The forthcoming BRICS summit in Xiamen is due to be the most ambitious BRICS summit to-date. Among the wide reaching goals of the summit is an intention to work towards a customs union and the eventual establishment of fully-fledged free trading zone between the BRICS and their partners.
However, the biggest obstacle to this and to BRICS unity as a whole, is India’s position which has become increasingly set in opposition to its neighbour and the most economically vibrant BRICS state, China.
The murmurs throughout the press asking “what will Xi and Modi say to one another” bears a striking resemblance to the “what will Putin say to Trump” innuendo which circulated prior to the G20 Summit in July of this year.
While the idea of two leaders of powerful nations meeting in order to ideally reconcile persistent problems is in fact a theme which the BRICS summit shares with July’s G20, the differences are more far reaching than the similarities.
At a personal level, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin offered cordial statements about each other prior to their first meeting. After the meeting it was clear that on a personal level, each man found the other to be engaging, helpful, attentive and intelligent.
Such personal admiration does not apparently exist between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, in reality, China and India have far more to gain from a thaw in relations and ultimately, from cooperative relations than the US and Russia could have hoped to have had even if good US-Russia relations were possible.
Russia and the United States have had different spheres of influence during the majority of their shared histories. It was only between 1945 and the end of the 20th century that both Russia and the US competed for influence in Europe. In the end, simple geography and economic realities mean that for the foreseeable future Europe will be politically allied with the US and so too will most European commercial institutions be more American in outlook than Russian or Eurasian. At the same time, Europe remains dependant on Russia for energy and in spite of sanctions and the ideological allure among European extremists for expensive and slowly shipped American liquefied natural gas, the reality is that the EU will need Russian energy in order to survive for decades to come.
The biggest exceptions to this rule are the unlikely triumvirate of Turkey, Serbia and Israel. As a Eurasian state, Turkey has in the last year alone, departed quite dramatically from the US/EU sphere and is engaging in business, financial, technological and increasingly security cooperation with Russia and Russia’s Eurasian partner Iran, as well as China. Israel and Serbia are in a more precarious position. While Israel is arguably little more than a powerful US client state, Tel Aviv continues to defy US and EU sanctions in order to conduct healthy business relations with Russia, this in spite of the Israeli regime’s pathological opposition to Russia’s regional partners Syria and even more so Iran.
In respect of Serbia, the Serbs as a peoples are a fraternal nation to Russia and likewise, most Serbian citizens and many Serbian politicians seek to continue economic and security ties with Russia. At the same time, Serbia is an EU candidate with members of a new political class that seem intent on going in a western direction. It is a balancing act whose outcome will only be revealed when the EU is prepared to either accept or reject Serbia’s application to join the pro-US bloc.
In respect of bilateral relations, the US and Russia have little to offer each other economically. Russian goods are not sought after in the US market and apart from small internationally consumed retail goods, American ultra-hi-technology and military hardware is totally unnecessary in Russia as Russia makes rival products which are as good, in some cases better and in all cases, are produced far more cost effectively than those produced in the US. As two energy exporters, Russia and the US are in some ways competitors even though the markets for US and Russian energy are generally different for both geographical and economic reasons.
In this sense, US and Russian cooperation is primarily an issue of security. No one wants US and Russian nuclear weapons to be fired a war, even though the actual likelihood of this is even more exaggerated today than it was during the Cold War.
The situation between China and India could not be more different.
China and India are neighbours who ought to cooperate on trade in a manner that takes advantage of each country’s unique strengths. The example of Pakistan-Chinese cooperation and its early success which appears to only be growing, makes it clear that China and large South Asian countries have a great deal to offer one another.
Both India and Pakistan were to form an integral part of China’s One Belt–One Road trading initiative, but India’s reluctance to cooperate with China has led many in China to lean more heavily towards Pakistan. India’s intransigence on the matter is increasingly making the Sino-Pakistan border an effective Indian bypass on the New Silk Road.
While China can complete One Belt–One Road without India or even in spite of India, both sides would be better off cooperating, but especially India. India simply does not have the technological or manufacturing capacity of China, but India’s growing markets and young workforce could work in tandem with China to create more economic opportunities for Indians across all levels of society and for Indian infrastructure which could benefit greatly from Chinese investment, just as Pakistan’s infrastructure has been the recipient of such boosts from Beijing.
In order to create an opportunity for India and China to begin meaningful economic/trade cooperation, it is necessary to settle the border disputes between the two countries which are a lingering effect of British imperialism in South Asia.
The appropriate forum to settle border disputes is the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. Here, both China and Pakistan could work with fellow member state India to resolve lingering border crises and Russia which maintains good relations with Beijing, Islamabad and New Delhi would almost certainly be happy to mediate such a dispute in a dignified manner. In this sense the SCO is a better forum to settle such a dispute than the UN as while China has a veto on the UN Security Council, in the SCO, all members are technically co-equals.
China’s position on all these matters is clear and China is open for dialogue and discussion with India in order to work towards a fair and expedient resolution.
China wants India to be a good neighbour and a future partner. It is India, especially under the Premiership of Modi whose attitude to China has frankly been downright stubborn to the point of inflicting harm on one’s own nation. India appears to want to engage in economic warfare with China even though this is a battle that India will objectively lose. This is something that many Indians who are opposed to Modi admit with grace, just as Russia could not and does not try to compete with China in the realm of electronic and personal computer exports.
Russia, in engaging with China as a trusted partner, has not only enhanced the economies of both countries, but Russia is one of the few nations to run a trade surplus with China, albeit a comparatively small one. India could in fact decrease dependency on foreign good by cooperating with China rather than trying to outpace China in areas where China is objectively superior in terms of production quality, consistency and efficiency.
In this sense, India and China can offer one another meaningful economic opportunities, where it is increasingly the case that the US and Russia can offer one another little other than the obtuse assurance that there will be no nuclear war.
While the American deep state is dead set against any rapprochement with Russia, in India there are voices who oppose Modi’s antagonistic stance towards China, however much the vocal pro-government Hindutva press tries to silence such voices.
Good relations between China and India are therefore more necessary and more realistic than good relations between between the US and Russia. The difference is that in India, the matter rests almost entirely on the Prime Minister and his most trusted advisers, whereas in the United States the President who wants better relations with Russia has been left largely powerless to change the course of US policy.
Modi is in many ways in the same position as Turkey’s President Erdogan has been in over the last few years. In 2015, after Turkey shot down a Russian military jet on the Syria-Turkey border, a situation developed which could have led to war. However, both countries have not only patched up their differences, something which began when Erdgoan apologised to Putin for shooting down the Russian jet, both Turkey and Russia are increasingly partners whose relationship is becoming something of a necessity for Ankara.
If Erdogan and Putin could rapidly patch up their differences, so too can Modi and Xi. Erdgoan took the first step towards mending fences with Russia after the Russian side showed a great deal of restraint amid calls for war with Turkey. China has likewise showed a similar level of restraint during this summer’s Doklam/Donglang border crisis with India. Modi can therefore climb down from his untenable position as Erdogan did, or he can learn the hard way, the lesson that Turkey has learned, namely, that Asian and Eurasian nations who align with the US, ultimately gain less than nothing in return.