In itself, the BRICS virtual summit that took place on Thursday would have been unremarkable, but for the major shifts in the geopolitical order that involve two of its prominent members: China and Russia. While BRICS is more about economic issues, there is little doubt that the Ukraine conflict was a major backdrop to the meeting.
Not surprisingly, the Beijing summit declaration adopted on Thursday said that BRICS countries “support talks between Russia and Ukraine”, adding that “we have also discussed our concerns over the humanitarian situation in and around Ukraine”. As for ameliorating the situation, the statement said that they supported the efforts of the UN Secretary-General, various UN agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide humanitarian assistance “in accordance with the basic principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality”.
While BRICS is more about economic issues, there is little doubt that the Ukraine conflict was a major backdrop to the meeting.
Among BRICS members, China has been supportive of Russia on the Ukraine issue, but the other members, Brazil, India and South Africa, have adopted a neutral stance.
Incidentally, the meeting has taken place just days ahead of the meeting of the Group of Seven (G-7) rich nations in Germany. The agenda of the G-7 could include the tightening of sanctions against Russia.
Putin Blames 'Selfish' West
Among BRICS members, China has been supportive of Russia on the Ukraine issue, but the other members, Brazil, India and South Africa, have adopted a neutral stance. They have not openly criticised Russia but called for dialogue to end the war. Additionally, China and India have taken advantage of the availability of discounted Russian oil to purchase large quantities.
The meeting afforded President Putin an international platform, which he carefully used to push the Russian narrative rather than offer any mea culpa for the war in Ukraine. He blamed “selfish” western countries for using financial mechanisms to “shift their own mistakes” on the rest of the world and spoke of the need for mutually beneficial cooperation between countries for a way out of the crisis.
Host President Xi Jinping of China was more openly critical of the US, though he did not name it. Terming the Ukraine crisis as another wake-up call for the world, he said that it was based on an attempt “to expand military alliances and seek one’s own security at the expense of others”.
He went on to make a larger critique of the US policy of imposing export restrictions on China, declaring that “those who seek to create monopoly, blockade and barriers in science and technology in order to disrupt other countries’ innovation and development and hold on to their dominant position are doomed to fail”.
BRICS is an Opportunity for China
For Xi, BRICS is clearly a means through which China can reshape the world order to its own advantage. In line with this, he declared that China wanted to work with its BRICS partners to operationalise the Global Security Initiative and “bring more stability and positive energy to the world”.
The GSI, which he put forward last month, talks of a vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security. According to Xi, it aims “to create a new path to security that features dialogue over confrontation”. The GSI, he said, was parallel to his 2021 proposal for a Global Development Initiative that aimed at a “stronger, greener and healthier global development”.
Has the Grouping Really Made a Mark?
Prime Minister Modi’s remarks were low-key and anodyne. He said that the BRICS members had a similar approach to the governance of the global economy and there was a need for mutual cooperation to push for the global post-COVID recovery. He said that the outfit had managed to undertake structural changes over the last few years to increase its influence.
Earlier on Wednesday, speaking to the BRICS business forum, he had said that the Indian economy was set to grow 7.5 per cent this year and that the value of the Indian digital economy could reach $1 trillion by 2025. He said that to deal with the COVID pandemic-related downturn, India had adopted the mantra of “reform, perform and transform” and its beneficial effects were visible in the performance of the Indian economy.
As an organisation founded in the wake of the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-09, BRICS has not quite made a mark in helping reshape the global economy and creating a new financial order weighted in favour of the developing world.
However, one institution that was created, the New Development Bank, is alive and well, and, as Prime Minister Modi noted, it has actually attracted new members.
'NATO Has Messed Up Europe'
On Friday, President Xi Jinping, the host of the summit, chaired a high-level dialogue on Global Development with a number of guest countries.
Incidentally, the meeting has taken place just days ahead of the meeting of the Group of Seven (G-7) rich nations in Germany. Two BRICS leaders, Prime Minister Modi of India and President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, have been invited as special guests. The agenda of the G-7 could include the tightening of sanctions against Russia.
But what has upset the Chinese is the statement of NATO General Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, in an interview earlier this week that China would be the key theme for the NATO leaders’ meeting to be held on 29 and 30 June. The summit plans to invite Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea as special guests.
China’s official spokesperson, Wang Wenbin, tartly noted on Thursday that “NATO has already messed up Europe, and [should] stop messing up the Asia Pacific and the world”. His remarks squarely blamed the organisation for the current war that had led to “killing large numbers of civilians and displacing tens of millions of people”.
(The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. This is an opinion article and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)