Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Column in New Indian Express titled New Five Make Right Noise
April 27,2011

Brick By Brick- India in New Five to Assert Independence

By T.P.Sreenivasan

India appears to be building a wall between itself and the Unites States brick by brick after five years of building bridges with Washington. The BRICS summit in Sanya in China was the latest instance of the demonstration by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that his strategic partnership with the US does not preclude other coalitions of convenience.The Libya vote in the UN Security Council, friendly gestures to Iran and cricket diplomacy with Pakistan were the other signals.The BRICS summit did not advance any of India's vital interests, but provided another forum for India to assert its independent foreign policy.

Diverse as they may be, with little political glue, the BRICS states made tentative steps towards a common position not only on economic matters, but also on some sensitive political issues. China characterised it as "a defining force to shape the new international political and economic order." But the US, like Banquo's ghost, hovered around the room in Sanya and moderated and diluted the outcome. Each one of the New Five has more to gain from the US than from each other, however keen they are to find a common cause. The presence of two of the P-5 in the New Five makes it a strange mix.

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have more things that divide them than those that unite them. Russia and China and China and India are more adversarial than comradely.Brazil and South Africa have their own grievances against India as they had voluntarily given up their nuclear option, while India gained the best of both worlds by testing and later signing the nuclear deal with the United States. Brazil and South Africa are bitter about Chinese economic policies, which have impacted them adversely. There is no precedent to a name coined by a private financial institution becoming the nomenclature of an international economic or political grouping. The term, BRIC was coined by Goldman Sachs to characterise the phenomenon of four large and emerging economies, not to turn them into power brokers. The Chairman of Goldman Sachs has noted that the five countries do not have same interests, their wealth per head is different and their politics and philosophy are different.

Another grouping, India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) is already in existence with democracy and development goals as a platform and the emergence of BRICS is likely to weaken this useful association. As the largest developing countries with global aspirations, the three countries have a clear political and economic agenda, which must be pursued.

Although the initial steps to turn BRIC into a viable grouping were taken by Russia, China has now taken charge by first inducting South Africa and then hosting the first BRICS summit.With the addition of South Africa, BRIC not only became BRICS, but also a new reality with representation from all continents. Two of them are permanent members of the Security Council and three are non-permanent members with aspiration for permanent membership. Such a group as this cannot but command attention.

What transpired in Sanya was no less impressive. Apart from the expected call for reform of global financial and monetary institutions, the New Five decided to take law into their own hands by deciding to use their currencies for the transactions among themselves, though it will not amount to more than 1 percent of world trade. China extracted its pound of flesh by getting the five to endorse its own agenda of seeking Yuan to be in the basket of currencies for SDRs even though it is not fully convertible. China's currency revaluation, a matter of urgency for the other participants, was not on the agenda. China, however, agreed to import more value added products from the other four states. Russia gained support for its membership of the World Trade Organisation. India did not get much except vague support for Security Council reform without any mention of expansion of permanent membership, despite the fact that four out of the five are committed to it. Even the lukewarm US support for India goes beyond "comprehensive reform of the UN, including its Security Council" advocated by BRICS. As the host, China has orchestrated the outcome to its advantage.

Russia and China were in a position to veto the Libya resolution in the Security Council, authorising humanitarian intervention in Libya, but chose to abstain, thus enabling the US and NATO to have their way. South Africa had actually voted for the resolution. India and Brazil, which abstained more to distance themselves from US interventionism than to support Gaddafi, found some consolation in the group favouring a negotiated rather than a forced settlement in Libya. "We share the principle that the use of force should be avoided", they said, extending support for the efforts of the African Union.The clear signal from Sanya was that BRICS will be a pressure group within the G-20 and the Security Council to counter the US. But care was taken not to be provocative or confrontational as they have to gain much from their partnership with the US.The P-5 spirit may well remain intact even after the Sanya summit.

India found another brick for its wall by mending fences with China. India announced resumption of defence exchanges with China without a solution for the issue which prompted the suspension of the exchanges in the first place. China has not yet withdrawn its practice of issuing residents of Jammu and Kashmir "paper visa" for China. India made another concession by accepting unwritten conditions on the composition of defence delegations, which will visit China.Even the formation of a new mechanism to tackle issues arising on the border was no concession by China. If anything, it recognised the Chinese position that the border issue was too complex to be resolved in a hurry.Improvement of relations without any notable change in the Chinese assertiveness is of no value except as a signal to the United States.The Chinese encouragement to Pakistan's belligerence and its border claims remained untouched.

Like in the old days of the Non-aligned Movement, the signatories to the declaration will rush to Washington to put the best possible construction on the wording to convince the United States that they did not mean to offend its sensitivities. The old game of public declarations and private confessions will continue. But, for each member of the group, BRICS has its uses.They have to build their defences against the United States brick by brick

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