The BRICS-Plus paradigm

By Sabena Siddiqui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, March 26, 2017
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Representatives of BRICS countries pose in Feb. at the opening ceremony of the year's first BRICS Sherpa meeting in Nanjing, Jiangsu province. [Photo/Xinhua]

The BRICS consortium has emerged as an effective group offering innovative solutions to developmental challenges, led by the three prominent members, China, Russia and India, while Brazil and South Africa are more generally beneficiaries of the alliance.

BRICS countries have become an important part of the emerging markets, contributing to 80 percent of global growth in 2016, according to the IMF. China’s contribution has expanded the sphere of influence to include counter-terrorism and environmental matters, giving this thriving forum immense potential as a geo-political game-changer.

Recently, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi revealed China’s intention to “explore modalities for BRICS-Plus,” through outreach dialogue with other major developing countries. Such a move would extend its global role and make it a leading platform representing interests of emerging economies and the global south.

Immediately, this set off alarm bells within India, which doesn’t want to see any disturbance of the status quo, especially as Pakistan, China’s closest ally, would be an obvious first addition. There’s no doubt India wishes to deny space to its sub-continent rival and keep it out of BRICS.

Amid considerable consternation, there is Indian talk of how China initially described BRICS as a “unified fist” of just five countries, and also that it adopts a rigid line in the United Nations but desires a more “accommodative agenda” where Pakistan is concerned.

India wonders aloud why China wishes to extend the BRICS outreach, but excludes countries such as Japan, South Korea and Canada from the equation.

At the last BRICS Summit 2016 in Goa, India made maximum efforts to project Pakistan as the “mothership of terrorism,” but was ignored by Russia and China. Pakistan’s inclusion must seem like a bad dream for India and it complains of how China wants to make BRICS a political forum.

Some things never change. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit faced a similar scenario in 2016 when Pakistan intended to propose China as a 9th member. This matter had been raised at previous meetings only for New Delhi to quash discussion.

As a senior Indian External Affairs Ministry official said: “They (Pakistan) argue that China can play an important role in persuading Central Asian republics and Iran to join the new arrangement. But [….]SAARC members will have little interest in supporting the idea. There is not much benefit for Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka in joining a land route far from their borders, and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have their own ports.”

Consequently, India hijacked that entire conference by backing out and pressurizing other participants in the group [bringing together Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan] not to attend.

The event in Islamabad had to be cancelled as Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Bhutan quickly followed New Delhi’s lead, and it seems likely India will follow the same pattern at the next BRICS summit.

However, this time the BRICS-Plus suggestion cannot be swept aside as China holds the forum presidency for 2017 and it is hosting the next BRICS summit in Xiamen this September.

China’s vision is to carry along rising economies like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Iran, Turkey, Nigeria, Philippine, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Indonesia, in the belief that restricting BRICS to its original membership only diminishes its scope and influence.

According to India, such additions would ultimately turn BRICS into another SCO. Professor Mohan Malik has commented: “India would be the worst affected among BRICS partners. After expansion, the organization would lose its focus and coherence on development issues and become more like a political platform for China.”

He cited the example of last year’s BRICS forum, “At the 2016 BRICS summit in Goa, Beijing was successful in thwarting India’s attempts to isolate and condemn its ally Pakistan over cross-border terrorism.”

Pragmatically, BRICS can deliver much more under China’s win-win formula instead of drawing lines and isolating countries on the basis of likes and dislikes. Where Beijing is concerned, there is no closed-door policy, typified by the recent visit to Washington of Beijing’s top-ranking emissary with the message of "non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation."

Even as the U.S. was installing missile system THAAD in South Korea that deeply concerns China, Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke about a consensus between Xi and Trump to "follow the principle of … win-win cooperation," as there was "no reason why China and the United States cannot become excellent partners."

It is hoped India lets BRICS grow without trying to narrow down its framework, as China’s peace initiatives have the greater chance of success.

Sabena Siddiqui (Twitter: @sabena_siddiqi) is a foreign affairs journalist and lawyer based in Pakistan.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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