The global summits and high-level multilateral meetings face unusual challenges in view of the ongoing pandemic. When key decision makers are all present in one location, lobbying and working out give and take positions of individual member-country become easy. However, when these key figures can only be reached online, they become fragmented across the enormity of the digital world. In the absence of the crucial diplomatic coffee breaks, taxi rides and late- night dinners, adopting new strategies or advocating certain line of positions becomes an unchartered territory.
However, virtual summits and high-level meeting through video conferences are becoming the new norm. Russia is hosting BRICS and SCO summits this year. Last week saw both these meetings being held in the same week—SCO Defence Ministers meeting in Moscow and the BRICS Foreign ministers Meeting through video conference.
The BRICS summit had originally been scheduled for July but was later moved to October in view of the Coronavirus scourge. Moscow had been very keen on one-to-one meetings of foreign ministers and national security advisers. India too favoured the same as it is taking over the BRICS chair in 2021.
In view of the 75th anniversary of the UN, the discussions among BRICS foreign ministers centred around an overview of the global situation and the key issues on the 75 UN General Assembly Agenda.
External Affairs Minister Dr. S Jaishankar, in his forceful intervention, emphasized the need to reform the UN to reflect contemporary global realities. He also called for expansion of the UN Security Council in both permanent and non-permanent categories. India’s commitment to multilateralism remains unwavered though India strongly favours reform of international bodies like UN, WTO, IMF, WHO etc.
India has made an enormous contribution to the United Nations, through the efforts of its Government, peacekeeping forces, the work of Indian scholars, and international civil servants. India’s has been one of the most eloquent voices helping the United Nations shape its agenda on behalf of the developing world
And yet, the status quo and procrastination on Security Council reforms are untenable. There is a sense that multilateral diplomacy is being undermined by certain countries. India feels the mandate for early reforms has been compromised for nefarious gains of some countries.
Dr Jaishankar explained how the Aatmanirbhar Bharat initiated by India is a dynamic and mutually beneficial global economic engagement as it holds the key to achieving rapid growth and development.
External Affairs Minister also highlighted the scourge of terrorism and called for enhanced BRICS cooperation in countering the scourge. He expressed satisfaction on the conclusion of BRICS Counter Terrorism Strategy. The meeting strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations whenever, wherever and by whomsoever committed.
The BRICS foreign ministers discussed at length the strategies to combat new infectious diseases. While acknowledging the role played by the WHO, they stressed the importance of enhancing BRICS countries’ positive contribution to international public health security. More significantly, the meeting underlined the need to collaborate vigorously to deal with the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the enjoyment of social and economic rights and the right to development. India has helped over 150 countries in the global fight against Covid-19.
All said, BRICS faces a new moment of reckoning. There is a growing feeling that if China continues its aggressive behaviour and seeks to hollow WTO, BRICS and other global institutions, India should gradually move away from these groupings. China’s coercive pursuit of its agenda has already forced India to downgrade some cooperative elements of its ties with China. Some suggest, instead of BRICS and SCO, India should pursue “Quad plus” strategy that should include Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea and Singapore. If China insists on rewriting rules for its own ends, it will not only be at odds with rules-based international order, it will also put a big question mark on BRICS’ future.
Script: Dr. ASH Narain Roy, Director, Institute of Social Sciences, Delhi