The ninth annual BRICS summit – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – a group of five emerging economies, was held in China’s Xiamen in Fujian province on September 4 and 5. President Xi Jinping, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brazilian President Michel Temer, South African President Jacob Zuma and Russian President Vladimir Putin attended. China also invited Egypt, Kenya, Tajikistan, Mexico and Thailand as guests. On the sidelines, President Xi addressed the BRICS Business Forum which was attended by 1,200 heads and representatives of about 600 companies, business organizations and financial institutions.
The idea of BRICS came in 2001 when an economist argued that the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC at that time) together could challenge Western economic dominance. By 2009, these four countries got together to form a group based on that idea. In 2011, South Africa joined, changing it to BRICS. Since then, the group has held annual summits and is regarded as an emerging economic order rival to the West.
BRICS is different from its contemporaries. There is no common political and strategic force behind it, as with NATO. Instead, the two big members, China and India, have a deep-rooted geopolitical rivalry spanning decades. BRICS member countries are scattered in three continents. They represent different political systems: India, Brazil and South Africa are capitalist democracies, while China and Russia have one-party rule and follow communism. Member states are at different stages of socio-economic development and represent different cultures.
Some of the collective strengths of members, however, indicate BRICS’s promising role in the world economic system. The bloc represents almost 40% of world population (roughly three billion), 25% of the world’s land mass, half of the world’s workforce and 30% of global GDP. Since its first summit, BRICS’s overall economy has doubled. Economists predict that by 2030, its collective economy will equal that of G-7, and in 2050 will double.
On the whole, BRICS is a force to be reckoned with. It is emerging on the world stage when the US is adopting protectionist policies under President Trump’s “America first” slogan and is pulling out of several crucial global commitments
Shanghai-based New Development Bank (NDB), also called BRICS Bank, is the main achievement of the group. NDB was established in 2015 with an initial capital of $50 billion contributed equally by the five members and to be used to address the infrastructure gap among member countries. The bank’s annual financing has increased from the first US$1.5 billion to US$4 billion for 2018. Although, these allocations are still marginal compared to the World Bank’s over US$59 billion for financing for the current year, many think NDB will compete with the IMF and the WB at some stage in future. The bank is also endeavoring to set up a BRICS local currency bond fund and a credit ratings agency to compete with rivals Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s and Fitch – all dominated by the West.
China also proposed the idea of a “BRICS Plus” to bring other emerging economies and markets into the bloc. But it may face resistance from India which does not want expansion that can bring pro-China entrants, including Pakistan, into the group. The subject of expansion might be discussed at the next summit.
On the whole, BRICS is a force to be reckoned with. It is emerging on the world stage when the US is adopting protectionist policies under President Trump’s “America first” slogan and is pulling out of several crucial global commitments. Parallel to this, the EU has been facing political and economic crises following Britain’s exit while the G-7 body of industrialized nations is confronted with towering budget deficits and rising unemployment. At this time, BRICS – coupled with China-led other financial institutes such AIIB, the Silk Road Fund – is seen by many in the world as an alternative.
Relevance to Pakistan
The ninth summit concluded with the signing of a 43-page long BRICS Declaration in which the subject of UN reforms and terrorism are particularly relevant to Pakistanis. Although the former hardly drew attention, it has even deeper implications for Pakistan in the future. The Declaration called for comprehensive UN reform, especially of the Security Council “with a view to making it more representative, effective and efficient, and to increase the representation of the developing countries so that it can adequately respond to global challenges.”
India has long been pressing for UN reforms with an eye on a permanent seat in the UNSC. It justifies this demand on the basis of its large size, population and growing role in world affairs. India’s economic performance during the last several years has given a new impetus to this demand for which it has secured the backing of the Western world and big powers, except China. Beijing’s opposition was based on its own and of Pakistan’s concerns over India’s ambitions. China fully realizes India’s capacity and the will as a regional challenger – backed by China’s other rivals. New Delhi has demonstrated such attitude on a number of occasions. India’s refusal to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative Forum, this May, and the 73-day-long Doklam military standoff (June-August) are just two recent examples. Secondly, India has occupied large territory claimed by China and Pakistan. As India has not settled those disputes in decades, receiving a permanent seat in the UNSC will further diminish such chances.
In recent years, however, China’s stance on UN reforms has moved closer to India’s position. Lately, China has been stating that it “understands and supports India’s aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations, including in the Security Council.” The BRICS Declaration is the latest document that the Chinese leadership has signed along with India to urge UN reforms. As Sino-Indian relations improve with India playing its cards skillfully, the last hurdle in Indian ambitions for a permanent seat in the UNSC will be removed. Beijing may regard Islamabad’s concerns but its final decision will be based on its own interests. India’s acquisition of a permanent seat in the UNSC will change the balance of power in South Asia decisively in its favor. Without a final settlement of territorial disputes between India and Pakistan (and also between China and India) such a development will be dangerous to regional peace.
As Sino-Indian relations improve with India playing its cards skillfully, the last hurdle in Indian ambitions for a permanent seat in the UNSC will be removed. Beijing may regard Islamabad’s concerns but its final decision will be based on its own interests
The Declaration also addressed the issue of terrorism which caused concerns in Pakistan. Article 48 states, “We, in this regard, express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al-Qaida and its affiliates including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir.” Clause 49 adds, “We reaffirm that those responsible for committing, organizing, or supporting terrorist acts must be held accountable.”
Pakistan is accused of supporting the Haqqani network, LeT and JeM. For the first time the Chinese leadership signed a document on its territory describing these groups as terrorists and showing willingness to take action against their supporters. Equally concerning was the fact that the Declaration came days after Trump’s sermon in which he had warned Islamabad to stop what he said was providing a safe haven to the Taliban and take a uniform policy vis-à-vis all terrorist groups or face a termination of military aid at the minimum.
Pakistan’s shocking response proved that it was not “consulted” by China prior to BRICS. If it is correct, this is another sign of a change in China’s South Asian policy. China and Pakistan have had a tradition of consulting each other. In light of this tradition, Beijing should have informed Islamabad about its intentions.
By way of damage control, officials from China and Pakistan came forward to explain that the event will not affect two-way relations. Beijing reassured that there was no change in its policy on terrorism and also acknowledged Pakistan’s commitment and sacrifices in fighting this menace. Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan, Sun Weidong, guaranteed the continuity of Sino-Pakistan relations, adding that the organizations mentioned in the Declaration were already banned (what else could one expect from a Chinese diplomat to Islamabad?) On the heels of it, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif visited China, where along with his counterpart Wang Yi, both sides reaffirmed their partnership.
Pakistan has relied on China to counter external pressure on terrorism. Whenever the US demanded it “do more” while disregarding Pakistan’s sacrifices and limitations in the ‘War on Terror’, Beijing stood by its “all-weather” friend. Not only this, China blocked, on Pakistan’s behest (most probably unwillingly), Indian resolutions in the UN to declare a terrorist the head of Jaish-i-Mohammad Masood Azhar. For this China even faced pressure and sometimes embarrassment. But this support seems to have ceased.
Beijing does not make abrupt shifts in its policies even on matters of urgency. It take a decision after long (in-house) deliberations, then moves in that direction gradually till the full demonstration of the new policy. Change in China’s Kashmir policy during the 1980s from pro-Pakistan towards neutrality was accomplished exactly like this
To what extent has China’s policy has changed from what it was before BRICS, will become clearer in the days ahead, especially upon India’s pursuit of Masood Azhar’s case in the UN. China experts might agree that Beijing does not make abrupt shifts in its policies even on matters of urgency. It take a decision after long (in-house) deliberations. Once it decides, then it moves in that direction gradually and persistently till the full demonstration of the new policy. Change in China’s Kashmir policy during the 1980s from pro-Pakistan towards neutrality was accomplished exactly like this. Throughout the eighties, China’s position switched between a demand for the “implementation of UN resolutions” and “bilateral settlement between India and Pakistan”. China’s changing stance on extremist groups is following a similar pattern.
BRICS offered lessons. It exposed the failure of Pakistan’s diplomacy: the role of the Embassy in Beijing, the Foreign Office and even of the military establishment – above all the consequences of a lack of a regular foreign minister for four years. It demonstrated India’s persuasion skills. Islamabad should study the role of BRICS in the emerging world order. It should note it was not invited even as a guest (Nor there is any chance until Pakistan qualifies as an “emerging economy”). The gap between Pakistani and Chinese positions on extremist groups is widening and might be already unbridgeable. China was Islamabad’s last card. India is rapidly emerging on the world scene, pushing for a permanent seat in the UNSC. All these developments are taking place amid the US’s new great game in Afghanistan and deepening crises domestically.
This situation might give Pakistan a chance to review rusty policies, among them the use of proxies as a foreign policy tool. Whatever the rationale of this policy in the past, if any, in today’s world its continuity will only damage Pakistan’s interests and damage the name of Islam. There was already a debate in Pakistan but the government has not seriously taken it forward. The BRICS incident – with China’s pulling its support back on the issue of proxies – has once again brought it into the limelight. A number of newspaper editorials and commentaries are demanding the establishment abandon the policies of the 1980s. No doubt the country’s threats are tangible but its defensive mechanism is too old.
Pakistan should also consider UN reforms. Instead of pursuing a policy “to get India blocked/vetoed” (through China on UN reforms or the Nuclear Suppliers Group etc), Pakistan should prepare its own case for membership and seek China’s help, which Beijing will be more than happy to do. Unfortunately, Islamabad has mostly used its China card in the wrong instances. Islamabad’s case for a greater role in the UN has potential. Pakistan is the second largest Muslim country (while there is no single Muslim country with a permanent seat), has the largest army, is the only Muslim country with nuclear power and has significantly contributed to UN-peacekeeping missions.
This is the right time for Islamabad to design new policies which fit in today’s world.
Dr Ghulam Ali teaches International Relations at the School of Marxism, Sichuan University of Science & Engineering, Zigong, China. The views expressed are his own. He is the author of ‘China-Pakistan Relations:
A Historical Analysis’ (OUP 2017) firstname.lastname@example.org