Can China and India overcome differences at the summit?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. [Reuters]

as brix As the BRICS group discusses its future at a three-day summit in Johannesburg this week, much depends on how well the two BRICS economic powers, India and China, can get along.

Many analysts view the BRICS – comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – as attempting to forge an alternative world order, especially with regard to the Global South.

China has in recent years pushed for such an alternative, flouting sanctions and the “long-arm jurisdiction” of the United States, all while building its global “Belt and Road” infrastructure investment scheme targeting developing countries.

India has tried to remain neutral, positioning itself in front of the West as a bulwark against Chinese military expansion as a member of the “Quad”, while at the same time maintaining its trade relations with Russia and refusing to condemn the invasion of Ukraine.

It remains to be seen whether Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the summit.

In remarks issued during the summit on Wednesday, the two leaders said they support the expansion of BRICS. Xi said BRICS aims to “pool wisdom to make global governance more just and reasonable.”

The long-running border dispute between India and China

However, the main point of tension in Indo-China relations remains the ongoing standoff over the two countries’ de facto border, or the Line of Actual Control (LAC), in the Himalayas, which analysts say points to a larger rivalry.

The confrontation started in May 2020, and a month later, Indian and Chinese soldiers got into a fistfight in Galwan Valley, killing 20 people, mostly Indian soldiers.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. [Reuters]

Modi and Xi have not held formal bilateral talks since the standoff began.

“Potential bilateral interaction between Modi and Xi will be the most eagerly watched geopolitical event of the BRICS summit. India has made it clear that de-escalation and de-escalation in Latin America and the Caribbean is critical to the normalization of bilateral relations,” said Ajay Bisaria, a former politician. An Indian diplomat told DW.

Despite the many rounds of negotiations and participation on multiple levels, military tensions still persist. India said there could be no normal relations if China violated the border agreements. Both sides are building infrastructure in the region.

Alka Acharya, honorary director of the Institute of Chinese Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told DW that without progress in talks on the border dispute, Modi Xi’s meeting at the BRICS summit will remain a point of contention.

“It is clear that neither side pressured him, given that the meeting would not yield any worthwhile results,” she said.

She added that “the reality on the ground in this case will determine the political initiatives, not the other way around.”

China’s unilateral ambition

While China promotes rhetoric of using the BRICS group as a counterweight to the United States and the Group of Seven, the other members have been more subdued.

During a broadcast on social media, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said BRICS does not seek to be “a counterpoint to the G7, G20 or the United States.”

“We will not be drawn into a competition between world powers,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa also said in his televised state of the nation address earlier this week.

Zhong Ja-ian, a non-resident scholar at Carnegie University in China, told DW that every BRICS member “has their own interests that need to be taken into account.”

“The degree of their willingness and ability to put this matter aside in favor of the common interests of BRICS has yet to be tested,” he added.

Zhong added that close ties with India could help “relieve some of the pressure” that Beijing is facing.

China Chinese President Xi Jinping. [Reuters]

He added that as long as China considers itself “contained, beleaguered and oppressed by the United States,” it will continue to use BRICS as a “channel” to address these concerns.

However, many analysts said that China is seeking to use the BRICS group as a way to actively advance its geopolitical ambitions.

Gontram Wolf, CEO of the German Council for Foreign Relations, told German public broadcaster ZDF that China “clearly wants to be the leading country”, and “wants to rally the global south around itself” with the aim of exerting influence and reshaping the world order. to request.

Jayadeva Ranade, head of the Center for China Analysis and Strategy in New Delhi, told DW that China’s strategic goal is to “become the pre-eminent power in Asia.”

“This means ensuring India’s acquiescence to Chinese sovereignty,” added Ranade, who served on India’s National Security Advisory Council. He added, “There is practically no possibility of settling our differences in one or two meetings. At most, this would mean a tactical pause in China’s ambitions.”

If the Modi-Xi meeting does not result in a BRICS summit, the next opportunity for talks will be at the G-20 Leaders’ Summit chaired by Modi in New Delhi next month.

Bisaria, a former Indian diplomat, said Xi’s reception to the G20 summit could be determined by progress on the border dispute.

“China will need to provide reasonable assurances to India on this issue, accompanied by actions on the border that can give India confidence about Chinese intentions,” he said.

Amitabh Mattoo, a professor of international relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, told DW that Xi would miss an opportunity in the BRICS by not meeting Modi.

“The topic of the summit is about cooperation and institutional development, but the Chinese obviously missed out on that,” Mato said.

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