BRICS countries pledge to deepen cooperation on intelligent customs

Chinese President Xi Jinping could not turn the recently held 14th BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) summit in Beijing, into a platform for US bashing because the partner countries were looking at their own geo-political-economic concerns and interests and were not particularly interested in tagging along the Chinese line.

China may have been wanting to create a larger multi-lateral group ostensibly to balance Chinese strategic interests vis-à-vis the US, but with strongly independent nation states being part of BRICS like India and South Africa, it was not possible.

Chinese President Xi Jinping in his virtual speech called on BRICS partners to rope in like minded countries and make a “big” BRICS family.

He openly spoke against the hegemonistic interests of US, but his was virtually the lone voice.

Where he would have found a sympathetic chord among the BRICS partners was when he referred to how US “abused sanctions”. Because the economic downturn caused by US sanctions was something which affected all the BRICS partner countries too.

He drove home his point by stating, “we need to speak out for equity and justice. We need to encourage the international community to practice true multilateralism and uphold the international system with the UN at its core and the international order underpinned by international law”.

Clearly he was hoping that BRICS with its economic clout (40 percent of the world population, 25 percent of the global economy,18 percent of world trade, 50 percent contribution to the world’s economic growth)

could play a bigger role (naturally with China in driver’s seat) in the international political scenario, at least become a countervailing power point to the western developed countries and the US.

The fact that China would like to take a leadership role in its area of influence in a multi-polar world was very obvious in Xi stressing the need to reject the Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation. The bi-polar world (US versus USSR) is history and must give way to multi-polar world .

Even though China is keen on expanding the BRICS membership to many other developing countries “forming one big family belonging to a community with a shared future for humanity”, other BRICS member countries have not taken the idea very favourably.

India particularly has its own ambitions and areas of influence and independent stand on the global arena and would definitely not like to know-tow to China.

Chinese president has urged the world to oppose unilateral sanctions and abuse of sanctions, and reject the small circles built around (US) hegemony.

Definitely China made a case against US’s unilateral actions particularly sanctions which was having a global impact.

“Who instigated the Russia-Ukraine crisis by pushing NATO’s expansion eastward? Who forced other countries to sanction Russia and ban energy imports to damage the world economy? Who used rumours and disinformation to push illegal sanctions against Chinese products made in Xinjiang? Who is trying to form a new bloc-to-bloc confrontation in the Asia-Pacific region to copy the disaster of the Ukraine crisis to contain China’s development? The answer is crystal clear – the US,” he said.

There was a grain of truth in Xi’s position and logic in the argument that BRICS partner countries were important emerging markets and major developing nations that play a key role in the world today.

They need to act with a sense of responsibility to bring positive, stabilizing and constructive strength to the world.

Russia however made no attempt to use the BRICS forum in anyway to attack the US or justify its own actions in the Ukraine.

Rather like a seasoned confident statesman President Vladimir Putin said, “The BRICS format has been consistently increasing its prestige and international influence. This is an objective process, since the five BRICS countries, as we all know, have immense political, economic, scientific, technical and human potential.”

The fact that Russia continued to be an important part of the BRICS itself showed Russia’s area of influence.

Putin emphasized on the need for global stability and security besides growth and prosperity. There was no reference to the ongoing Ukraine war.

With India another strong and independent member of BRICS following its own line of thought and not towing Chinese line against the US, it was in no way possible to make BRICS into just as anti-US grouping.

A firmly neutral country India had maintained its own non-aligned stand even in the US-Russia face off over Ukraine.

Indian Prime Minister Modi therefore spoke more about the challenges faced by the international community due to the Covid pandemic.

He pointed out that even though the scale of the epidemic has reduced globally than before, however many of its ill effects are still visible in the global economy.

India saw mutual co operation among BRICS countries as an important contribution to post-Covid global recovery.

Trying to keep the focus on the Covid pandemic and economic issues India also expressed its happiness on growth in membership of BRICS’s New Development Bank and benefits of mutual cooperation of BRICS members on establishment of vaccine R&D centre, coordination among custom departments, establishment of shared satellite constellation, mutual recognition of pharma products.

India with its own independent global standing would naturally challenge any bid by China to take over the BRICS forum for its own strategic interests and create its own areas of influence.

India highlighted the “people to people” contacts amongst the BRICS partner countries with BRICS Youth Summits, BRICS Sports and meetings among civil society members and think tanks being held,

As far as South Africa is concerned it too did not refer either to Russia or US but South African president did mention that the BRICS partner countries “ share a common history of struggle against imperialism, colonialism, exploitation and continued underdevelopment.”

Strongly taking a neutral stand South Africa talked of historical ties among the BRICS partner countries going back to Bandung Conference in 1955 and setting up of the Non-Aligned Movement ostensibly keeping a neutral stand at the height of Cold war.

South Africa saw eradicating poverty as the greatest global challenge of our time besides others like climate change, conflict, poverty and insecurity.

Though South African president mentioned the fact that Ukraine conflict has exposed the fault lines in the international order, he neither dwelt on it nor blamed either Russia or US.

He said that COVID-19 pandemic further revealed our inter-connectedness and exposed our shared vulnerability.

He was all for the principle of multilateralism.