The fourth BRICS summit, being held in New Delhi from March 28-29, will once again convene the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The major outcome of the summit will be two agreements – one on the enlargement of credit facilities among the five members, and another on the setting up of a development bank.
At the heart of the summit will be the desire of these five very large, dynamic economies to promote trade and investment between them, and find ways of cooperating on major global economic, security and sustainability issues.
The BRICS countries have a number of differences. First, China is clearly the leader of the pack in terms of its comprehensive national power and economic clout. Thus, both India and Russia will be eager not to cede leadership too obviously to their huge neighbour. Second, both India and Russia are wary of China, particularly India, in respect of a number of bilateral problems. Third, each of the five has more going on with the US and Western powers than with each other. Trade is an exception, where China is everyone’s largest trading partner.
However, they do share a number of concerns. They are all worried about US leadership and Western policies on geopolitical issues, in particular in the Arab world and in Iran. They are all opposed to interventionism, yet none of them have much of an alternative to offer. The West’s stand on climate change and the future of Afghanistan, particularly for Russia, India and China, are very troubling. They are also all concerned that the West’s economic troubles are fairly chronic, are affecting them, and therefore they look increasingly to sustain their growths on the backs of each other’s economies.
BRICS does not have a great deal to its credit in terms of global governance. They will continue to be concerned mostly with their own development and growth. A further limit on their taking the initiative is domestic problems – Dilma Rousseff is still labouring under the shadow of her predecessor; Vladimir Putin is trying to shrug off his fall in popularity; Manmohan Singh’s government is in freefall; Jacob Zuma is at best a workman-like leader; and China is undergoing a fractious leadership transition.
*Kanti Bajpai, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore