The attempt by China to take over the control of BRICS coalition in the Summit held recently in South Africa failed. It is the observations of experts concerned with Summit. India stood firm to defeat the Chinese design and ensured that BRICS remains a coalition of equal partners and a forum for international cooperation. The three day Summit was held from August 22 to August 25, 2023.
The Times of India commented editorially on August 25, "India's challenge to keep the group from becoming a China-dominated diplomatic shop." Reports from Johannesburg indicate New Delhi has largely succeeded in meeting this challenge.
The New York Times has described BRICS as "a club of emerging nations," comprising of five countries Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The aim of President of China Xi Jin Ping at the Johannesburg summit was to turn the club into a pocket borough of China to serve the narrow interests of Beijing.
The intention of the President of China was clear from the very beginning of the meet. In his opening remarks at the Summit President Xi called for turning BRICS into a five-nation bloc of political and security cooperation. He laid stress on consolidation of strategic partnership between the BRICS members and more meetings on national security and focus on hotspot issues and pushing for political settlements. He also wanted BRICS to focus on AI (Artificial Intelligence), to make the AI technologies equitable. President Xi also emphasized on BRICS countries focusing on practical cooperation in the fields of digital economy, green development and supply chain and strengthening of economic trade and financial exchanges.
Analysts point out that the plan of President Xi is to use the forum of BRICS to pull China out of the difficult corner to which it has been pushed by the democratic powers of the world to thwart the Chinese design of using modern technology for military purposes and use the military power to annex Taiwan, establish its hegemony over the South China Sea region and build military pressure to occupy the disputed areas on the India - China border. Political and economic differences among the core members of BRICS stand in the way of China using the alliance to further its own interests.
Now that the U.S. and other Western countries have restricted the transfer to China of technologies that have potential military uses, Beijing wants to use the member nations of BRICS to gain access to these through the backdoor.
The formation of other international forums for cooperation --- like the Quadrilateral Alliance with Japan, Australia, India and the USA as members and the AUKUS, with Australia, the U.K. and the USA as members --- to prevent the designs of China to extend its hegemony in the Indo - Pacific and to ensure an international rules-based order has also made it necessary for China to look for an international forum which will be under its thumb.
Elaborating on his vision of BRICS, President Xi of China repeatedly emphasized in his speech that development was not the right only of the developed countries like the USA and those of West Europe and that every country had the right to develop; little realizing that his opinion will have few takers as the rest of the world has already understood that the Chinese vision of development is the extension of the hegemony of China all over the world, either through the use of brazen military power or through the tool of economic coercion called the Belt and Road Initiative.
From the very beginning of the BRICS Summit, the design of Beijing to delink the member countries of the five-nation group from the international currency regime had found no taker. The aim of this move was clear, to make China and other autocratic regimes less dependent on the dominance of the dollar so that they do not face the heat of international sanctions often imposed on them for all their misdeeds.
To give a recent example of how sanctions are being used to dissuade leaders of the Communist Party of China engaged in the violation of human rights, on August 22, 2023, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the U.S. was imposing visa sanctions on Chinese officials pursuing forced assimilation of children in Tibet where, in the assessment of U. N. experts, one million children had been separated from their families.
News agency reports from Johannesburg on August 24 said consensus remained elusive on the question of a common BRICS currency. In their two addresses at the Summit, the BRICS leaders made no or scant references to the issue.
"The BRICS Business Forum discussed the international payments system in detail. Participants also debated the question if a BRICS currency is possible or desirable, with strong views expressed both for and against and little consensus reached," Chief Executive of Standard Bank Group Sim Tashabalala told several hundred captains of industry from the partner countries and over 40 other nations across the globe at the Summit.
The virtual address of President of Russia Vladimir Putin at the BRICS summit explains why some of the constituents of BRICS are keen to undermine the dollar-dominated world economic system. "The process of de-dollarization is irreversible and gaining pace," he said.
It is not difficult to understand the concern of President Putin. In 2022, Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine by Russia froze nearly half of the foreign currency reserves of Russia and removed major Russian banks from SWIFT, the network for international payments. The President of Russia did not attend the BRICS summit in person because of the warrant of arrest issued on him by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.
Explaining why it will not be possible to replace the American dollar as a reserve currency in the foreseeable future, Tashabalala has been quoted as saying: "It is important to be realistic about the necessary characteristics of an international reserve currency. These include being a currency issued by a central bank with a very high credibility in the implementation of monetary policy;being the currency of a state or supranational entity with an equally strong track record on fiscal policy and meeting its debts; being freely available in large quantities in many jurisdictions; and full convertibility at all times." The top banker has said it would take years to establish such a currency.
Investment Analyst with Macro-Advisory Chris Weafer sounds even more pessimistic. "The idea of the BRICS creating an alternative to the dollar seems completely fanciful and unrealistic," he has been quoted as saying. "If they did have a single currency uniting them, it would be dominated by the biggest and the most powerful economy in the grouping which is China and why would smaller countries want to link their monetary policy and aspects of their fiscal policy to the Chinese economy? It would open up all sorts of areas of risk and constrain their freedom of action."
A reserve currency incidentally is a foreign currency that is held in significant quantities by central banks or other monetary authorities as part of their foreign exchange reserves. The reserve currency can be used in international transactions, international investment and all aspects of the global economy.
At the Summit, both President Xi of China and Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi supported the idea to expand the BRICS by including more members. The plan of the Chinese President was clear, to cast China as the leader of the poor and the developing world. Finally, six new members were included in BRICS, among them Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE; but Beijing's design did not succeed. Though some of these new entrants had close ties with China, except Ethiopia the other five are strategic partners of India, too. Thus, New Delhi will continue to be a counterweight to Beijing in BRICS.
On the question of the inclusion of new members in BRICS, India had made it clear from the beginning that there must first be unanimity on the membership criteria. This has been a good call and has thwarted the designs of Beijing which had been planning to include its all-weather ally Pakistan as a member of BRICS.
In fact, broadening the membership base of BRICS will prevent the conversion of the club into a pro-China clique; especially with the presence of India working as a counterweight to China. The recent initiative by Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi in the Middle East is believed to be a potential game-changer in diplomatic relations. It will prevent China from extending its influence in the region.
Among the new members of BRICS, the relation between India and Iran has always been on firm grounds. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 2023 took the initiative to visit Egypt where he was conferred the 'Order of the Nile,' the highest civilian award of Egypt.
The Indian initiatives in Egypt are believed to be an extension of the joint Indo - U. S. initiative to counter the extension of the influence of China beyond the Indo - Pacific and into the Middle East. The I2U2 forum for economic cooperation has already brought on one platform the UAE and India, along with Israel and the USA. China has, thus, not much room to rejoice that new members have been included in BRICS.
The writer is a senior journalist