The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) that was founded in 2001 is centred around the People’s Republic of China (PRC), as indicated by its very name. The SCO has played a prominent role in the efforts of Beijing to replace Moscow as the lead outside player in Central Asia, although the influence of the Russian Federation remains strong within this region. Through the Sino-Wahhabi alliance, the PRC has chipped away at Russia’s primacy, assisted by the fact that after the meltdown of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US under Bill Clinton unwisely facilitated the replacement of the existing Russian-style model of school and university education with the Wahhabi model that was in vogue during that period in much of the GCC.

After 9/11, the risk to the national interest of permitting such a model of education became clear, and changes began to be introduced in curricula such that a more moderate culture was promoted in place of the radicalisation that had been taking place in young minds as a consequence of the copious flow of both funds and ideas from parts of West Asia.

While Russia has, largely by default, become an ally of the PRC, its leadership has not signed on to the PRC’s policy of cosying up to radicals. The consequence has been that Central Asia has entered a period of competing ideologies, where radicalism and the resultant extremism compete with the moderate ideology of the leaders of the countries in the region. As a consequence of the burgeoning of the Sino-Wahhabi alliance, the SCO has drifted far away from being a forum where radicalism is condemned rather than condoned as it is by Beijing in cases where it affects the targets of its hidden or expressed ire.

As a consequence, efforts by India to use the platform as a vehicle against radicalism and its offshoots such as terror have met with little substantive success. Of course, those who define “success” in terms of statements issued and glitzy meetings held would disagree, as both remain plentiful so far as the SCO is concerned. As for BRICS, the intention of Beijing appears to be to expand the group to include Iran and Argentina in the first instance, even before relations between the BRICS countries themselves are far from satisfactory.

In contrast to the SCO, in each of the countries in that small but significant club (BRICS) has the potential to graduate from Big Power to Major Power status (in the way India has progressed under Prime Minister Modi), and from then onwards, at least where India is concerned, to superpower status. The flexible format of BRICS makes it resistant to efforts by any single member to tailor the association into a forum that reflexively backs positions taken by that single country. Given the way in which territory in India has come under threat, and the South China Sea has been almost wholly taken over and militarised by Beijing, it is a surreal experience to listen to CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping talk during the BRICS meeting of leaders against efforts at hegemonism (of the kind being witnessed in the South China Sea) or intimidation (of the type being carried out almost on a daily basis against Taiwan). Despite the infringement of the sovereignty of India on multiple occasions since the 1950s, there remains a way for the PRC to demonstrate in practice the sentiments expressed by the CCP General Secretary at the BRICS meeting.

This is to work within the UN to promote the candidacy of the three members of BRICS that are not permanent members of the UNSC. As permanent members, Russia and China could support Brazil, South Africa and India for a permanent seat at the UNSC. It is possible that not all three may succeed in such a quest, but support from the PRC in particular for such a change would show that Beijing is finally being sincere not just in word but in deed. If the PRC declines to do so (in a context where Russia has already supported the inclusion of India in the UNSC), it would show that there remains a wide gap between platitudes and performance where the world’s other superpower is concerned.