China-India synergy will energize Xiamen BRICS Summit
By Rabi Sankar Bosu
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the high-profile 9th Annual Summit of BRICS countries scheduled which takes place in East China's coastal city of Xiamen, Fujian province, from Sept 3 to 5 at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping. The BRICS grouping is comprised of five emerging economies, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, who have come together with the aim of using their growing economic and political influence to challenge Western hegemony. This will be Modi's third visit to China as Prime Minister since taking office in 2014. He came to China on a bilateral visit in May 2015 and then again in September 2016 to attend the G20 Summit in Hangzhou.
"BRICS: Stronger partnership for a brighter future" is the theme China has chosen, which mirrors the implementation of previous commitments flowing from the past BRICS summits. Taking on the mantle of the revolving BRICS presidency from India on January 1, 2017, this is the second time China has hosted the leaders of the economic bloc since 2011. Last year in October, the BRICS Summit was held in the Indian tourist city Goa.
It is hoped that the Xiamen summit will bring together the leaders of all the five countries under the presidency of China. It is important to note BRICS countries have entered their second "golden decade" amid rising global challenges, as well as the increasing uncertainties and instability in the international landscape due to US President Donald Trump's protectionist policy and Britain's divorce from the European Union. As such, it is anticipated that the leaders of the five countries will make greater progress in their cooperation in order to make the BRICS forum a stronger platform for South-South cooperation by exploring the "BRICS Plus" model involving more countries under the BRICS umbrella.
Since the first summit in 2009, the BRICS nations have evolved significantly. As things stand, they represent over three billion people, and account for about 43% of the world population. Their economies have a combined nominal GDP of US$16 trillion, which is equivalent to about 23 percent of the 2016 global economy with an estimated US$4 trillion in combined foreign reserves which have given the group power to influence global trends and trajectories. It is widely expected that the BRICS economies are well placed to become the most dominant economies in the world by 2050.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) meets with visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, May 14, 2015.[Photo: Xinhua]
China has given utmost importance to BRICS since its inception in 2009 projecting it as an alternate economic model against those dominated by the US and the western bloc. As a staunch supporter of and participant in the BRICS mechanism, China sees BRICS cooperation as one of its diplomatic priorities. Needless to say, cooperation among BRICS nations is an innovative practice that has surpassed the outdated mentality of political and military allies and built the partnership with mutual trust and benefits. As per the words of Chinese President Xi Jinping: "The BRICS countries are the champions of the emerging countries and developing countries. They are important members of the G-20."
It is important to note here that, while the Western block has been painfully speculating that the BRICS luster is fading, the five BRICS members have worked together in solving neighborly quarrels and other important problems related to economic and trade cooperation through pragmatism and dialogue for the past 10 years. In terms of practical cooperation among all BRICS countries, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has rightly remarked, "As President Xi Jinping has pointed out, the BRICS are like five fingers, each with its own strength, but when we come together, we form a fist that can punch. As long as we stay united, the BRICS will never lose its luster, rather it will shine ever more brightly."
On July 28, while meeting with the heads of the delegations for the 7th Meeting of BRICS High Representatives for Security Issues, President Xi said that BRICS cooperation would usher in its second "golden decade" as long as the five members make joint efforts for closer ties with the spirit of openness, inclusiveness, cooperation and win-win.
However, the 9th BRICS summit is taking place against a backdrop of deteriorating China-India relations following a military stand-off between soldiers from the two sides in the Dong Lang (Doklam) area of the Sikkim sector of the China-India border, making it the longest stalemate between the two militaries in recent years. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the standoff began on June 18 after over 270 Indian border troops crossed into the Dong Lang area, over which China has "indisputable sovereignty" according to the "Convention Between Great Britain and China Relating to Sikkim and Tibet" signed in 1890.
It was hoped that, by August 28, 2017 India had withdrawn all border personnel and equipment from Dong Lang, ending the 71-day border standoff which is a good sign for the Xiamen summit. Surely, "disengagement" is in both parties' national interests as without the ratcheting down of border tensions, China and India would have failed to make any progress at the summit.
The Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary on August 28 that it was the "right choice" for India to withdraw, and "it is expected that India will continue its correct attitude and work with China to put China-India ties on a healthy track". Undoubtedly, peace and friendship between the world's two largest emerging economies is very precious for all neighboring countries and the world. It is expected that China and India as major countries with great influence in the five-member bloc should boost mutual cooperation, and set a vision for the China-India relations despite frictions.
India and China are the two most vital powers within the BRICS countries. Both countries are now members of basically all international organizations and institutions and significant investors in almost all regions of the world. The two countries are the second and seventh largest world economies, respectively, ranking the second and first in terms of growth rate, and first and third in terms of contribution to world economic growth.
From the Indian perspective, it is expected that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold a detailed bilateral discussion with President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of BRICS summit to normalize the heated relations with China that benefit the peoples of both countries. Speaking together with one voice will lend legitimacy to the developmental needs between our two countries. There is no exaggeration to say our common interests far outweigh our disputes.
The two leaders last met in the BRICS leaders meeting on the sidelines of the G20 meetings in Hamburg on June 7, 2017. They complimented the roles each others nations were playing in furthering the objectives of the BRICS grouping and the fight against terrorism. Modi said he appreciated the momentum within BRICS under the chairmanship of President Xi and extended full cooperation in making the grouping's upcoming 9th summit a success.
President Xi also said he appreciated India's strong resolve against terrorism and the momentum within BRICS, introduced under India's chairmanship and through the outcomes of the Goa Summit in 2016. He also said he appreciated India's success in economic and social development and wished India even bigger success. This shows that both China and India attach the utmost importance to their engagement with BRICS enhancing all-round cooperation with each other.
It's really encouraging that the efforts to improve the relations between the two countries is embodied by the two leaders extending their hands of friendship at every available opportunity and there is hope that such exchanges will lead to greater understanding and even better trade and bilateral ties.
Undoubtedly, the upcoming 9th BRICS summit will be a great platform for India where its voice will be heard by all countries. BRICS has provided a platform for India to become an international rule-maker. More importantly, India can use BRICS to strengthen its relations with the stronger economic actor, China, if it wants to attract Chinese investment via the New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. It will also be better for India to maintain its strategic partnership with Russia, Brazil, South Africa and other developing nations through BRICS.
It is encouraging to see that, as the holder of the BRICS presidency, China has held a series of events this year such as the BRICS Sherpa meeting in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, BRICS foreign ministers' meeting in Beijing, BRICS Media Forum in Beijing, BRICS Seminar on Governance in Quanzhou, Fujian Province, BRICS Youth Forum in Beijing, 7th Meeting of BRICS Trade Ministers in Shanghai, 2nd BRICS Film Festival in Chengdu, BRICS Games in Guangzhou, to mention but a few, under the BRICS framework and India has actively participated in many of them.
In recent years, e-commerce cooperation is gaining more momentum among the five BRICS countries. Strengthening e-commerce cooperation was one of the eight major consensuses reached at the 7th Meeting of the BRICS Trade Ministers, held on 1-2 August 2017 in Shanghai, under the chairmanship of Zhong Shan, Minister of Commerce of China. India was part of that meeting. China and India should play a guiding role within the framework of BRICS against the background of a complex international situation and the sluggish international economy.
In the first half of 2017, China's imports from the other four BRICS countries exceeded US$70 billion, 33.6 percent higher than the same period last year. According to Chinese Ministry of Commerce, China will import more than US$8 trillion of products in the next five years, offering huge opportunities for BRICS countries. Notably, of the BRICS countries, China's total online retail sales reached US$750 billion in 2016 with India's figure just US$16.3 billion.
Among the BRICS countries, India is the most ideal market to conduct e-commerce cooperation with China. 70 percent of goods sold on India's e-commerce platforms are imported from China, which provides the "basis for cooperation," although the supply end from China is not convenient enough for Indian consumers on websites. It can be hoped that both India and China will work together in maximizing the BRICS e-commerce opportunities and reach more reciprocal deals by deepening economic and trade cooperation.
As the Chinese proverb goes, "if two brothers are of the same mind, their sharpness can cut through metal." Surely, the development of China-India relations is important to the strength of the BRICS and as a tool to promote "inclusive globalization". The Xiamen BRICS Summit will be very productive and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping should enhance the traditional friendship which will be a true blessing for India and China. It can be hoped China and India will re-energize the BRICS mechanism, polish the shine of the BRICS, and strengthen the position of the bloc as the representative of emerging economies.
(Rabi Sankar Bosu is Secretary of New Horizon Radio Listeners' Club, based in West Bengal, India)