Xiamen BRICS Summit a game-changer

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Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
THE BRICS Group brings together five large countries, of which three are from the Eurasian landmass. These are Russia, China and India, two of which are neighbours to China. During the 1960s,friction developed between the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), in large part because Moscow expected Beijing to behave towards to the way the USSR’s East European allies did. In other words, accept both the leadership and the superior position of Moscow over Beijing in global affairs. This was anathema to Chinese Communist Party (CPC) Chairman Mao Zedong, who saw his country as being on the way towards once again taking over the leadership of the global community.
In 2017, the roles have been reversed, and it is China that is now the superpower rather than Russia. Of course, the Chinese leadership has shown much more tact than had been the norm while Nikita Sergeyvich Khruschev was General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. As a consequence, the alliance between Russia and China has been treated in Beijing as a partnership of equals, with Russia given high honour and respect. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has moved up the geopolitical tables and is now no longer a peripheral but a major player.
In the Middle East and in Europe, the influence of Moscow is strong and growing. Should Putin be able to fashion an economic policy that harnesses the dynamism of the genuine Russian entrepreneur rather than the robber barons and business mafia patronised by Boris Yeltsin ( his predecessor), it would not be long before Russia entered a period of growth at the same rate as China and India. It is an inevitability that Russia will once again emerge as a superpower, given not only its landmass but its immense human resources. Russian brainpower overcame their German rivals during the 1941-45 war, and even during the Yeltsin years (when President Clinton had made it a priority to destroy Russian R&D with the help of collaborators in Moscow) the output of science and technology centres was phenomenal. Russia has for hundreds of years been a great intellectual power, and this gift is likely to witness the country’s emergence among the Big Four in the years to come,the others being China, the US and India.
Three of the four are meeting at Xiamen during May 3-5. This is an attractive coastal city in China that vies with Lhasa to be the cleanest city in the Peoples Republic of China. It is also well known to President Xi Jinping of China, who headed the city administration for many years in the past. Indications are that the 9th BRICS Summit will be among the most consequential since the group was formed ten years ago, with several initiatives planned that would bring the five countries ( India, South Africa, Brazil, Russia and China) close together in a manner that they have not been in the past
Thus far, the leaders congregating during BRICS sessions have been hesitant to go in for Big Bang changes, preferring to concentrate on incremental changes. What is needed is for a bold vision for the future, combined with the determination to carry them out. Of the BRICS nations, Russia, India and China have strong leaders in Vladimir Putin, Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping. As for Zuma and Temer of South Africa and Brazil, their political careers would get a boost from the returns possible through closer cooperation between the five powers. The time has arrived for ensuring automatic access to each of the five countries from any of them. Doing away with traditional visa procedures would increase tourism between the five. As an example of unutilised potential, less than 60,000 Chinese tourists came to India during the previous year, while 103 million Chinese tourists travelled across globe, many to rich countries but several to countries outside Europe and US.
There is a flourishing Buddhist tradition in China that has resonance in India, the land from where Gautama Buddha came from, and already there are circuits for pilgrims from Japan and Thailand who come to those great sites of the Buddhist faith as are located in India. A Chinese circuit would be a welcome addition. Wherever Indians and Chinese congregate and live together, as in Singapore or in California, the two communities get along very well. As for Russia, that country has been a traditional and reliable friend of India since the 1950s. In the case of Soyth Africa, it was India who first unconditionally backed the African National Congress and its leader Nelson Mandela, much before the rest of the world did. Brazil has become a major partner of India since the time Lula de Silva was in charge of the administration of that immense country, and the potential for closer ties is immense.
Overall, the Xiamen BRICS meeting could be a game changer for the alliance. The leaders need to aim high rather than low, look at the big picture rather than only at bits and pieces of potential cooperation. Amity and collaboration between the BRICS powers would be a major factor promoting global stability and economic progress. Prime Minister Modi is expected in Xiamen in days, and can be expected to unveil a plan for BRICS to become a truly effective grouping that promotes both economic as well as people to people contacts. The host nation, China, is led by a strong leader, Xi jinxing, who is pursuing the Chinese Dream and in the process, building the Asian Century.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.
Email: mgnalapat@gmail.com