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November 25, 2017
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India gains in stature at BRICS summit in China

By Nilova Roy Chaudhury, India Strategic Published: September 2017
 

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The BRICS summit in Xiamen, China has worked well to considerably enhance India’s global stature.

Even before it began, the ninth summit meeting between the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) ensured that the face-off between Indian and Chinese forces ended peacefully, with mutual disengagement at the Doklam tri-junction. Chinese President Xi Jinping did not want a situation where one of the five leaders due to be present at the crucial summit did not attend, and Indian diplomacy allowed him that face-saver.

It is an indicator of the importance of BRICS that both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi were invested enough in the group to ensure that officials brought about the disengagement at the Doklam tri-junction a week before the summit at Xiamen.

At the summit, on September 4 and 5, there was no awkwardness on display as Indian Prime Minister Modi met with President Xi, indicating that they had decided to place bilateral tensions behind them and look ahead to ensure that differences between the two countries did not turn into disputes.

At the Summit, India scored a major diplomatic victory and managed to ensure that China’s ‘all-weather ally’ Pakistan was censured by the BRICS leaders. For the first time ever, the names of key Pakistan-sponsored terrorist organisations like the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) and the Haqqani network were included in the BRICS joint declaration for causing violence.

The BRICS leaders unanimously adopted the declaration in which they expressed “concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al-Qaida and its affiliates including the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir.”

The Xiamen declaration also “deplored all terrorist attacks worldwide, including attacks in BRICS countries, and condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations wherever committed and by whomsoever and stress that there can be no justification whatsoever for any act of terrorism.”

This Declaration goes well beyond what India managed to include in the Goa Declaration on October 15, 2016, at the eighth BRICS summit, which it chaired. While that declaration included ‘dismantling of terror bases’ as a requirement in counter terrorism and the need to jointly combat weapons of mass destruction, there was no mention then of any specific terrorist groups and India had to accept a considerably toned down critique of terrorism to get the consensus.

The Xiamen declaration adopted September 4 also called for greater efficiency in designation of terrorists. This is particularly significant and yet ironic because China has been the one country blocking the designation of JEM chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist.

“We reaffirm our commitment on increasing the effectiveness of the UN counter-terrorism framework, including in the areas of cooperation and coordination among the relevant UN entities, designation of terrorists and terrorist groups and technical assistance to Members States,” the joint declaration states.

The hard-hitting Xiamen Declaration goes on to “call upon all nations to adopt a comprehensive approach in combating terrorism, which should include countering radicalization, recruitment, movement of terrorists including Foreign Terrorist Fighters, blocking sources of financing terrorism including, for instance, through organized crime by means of money-laundering, supply of weapons, drug trafficking and other criminal activities, dismantling terrorist bases, and countering misuse of the Internet including social media by terrorist entities through misuse of the latest Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). We are committed to prevent and counter the growing spread of terrorist narratives, and to tackle all sources, techniques and channels of terrorist financing.”

While it remains to be seen whether Beijing will walk the talk on this declaration and set aside its objection to getting the Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar declared a global terrorist by the United Nations, the fact is that such a strong and specific declaration would certainly embarrass Islamabad. China, which is building the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is wary of terrorist attacks on its own citizens working on various projects in Pakistan (of whom 11 have been killed) and hence agreed to set aside its objections to criticism of its “all weather ally.”

“All BRICS leaders came up very strongly in condemning terror in all its manifestations. You can see that in seven paragraphs of the declaration,” said Preeti Saran, Secretary in the Indian External Affairs Ministry, at a media briefing after the Xiamen Declaration was adopted.

At the Goa Summit in 2016, BRICS set up a working group on counter-terrorism and annual meetings are now held of the National Security Advisors of the five member countries. This allows for joint planning and sharing of intelligence to combat what Saran called a “global scourge.”

“Prime Minister, speaking on countering terrorism, suggested a strategy for joint action and did mention money laundering, terrorist financing, cyber space as well as proposing an initiative for the BRICS on countering radicalization,” Saran said.

India has offered to host an international conference on de-radicalization which, official sources told India Strategic, could be held as early as late October.

China, in fact, found itself caught on the back foot at the BRICS summit with another close ally, North Korea, choosing to detonate a nuclear bomb just ahead of the summit. The joint declaration strongly condemned Pyongyang’s action. New Delhi separately, also issued a strong condemnation deploring Pyongyang’s hydrogen bomb test, and said it “remains concerned about the proliferation of nuclear and missile technologies which has adversely impacted India’s national security.”

BRICS are not just major emerging economies, which together account for huge global territory, population, economic or military strength, but together they represent the voice of countries that are finding their place in the new multi-polar international order. Together, BRICS account for roughly 40 percent of the world population and over 20 percent of the global economy.

The five-nation bloc has condemned all forms and manifestations of terrorism and has consistently urged the international community to come together to fight this menace. Since the first BRICS Summit in 2009, the group has consistently expressed support for the UN which it says remains the nodal agency to combat terrorism globally and, for this endeavour, maintained their support for the India-sponsored Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) at the UN.

Speaking at the media briefing shortly after the BRICS joint declaration was adopted, Saran outlined some of the other key features of the outcome document.

“Prime Minister,” she said, “gave a futuristic, forward looking, and transformational blueprint for BRICS for the next decade. He mentioned that our leaders in the two generations of the leaders of our countries have contributed to the emergence and establishment of BRICS and that BRICS has gained credibility, wielded influence and spurred growth. Now, in the next decade, it is crucial that in an environment is created where we seek stability, sustainable development and prosperity.”

Explaining how the BRICS summit works, Saran said the difference between the restricted and the plenary sections is that, “in the restricted session, the topic really was on the leaders, on the global economic situation, on international economic governance, on international and region hot-spot issues as well as national security and development. So Prime Minister’s interventions were made in that context,” the MEA Secretary explained.

The theme for the plenary (open) session was “practical cooperation for common development,” therefore “it focused on those aspects of practical cooperation for common development, for people to people exchanges and cultural cooperation,” Saran said.

The economic agenda at BRICS is a very powerful one. Mr Modi shared thoughts about deepening the BRICS partnership, with particular emphasis on the International Solar Alliance and where the New Development Bank (NDB), which could finance projects relating to the International Solar Alliance.

“The BRICS CRA (credit reserve arrangement) represents a milestone of BRICS financial cooperation and development, which also contributes to global financial stability,” the Xiamen Declaration said.

“We welcome the establishment of the CRA System of Exchange in Macroeconomic Information (SEMI), and the agreement to further strengthen the research capability of the CRA, and to promote closer cooperation between the IMF and the CRA. We welcome the establishment of the NDB Africa Regional Centre launched in South Africa, which is the first regional office of the Bank. We welcome the setting up of the Project Preparation Fund and the approval of the second batch of projects.”

The BRICS NDB, set up in 2015, has already given out around $6 billion in loans for 23 projects across BRICS.

“A very important point, which is very dear to him, is the fact that all BRICS countries have the youth dividend on their side, so the Prime Minister suggested that BRICS should really be mainstreaming youth in all its initiatives,” Saran said.

BRICS adopted another Indian initiative with the establishment of a BRICS Agriculture Research platform, to be headquartered in New Delhi. The Prime Minister also spoke about the need to deal with corruption and suggested steps to address issues of corruption and asset recovery. Another key input from Mr Modi was of establishing a BRICS Joint Task Force on disaster risk management.

BRICS has gone from a modest 16-paragraph joint statement at Yekaterinburg in June 2009 to this very substantive 70 paragraph declaration that the five countries have agreed upon in Xiamen, developing common positions not just on climate change but also on terrorism, energy, the global economy and politics. BRICS represents a quarter of its growth at $17 trillion, mainly led by India and China.

BRICS probably faced its most challenging summit in Xiamen in 2017, not because of its purported anti-West stance, but because of growing differences between its two biggest economic members, India and China.

However, the end of a boundary standoff and a determined effort to keep all bilateral disputes off the table and look ahead to the future ensured the smooth conduct and conclusion of the summit, which is increasingly watched globally as a crucial pole to attain sustainable development goals.

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