NEW DELHI: The theme is “economic growth for an innovative future” but much of the official and media narrative on the 11th BRICS summit in Brasilia, Brazil, appears focused on terrorism. This could be a trend of some kind. Even the BIMSTEC summit in Kathmandu last year saw considerable energies devoted to the issue of terrorism even though barring India, other member states have no terrorism problem at all and the grouping is about building economic connectivity.
This is also the case with BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). While China may claim it has a terrorism problem in Xinjiang, it’s a bit of a stretch considering much of the province is under lockdown and there are no reports of any armed retaliation by the ethnic Uyghur population. The conventional explanation could be that in the ‘Age of Nationalism’, it’s about telling the world how tough you are and being seen to be tough on terrorism makes for good politics, both at home and abroad.
Therefore, at the 11th BRICS summit, the joint working group on terrorism is constituting five sub-groups covering terrorism financing, the issue of foreign terrorist fighters, countering radicalisation, capacity building and the use of the internet for terrorism purposes. (India is expected to head the last sub-group, according to the Ministry of External Affairs)
But economics is also highly contentious. Witness the U.S.-China trade war driven by what Washington sees as Beijing’s unfair and opaque trade practices. For that matter India’s withdrawal from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations was driven by other countries not acknowledging Delhi’s concerns about opening its borders at a time of economic downturn.
It is also about concerns that India would be flooded with cheap Chinese goods, undercutting its own industry, a concern that is expected to be discussed at Brasilia when Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping meet. There could also be daylight on when the high-level mechanism on trade, investment and services will meet. The mechanism was agreed upon during the Modi-Xi informal summit in Mamallapuram last month, with the finance ministers of the two countries jointly heading it.
Some of the speculation in India’s pink papers centres on an understanding between the two leaders on the auto-trigger mechanism. This proposal mooted by India was rejected during the RCEP negotiations. It would have set off “safeguard duties” in the event of an “import surge”. There could also be a discussion on Chinese goods entering India through other countries. An understanding leading to agreement could see the RCEP doors reopen for India.
Last word. The BRICS summit could see new ground broken on India’s ties with Brazil, South America’s giant. While trade volumes are low (around $6 bn), the two countries are forging ahead together in key areas: defence and security, space and energy, seeing potential to scale up economic and technology ties. An announcement on President Bolsonaro agreeing to attend next year’s Republic Day parade as the chief guest may not set the Ganga (or Amazon) on fire but is a signal that the two countries, giants in their respective backyards, are getting serious about each other.