BRICS : Changing Time

Free Press Journal, April 5, 2013
Getting down to ‘ BRICS’ tacks
Inder Malhotra
WHILE the latest summit of BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - was on at Durban, South Africa, last week, there seemed to be nothing unusual about the proceedings.
It was business as usual. Since the main item on the agenda was the formation of a BRICS bank as the global South's answer to the World Bank and the IMF that are unashamedly pro- West and neglectful of the developing countries, there was broad support for it. However, refreshingly, there were thoughtful voices of caution: the objective was worthy, but BRICS must go about it slowly.
Similarly, the Durban conclave was on firm footing in demanding that while peace must be brought back to civil wartorn Syria, Syrian sovereignty must be respected.
To dig our toes on this is vital. Because the Western nations - America leading from the rear, and Britain, France and Turkey up front, are raring to intervene on ' humanitarian grounds,' and this must not be allowed.
Such altruistic tear- shedding often cloaks ignoble motives, as we helplessly witnessed in Libya. At that time, we had voted for the western resolution in the UN Security Council, while Russia and China had abstained. Never again should such a mistake be made. Nations living under the southern sun have to act independently and against neo- colonial policies of the major western powers that led George W Bush to launch the totally illegitimate war on Iraq in 2003. Its catastrophic consequences are now unfolding themselves in the luckless country on the war's 10th anniversary.
Sadly, the highly negative side of the summit at Durban got known rather late, indeed well after the top leaders of the five countries had returned home. The villain of the peace was the host country's president, Jacob Zuma. Not to put any gloss on the ugly situation, he treated Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a man of impeccable manners, most shabbily. In the first place, he showed us our place by making Dr. Singh stay in a country house 40 miles away from the summit venue, while the other four leaders stayed in Durban's best hotels.
And then, to add injury to insult, he found no time to see the leader of India, again having met the other four. What must have rubbed salt into the Indian wound was that Zuma spent a whole day kow- towing to China's new leader, i Jinping.
Ostentatiously, the two countries signed no fewer than 16 agreements. Next only to i, the recipient of Zuma's attention was President Putin of Russia.
Regrettably, the President of South Africa, holding the office that the noble Nelson Mandela did, has shown himself to be an uncouth individual in a high position.
If he has any grudges against India, he should have discussed them with Dr.
Singh that he chose not to do. However, we must admit our own faults and failures.
The fundamental reality is that in today's world, power speaks, and it is economic power that commands the highest respect. " It's the economy, stupid," are the four wisest words uttered in recent years.
Time was when the world respected ' rising India.' That era appears to have ended.
By comparison, China's economic power is continuing to rise exponentially, which is what gives Beijing enormous clout even vis- à- vis the United States that has shifted its ' pivot' to East Asia.
When at a public meeting in Delhi, the then US defence secretary Leon Panetta had said that India was the ' lynchpin' in the American pivot in the Indo- Pacific region, he was exaggerating needlessly. But it is true that Indian and American interests in East Asia converge, though not in the way America would want. India can at best be a strategic partner of the US, not its ally, as Japan, South Korea and particularly Australia are. India likes to safeguard its ' strategic autonomy,' which accounts for formations like BRICS and this country's obvious decision to befriend all other powers such as Russia, Japan, European Union and others.
With China also, this country wants to maintain good, cooperative relations, knowing that friendship with China is a different matter altogether. In this context, there are three outstanding realities that are essentially troubling. First, China does not consider India to be its equal. Secondly, the gap between the economic and military power of China and India is great and growing. The era when we could talk of " catching up" with China is gone.
Thirdly, China's strategic interests and pursuits will always impinge on Indian strategic interests, and even security. Beijing's ' all- weather' friendship with Pakistan, especially its nuclear and missile help to Islamabad, is a daunting instance in point.
In more recent days, South Africa, like the rest of the world, has witnessed the tiny Maldives insult and defy mighty India.
China's encouragement to it was manifest.
It is now encouraging Sri Lanka that is thoroughly unhappy with India over the Tamil rights and the UNHRC resolution on the subject.
This said, one must hasten to add that things are never simple or clear- cut. Few things are more complex than the India- China relationship. If, on the one hand, mighty China is India's largest and most powerful adversary, one the other, it is this country's biggest trading partner and economic relations between them are expanding.
Since 1962, there has been no military conflict between the two Asian giants.
But China has shown no inclination to settle the boundary question or even to delineate where exactly lies the Line of Actual Control, along which the two countries are committed to maintain ' peace and tranquillity.' To make matters worse, all too often, China asserts its claims on the entire Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh aggressively.
In short, India has to maintain eternal vigilance on what China intends to do.
Even more importantly, Delhi has to make sure that its current deterrence against a renewed Chinese military misadventure must always keep pace with the constantly rising Chinese military power. On the Himalayan border, China has impressive offensive capability. We have none.
However, in maritime power, we have an enviable advantage over them. The Indian Navy, much praised by all, has a sway in the Indian Ocean right up to the choke point of Malacca Strait, through which passes the bulk of Chinese energy supplies.
But the Chinese efforts to overtake us in this respect also are huge and fast.
We have got to take counter- measures.


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