made no mention of Pakistan. In calling for a "broad counterterrorism front" on terrorism, Putin's words were suitably vague, indicating the growing distance between the two nations. It is quite clear that bilateral trade is failing to bridge the geopolitical gap. Putin invoked Syria, tension on Korean Peninsula but had nothing to say about India's long struggle with cross-border terror.

"…The fight against terrorists in Syria and other countries and regions must continue. Russia calls for going over from debates to the practical creation of a broad counterterrorism front based on international law and led by the UN. Naturally, we highly appreciate the support and assistance of our BRICS partners in this respect."

These fault lines aren't new but Doka La is sure to make these starker. And as it moves away from the Sino-Pakistan-Russian axis, India will find BRICS progressively less useful because the grouping has now become almost an exclusively Chinese preserve.

As Ananth Krishnan writes in Daily O, "BRICS has assumed even greater importance in recent months as China crafts a more prominent global leadership role for itself, with Beijing viewing it as one of the several key vehicles to push its view of a different world order."

China, though, must find a way to keep India within the BRICS fold, failing which the alliance runs the risk of becoming what ORF fellow Abhijnan Rej terms as "motley of expansionist powers (Russia and China) and perennial basket cases (Brazil and South Africa".)

India, a key proponent of the western liberal world order, lends credence to the coalition. China's recent conciliatory noises may be traced to this factor.

In a recent media briefing, China's foreign minister Wang Yi said: "There is huge potential and space for cooperation between India and China. Such co-operation serves the interest of our two countries and peoples. We hope China and India will join hands and work together for the rejuvenation of Asia and for the development of our region and contribute our share to greater development."

The correlation (if any) between Doka La resolution and BRICS Summit has been well explored. India should have no beef with Chinese position. It certainly doesn't stand to gain by walking out of BRICS. But it must equally consider how best to align BRICS with its core interests. And there needs to be at least a working relationship between New Delhi and Beijing. Short of these conditions, BRICS may rapidly dwindle into a propaganda platform for a China-led global order where India will appear a misfit.

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Updated Date: Sep 01, 2017 20:03:01 IST