Convening at a time when the entire world is fighting the Covid pandemic, the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summits are gaining attention of not only their member nations but the western powers as well. The pandemic has altered the economics in these nations and changed the geopolitical equations between and among them. It is clear that the western leadership has failed to lead the global war against the pandemic and the trans-Atlantic powers have isolated themselves at a time when a collective and coordinated battle is needed.
Hailed as a bloc of bright spot economies, the BRICS would play a decisive role in global economics in the post-Covid world. The BRICS, an economic rather than a political construct, came into the global scene at a time when the western world was caught in financial uncertainty and the developing world was reluctant to obey the diktats of the IMF and World Bank.
The timing of the formation of the group was in parallel with the rise of a multipolar world and at a juncture when the global power centre was shifting from the West to the East. What makes the BRICS so important and special is not only its construct and composition, as it draws its members from different continents, but also the shared values among its members and antipathy towards the US-led global order.
As the trio, Russia, India and China, has the membership in both these organisations, the success of BRICS and the SCO largely depends upon the geopolitical equations among these players and the resolve of these players to keep the political differences out of these groupings.
The aspirations and the worldview of the Eurasian giants viz, Russia, China and India, are fundamentally different. While Moscow has been trying to regain its lost Soviet-era standing and wants to be the supreme challenger to the West, Beijing is eager to be the sole 21st century champion. India has been fighting to create its own independent space in global politics and not be subservient to any other power.
The World Bank and the IMF have failed to understand the economic requirements of the developing world. Obviously, the players from the global south need alternative lending channels at favourable terms and conditions. This is where the NDB (New Development Bank), a financial arm of the BRICS, can fill the gap. The discontent among these players over the draconian measures of the Bretton Woods institutions and the ruthless conditionalities to avail loans have forced these players to look for other lending agencies. The NDB can cash in by enhancing the lending portfolio to other developing non-BRICS nations. The BRICS has the ability to reach out to countries across Asia, Africa and Latin American continents.
Coming to the dynamics of the SCO, Moscow wants New Delhi to be assertive in the Central Asian region and believes that a proactive India would keep Beijing’s growing influence under control. It is in Moscow’s interest to have strong and consistent ties between the Central Asian region and India. This is one of the reasons why Moscow supported India’s bid to the SCO. Moscow views India as a neutralising force in this Beijing-dominated grouping.
Apart from the Indo-Pak factor and diverging interests of the member nations, what is ailing the SCO is its inability to tap the economic potential of the players. China has made inroads into this region with its BRI (Belt and Road Initiative). Central Asia, a region that connects Asia with Europe, is endowed with enormous energy resources. The geopolitical tussle between New Delhi and Islamabad has been containing the former’s access to this region.
Although political differences have to be resolved bilaterally, the SCO platform can help both players have a dialogue on issues pertaining to trade and connectivity. Russia is aware that the disputes between India and Pakistan, inducted into the grouping through Beijing’s insistence, and the border tiff between New Delhi and Beijing, could derail the progress of the SCO. Therefore, Moscow is doing a balancing act by staying neutral.
Moscow has also been exploring other ways to bring India closer to the Central Asian region. Apart from the SCO, Russia is keen on expanding its EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union) membership and has been discussing the FTA (Free Trade Agreement) with New Delhi. The induction of India into this group will not only enhance the scope and spirit of the EAEU but also counterweight the Chinese-dominated SCO. At the same time, Moscow doesn’t want to strain its growing bond with Beijing as it feels decoupling might provide an extra edge to Beijing to extend its influence and push Moscow to the backseat in Eurasian matters.
Abstaining from the BRI has helped India have a stronger say and the opportunity to channel the fears about the Chinese acts of debt trapping smaller nations. However, India has to realise that the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) is progressing at a rapid pace and the efforts to hinder the project are in vain. It has to look for alternatives whether through the BRI or via other mechanisms to coordinate more actively with China.
This is not to suggest that India has to be a junior partner to Beijing by risking its own national interest. India needs to create an independent path and has to discover a new way of engaging with Beijing in the BRI. New Delhi has the strength to bring China to the discussion table and transform the BRI into a democratic, transparent and equitable mechanism. It would be a win-win for both Asian giants. Keeping the trade factor in mind, China would not ditch India’s concerns.
China too should accommodate India’s genuine concerns. It would be foolish on its part to assume that its unilateral economic and diplomatic prowess would remain unchallenged. If it really wants to position itself as the global leader in the current century, it needs to garner support and acceptability.
(The author is Director, Samudrala VK IAS Academy)
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