BRICS on diplomacy
Despite the volatile Indo-China standoff, the BRICS summit witnessed mature diplomacy from all five nations to build a comprehensive strategy for growth and sustainable development.
The BRICS meeting held in Xiamen, China last week was a timely opportunity for both India and China to end the high-altitude and potentially high-voltage standoff at the Doklam plateau. Many political observers around the globe had feared a spark, an ignition or even a war. The concurrent "cross-continent" threats by North Korea aimed at the US had brought the situation to the brink.
BRICS diplomacy, including its extremely well thought and carefully drafted declaration of 71 articles showed, not only the mature intentions of five countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – in the messy world, but also the skilful subtlety of India and China in avoiding a flash war in the Himalayas. But diplomacy can never be a long-term winner. As Henry Kissinger had famously said, "It is a mistake to assume that diplomacy can always settle international disputes if there is good faith and willingness to come to an agreement. For diplomacy to sustain the win-win framework, it has to go beyond the apparent faith and trust. It has to be backed by the mutually beneficial implementation of the strategy."
Fortunately, there is a game-changing and long-term win-win opportunity for both India and China whose time has arrived. Though the BRICS declaration is multilateral, India and China can take away the potentially strong bilateral messages on the collaborative approaches of a number of issues that would help both countries lead a movement towards global development. Such an opportunity should not be allowed to be overshadowed by relatively trifling issues such as territorial conflicts, trade wars, NSG admission, the international naming of terrorists and, above all, the media hype. Yes, border-protection is important, but what is more crucial is the protection of the people's future in both the countries. Having disengaged from the Doklam plateau, China and India should now engage in availing themselves the huge opportunity of constructive and positive collaboration on Sustainable Development and Climate Change.
There are three key reasons that offer higher takeoff points for Xi and Modi to engage in a strategy that benefits citizens of both the countries. First, both of them have shown similar approaches to address the common challenges they are facing on international platforms. Unprecedented air pollution, life-threatening climate change, resource-draining energy dependence, the restless youth, serious unemployment, a fast-urbanising population, an eroding agricultural base along with terrorism are the common challenges that the two largest and fastest-growing countries have to face squarely.
In the UN General Assembly, President Xi in September 2015, talked of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): "The dream of the Chinese people is closely connected with the dreams of other people of the world. We cannot realise the Chinese dream without a peaceful international environment, a stable international order and understanding, support and help from the rest of the world. The realisation of the Chinese dream will bring more opportunities to other countries and contribute to global peace and development." At the same forum, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid out India's philosophy of "vasudhav kutumbakam" – the world as one big family – and noted that the country has always raised its voice for the rights of justice, dignity, opportunity and prosperity, not just for itself but also for others. He went on further to state that the development of India's people "mirrors" the SDGs.
Second, the personal chemistry between Modi and Xi is perceived to be conducive for longer-term cooperation. They come from entirely different family and educational backgrounds. Yet, their visits to each other's home states, early on in Modi's tenure, had set a harmonious tone. The BRICS summit was significant and, politically, simply amazing. Even when the Indian and Chinese battalions were facing each other at the Doklam plateau, Modi and Xi were facing each other in Hamburg on the margins of the G-20 summit to discuss preparations for Xiamen. Both showered praise on each other's national efforts in economic and social development and also resolved to address the issue of terrorism.
Third, both countries have already collaborated smartly to institutionalise efforts on critical issues like clean energy, sustainable development, infrastructure and finance. Apart from their skilled strategies to leverage the BRICS platform – which is neither regional, nor economic and represents 40 per cent of world population and 25 per cent of world's GDP – there are two more excellent and enabling initiatives of China, fully supported by India as a major shareholder, these are the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) based in Beijing and New Development Bank (NDB) based in Shanghai, with a capital of $100 billion each.
With these three enabling ecosystems, India and China can take global positioning through strategic collaboration. Collaborative innovations have been elaborately discussed in reducing carbon emissions through clean energy and implementing the Paris Climate Agreement and SDGs, to which both countries are passionately attached. US President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement will prove to be the pushing-in prospect for India and China by being technology leaders in clean energy and sustainable development – an aspect which the Xiamen Declaration mentions 23 times. Indeed, China and India account for 60 per cent of incremental world energy demand at present. Coal-dominated and oil-dependent energy structures are the drivers of energy insecurity. Use of fossil fuels and inefficient use of biomass burning are responsible for air pollution that causes premature deaths of 5.5 million people in the two countries together (China's share being 4.3 million), as per the World Health Organisation.
A strategic collaboration would pave the way for a healthy and pollution-free life of their people. It is in the interest of both countries to enhance energy efficiency and rapidly increase the share of renewable energy in its total energy mix while also reducing the dependence on coal. China's strengths in the manufacturing of renewable energy and India' strengths in energy management systems could complement each other in creating a new world free from the threats of global warming.
Moving away from "assaulting with stones" to "building with BRICS" could be the new mantra for India and China. Time always favours those who dare to act despite challenges and differences. The BRICS meeting in Xiamen is that time.
(Rajendra Shende is Chairman TERRE Policy Centre. The views expressed are personal.)