By Hashim Abid
THE IMPACT of Covid-19 has presented BRICS with some stiff challenges that raise questions about the efficacy of the group.
At the 12th BRICS summit —held virtually — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro criticized the effectiveness of multilateralism in dealing with the pandemic and stated, “entities like the World Health Organization (WHO)…need an overhaul.”
His remarks stand in stark contrast to the meeting of BRICS health ministers in April, at which the group pledged unequivocal support for WHO.
Complicating matters further for BRICS is the intense standoff between Indian and Chinese troops at Ladakh after the killing of 20 Indian soldiers, and India’s defense pact with America inked in October 2020.
This argument suggests that BRICS does not pose a threat to the status quo of global policy making. This is due to the intense security competition amongst the largest members of BRICS, as well as India’s gradual realignment with the US.
BRICS consists of five emerging countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Collectively, the block represents about 42 per cent of the global population, 23 per cent of the world’s GDP, 18 per cent of the global trade and 30 per cent of the world’s territory.
Despite the meteoric rise of the BRICS’ economies over the past two decades, the bloc have been unable to cooperate to suppress the economic impact of the pandemic. Based on IMF forecasts for last year, economic contraction for India was expected at 10.3 per cent, South Africa at 8 per cent, Brazil 5.8 per cent and Russia 4.2 per cent.
Only China was predicted to end 2020 by a modest growth of 1.9 per cent. Even before the pandemic the BRICS failed to coordinate economic policy to lift GDP per Capita—a measure of living standards. The highest-ranking member of BRICS is China at 70, which is way behind the living standards enjoyed by Western powers such as US and UK ranked at 8 and 23 respectively.
Another blow to BRICS is the ongoing border tensions between India and China, which has pushed New Delhi further into the arms of America. India signed the Basic Exchange Communication Agreement (BECA)—the last of the four foundational military agreements. This is in addition to the landmark nuclear agreement signed in 2008.
India is also an active member of the Asian Pacific quad—an alliance of Japan, US, Australia and India—intended to counter China’s naval ascendency. Recently, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused US of pushing India “towards anti-China policies”. He is not wrong. Since India has vehemently backed US efforts to ban Huawei and 60 applications including TikTok and WeChat. Both Russia and China have reacted by bolstering military ties with Pakistan much to the consternation of India.
However, such ties would also not help since Pakistan is another American surrogate within the region who is also collaborating with the US to help India contain China, in the foreseeable future.
Pakistan accepting a ceasefire with India regards to Kashmir shows that the constant hackling regarding the restoration of the Article 307, over the years, has been nothing more than mere rhetoric by Pakistan. Such acceptance would allow India to increase its formations for future Chinese containment.
Furthermore, Pakistan selling off its strategic assets in Afghanistan to America, , where in future India is likely to fill in the vacuum, illustrates that Pakistan is keener to achieve US foreign policy than its own.
Looking at Brazil, America maintains a strong political presence in the Western hemisphere henceforth, it is unlikely that Brazil with other BRICS nations would come together on a common political-economic basis. South Africa, on the other hand, still has a long road ahead of for progressive adjustments. Moreover, the country still possesses remains of Downing Street’s past imperial influence.
The remnants of historical wounds between Russia and China remains. For China, Russia alongside Japan, UK and the US is a longstanding perpetrator. Such animosity is primarily based upon Stalin’s betrayal towards the Chinese and Russia’s partaking in the century of humiliation. Thus, to witness even a Russia-China anti- American alliance is quite unlikely. In addition, from a purely economic sense, the Chinese-Russian commercial partnership possesses several structural constraints.
If the nations of the BRICS possessed common ideological state institutions than they would be able to transcend their nationalism and gain a larger and a comprehensive vison together.
But this is not the case. The poor economic performance during Covid-19, the intense security competition between the big three powers of BRICS, and the lack of political, cultural and ideological cohesiveness in the block, means BRICS is likely to fracture before it poses a threat to global policy making.
BRICS is simply a platform for the great powers like Russia, China and India (aspiring great power) to satisfy and increase their commercial interests, through any means necessary regardless of diverse political interests that each of them possesses.
Hashim Abid is an analyst and researcher of global affairs with BSc in International Relations from LSE.
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