Don’t Fall for China’s Rhetoric – BRICS Isn’t NAM
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Don’t Fall for China’s Rhetoric – BRICS Isn’t NAM


APLN member C. Raja Mohan argued that one of the principal objectives of the Non-aligned Movement was to stay away from rivalrous power blocks. The BRICS, in contrast, is led by one of the competing power blocs – the Sino-Russian alliance. The original post can be found on the Indian Express website here (paywall).

Judging by this newspaper’s headlines in the last few days, Delhi is more interested in a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Johannesburg than in the agenda of the BRICS forum. This is not surprising. Most multilateral meetings are usually overshadowed by important bilateral meetings among member states. The prospect of ending India’s military standoff with China in Ladakh is surely far more consequential than the soaring rhetoric on global issues at the BRICS summit. Even small steps towards military disengagement and de-escalation in Ladakh would be of greater relevance than the unreal debates about dethroning the US dollar in Johannesburg.

What about expanding the BRICS membership that has emerged at the top of the immediate agenda of the forum? Does not the widespread interest in joining BRICS reveal its greater relevance to world affairs today? Numbers alone, alas, don’t increase the effectiveness of an organisation. Bigger numbers are more likely to undermine the coherence of any group. The larger the membership, the smaller the least common political denominator. Having more members will also lead to the challenge of managing a larger number of bilateral differences. The tensions between India and Pakistan, for example, have long limited the effectiveness of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. The SCO has struggled to manage India-Pak and India-China differences. The conflict between India and China has already cast a shadow over BRICS.

The story about the BRICS expansion, however, is not about the organisation’s efficiency or effectiveness. It is about the political intentions of China, which is championing expansion. Beijing sees BRICS as a political platform to mobilise the non-Western world in its rivalry with the US. Balancing the US was also the original motivation for Moscow in promoting the BRICS. Russia turned a marketing gimmick from Goldman Sachs — which clubbed some of the growing markets at the turn of the century into an attractive acronym — into a political organisation.

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