'There's no pro-China tilt in BRICS.'
'All these countries want to be close to China, but they are all good friends of India also.'
"Countries like India, UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Brazil are not interested in taking sides between the US and China, or the US and Russia," says Ambassador Gurjit Singh, India's former envoy to Germany, Indonesia, Ethiopia and ASEAN.
"These countries don't want to become anti-Western or pro-Chinese, but one of the main reasons they want to be part of BRICS is access to funding by the New Development Bank," Ambassador Singh tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih in a two-part interview on why the recent BRICS summit has gathered so much attention like never before.
In what ways will an expanded BRICS, which now represents nearly half the world's population, give a greater heft to this alliance?
It is not an alliance or an institution. It is a group of countries.
BRICS was the coming together of four disparate countries which had a good future economically. [South Africa was included in 2010.]
The BRICS countries do not follow common policies. If one looks at BRICS and their vote in the United Nations General Assembly on the Russian Resolution, it does not present a clear picture.
India, South Africa and China abstained.
Among the new entrants, Ethiopia, and Iran also abstained.
Brazil voted with the West.
Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE voted against Russia.
This shows that they were not following the Chinese.
The concern is that the Chinese want to make BRICS into an anti-West front.
The Chinese were trying to give it an anti-Western heft. China and Russia want BRICS to become a collection of countries that will challenge Western domination.
Meanwhile, India's point is that BRICS is a collection of countries that want the following:
- Retain strategic autonomy
- Gather more avenues for development
- Contribute for the betterment of the Global South
This is what BRICS essentially stands for and this is why so many countries want to join.
For instance, India and the UAE are strategic partners, but that does not mean that in the UN, we vote on the same side every time.
BRICS is not an alliance like NATO or G7 where member countries vote together or take the same position.
These countries don't want to become anti-Western or pro-Chinese, but one of the main reasons they want to be part of BRICS is access to funding by the New Development Bank established by BRICS countries in 2015].
The NDB is not an anti-Western platform. One of NDB's goals is to co-finance projects along with multilateral development banks like the World Bank, and so they are partners, not rivals.
They should not let BRICS become a Chinese acolyte and retain strategic autonomy.
A lot has been written about the pro-China tilt and India being sidelined in this expanded group.
There is no pro-China tilt; that is an overstatement. All these countries want to be close to China, but they are all good friends of India also.
Except for India, among the original BRICS countries and Argentina in the new BRICS, China is the largest trading partner of every country.
Countries like India, the UAE, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Brazil are not interested in taking sides between the US and China, or the US and Russia.
We want to stick to the middle and I think there are enough of us now.
Therefore, from India's point of view, we do not have only friends of China in the expanded group of countries, but countries that stand on their own strategic autonomy.
One needs to understand that strategic autonomy does not mean agreeing on every issue, it means taking your own position.
So you categorically believe that this addition of new members will not be seen as an anti-US front. How do you think the US is looking at this?
The concept that this is going to be a pro-Chinese exercise was deliberately floated, but I don't think it is true.
If you look at the voting figures -- most of these new countries actually voted with the Americans against Russia.
They did not abstain, but voted with America against Russia which shows that they were not following the Chinese.
The expansion of BRICS was supposed to be seen through consensus. India and Brazil were opposed to this expansion. Yet, how do you think China got its way?
I don't think China got its way. There are two parts to the expansion story.
- Should there be an expansion?
- How and who?
The expansion has been discussed for about two years. India, Brazil and South Africa wanted the setting up of criteria which was agreed upon at the summit.
But subsequently, if you read the communique, it says that the foreign ministers will report to the next summit on who the recommended partners are.
But suddenly, they decided to extend it now itself. This expansion would not have happened if India and Brazil had not agreed. I don't think it was due to Chinese pressure, but the enthusiasm of countries who wanted to join.
They had all approached various countries, including India. Many of their leaders were meeting leaders [of existing BRICS countries] in Johannesburg and saying, let's do it now rather than wait.
I don't see it as a Chinese victory. I think we were ready with our list and once the decision was taken, we had no problems with any of the new countries because we had already sort of vetted them.
- Part II of the Interview: 'It's like joining G-20, but not as good'
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com