India-China Tension, Vaccine Publicity Muddles BRICS Trade Bloc Summit

November 17, 2020 

The Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and counterterrorism strategy were top items on the agenda.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that each of the BRICS nations will specialize in a different field of counterterrorism, “with Russia in charge of countering foreign terrorist militants and China focusing on radicalisation,” according to the Russian embassy in Beijing. Terrorist financing is also a major point of concern for the group.

The meeting is expected to produce the first official counterterrorism strategy document for BRICS as a group, a significant step given that the five-member nations account for “about 23 percent of the world’s economy and 43 percent of its population.”

The Russians additionally said that BRICS hopes to produce a joint “economic partnership strategy” that will map out areas of trade and financial cooperation for the next five years.

The SCMP noted that China’s border standoff with India in the Himalayas “cast a shadow over the meeting,” especially after China’s Xi Jinping and India’s Narendra Modi essentially snubbed each other at the virtual Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit last week. The Russian hosts for Tuesday’s BRICS meeting insisted China-India tensions would remain in the background and said there were plenty of common concerns for them to cooperate on.

Modi’s video address to the BRICS summit presented terrorism as the biggest problem faced by the world and stressed the importance of applying pressure to nations that harbor terrorists.

Modi also called for reforms to the United Nations Security Council and international organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Health Organization (W.H.O.),  and the World Trade Organization (WTO). As the Times of India noted, the BRICS nations have increasing clout in those organizations, and to put it bluntly, they probably have more genuine common interests in global trade and finance than they do in counterterrorism. 

Despite all the lip service paid to the great worldwide menace of terrorism, every nation tends to have different definitions of terrorism, including the five BRICS partners. For example, when Modi said “we have to ensure that the countries that support and assist the terrorists are also held guilty,” Indian observers assumed he was obliquely referring to Pakistan.  

Modi also talked up his “Self-Reliant India” campaign, which he said is “based on the belief that a self-reliant and resilient India post-COVID can be a force multiplier for the global economy and make a strong contribution to the global value chains.” 

This was another oblique reference, as the country India is especially eager to stop being reliant upon is China. Modi’s Self-Reliant India campaign took on particular urgency after border tensions with China heated up and Indians began calling for boycotts of Chinese imports.

During his address, Russian President Vladimir Putin touted Russia’s Sputnik V and EpiVacCorona coronavirus vaccines, brushing aside concerns from Western scientists about rushed and inadequate safety trials. He said India, Brazil, and China could help to mass-produce them.

“There are Russian vaccines, they work, they work effectively and safely,” Putin said. “It’s very important to unite for the mass production of these products into wide circulation.”

On the security front, Putin referred to “dangerous destabilization” in the Middle East and North Africa, citing the ongoing conflicts in Libya and Yemen. He said the situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region contested by Armenia and Azerbaijan is “stabilizing” thanks to Russian intervention.

“The Russian side has made the most active efforts to help stop the fighting between the two friendly states and encourage them to find compromise solutions. As a result of our mediation, on November 9, agreements were reached on a complete cease-fire and the deployment of a Russian peacekeeping contingent in Nagorno-Karabakh,” Putin said.

Chinese dictator Xi Jinping called for worldwide cooperation on the coronavirus pandemic and its aftermath, praising China’s cooperation with Russia and Brazil and inviting the other two BRICS members, South Africa and India, to join in.

Xi said “multipolarity and economic globalization” are now irresistible forces and offer the only means of recovering from the coronavirus, which he said has inflicted the worst global recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. He talked up China’s plan to develop a “Partnership on the New Industrial Revolution” with a headquarters in the Chinese city of Xiamen.

As usual, Xi stressed that his vision of “globalization” does not involve China meeting any human rights or justice standards from the rest of the world. He denounced all interference by other countries in what he sees as China’s internal affairs, harshly criticizing unilateral economic sanctions — a longtime foreign policy instrument of the United States — and “long-arm jurisdiction.”

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro defended his administration’s management of the Amazon rainforest, promising that his government will soon begin naming and shaming countries that illegally harvest Amazon wood. He said Brazilian police have developed an innovative means of tracing lumber using radioactive isotopes.

Bolsonaro joined the other participants in calling for international cooperation on the coronavirus pandemic and its economic aftermath, but he was sharply critical of multilateral institutions like the W.H.O. and WTO. He said better results were achieved by “coordination between our countries,” rather than “international organizations that fought the virus.”

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, which joined BRICS as a full member in 2011 after the other four nations met for several years, added African debt to the list of problems created or intensified by the coronavirus.

“While African leaders acted swiftly to contain the disease, it will take a long time for our economies to recover,” Ramaphosa said.

“We call on our BRICS partners to ramp up investment in not just South Africa but across the continent, particularly in the manufacturing sector,” he continued. “Investors from the BRIC countries will realize considerable benefits by investing in Africa, particularly with the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area from January 2021.”

Ramaphosa suggested the BRICS New Development Bank could finance an “integrated early warning system for preventing mass infectious diseases.”

The South African president repeated calls for reform to the U.N. Security Council, to make it more “representative and inclusive in line with the principle of the sovereign equality of all states,” and to the World Trade Organization, which should “rebalance” global trade and ensure its “benefits are shared more equitably.”

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