Conflicting views pervade BRICS Ministers’ meeting

Fight against terrorism, cooperation in areas of economy and people-to-people exchanges emerged as prominent themes in the one-day meet.

Updated - July 29, 2019 11:01 am IST

Published - July 28, 2019 11:03 pm IST - Rio de Janeiro

(From left) Sergei Lavrov, Wang Yi, Ernesto Araujo, Naledi Pandor and V.K. Singh at the BRICS meeting.  Reuters

(From left) Sergei Lavrov, Wang Yi, Ernesto Araujo, Naledi Pandor and V.K. Singh at the BRICS meeting. Reuters

For a meeting set to articulate the voice of emerging countries, the BRICS Foreign Ministers’ gathering here on Friday could not have started on a more discordant note.

Opening the meeting, Foreign Minister of Brazil Ernesto Araujo called upon fellow BRICS members — Russia, India, China and South Africa — to “act on Venezuela” in support of Juan Guaido, who proclaimed himself interim president of the South American country on January 23. Brazil holds the rotating presidency of BRICS grouping for 2019.

“There is a cry of freedom coming from Venezuela. Brazil has heard this cry… Every member of international community needs to hear this cry and act,” said Mr. Araujo spelling out his country’s vision for the BRICS Summit in November.

Conflicting views

However, following Mr. Araujo on the speaking list, Russian Foreign Minister and policy veteran Sergey Lavrov, who, also, spoke on Venezuela, took a diametrically opposite position.

“We need to use international law as the basis for reaching a solution by themselves without outside interference,” said Mr. Lavrov, restating the Russian position.

He then called for a similar approach to the crisis in the Persian Gulf. The importance of his reference to Iran was not lost on anyone, as two Iranian ships have been stuck in a port here for days, with Brazilian oil companies refusing to provide fuel because of U.S. sanctions.

Brazil’s new government, led by far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, has closely allied itself with U.S. President Donald Trump’s government. In such a climate, the meeting opened with a bit of uncertainty. “The BRICS Sherpas and teams of diplomats worked for days to make sure a positive agenda is set. We did not want anything negative about any particular country in it. We only want to articulate the position of the developing world,” said an Indian official who was a member of the official delegation.

The final statement released to the media reflected a commonality of purpose among the BRICS countries. “The Ministers agreed to further deepen BRICS three-pillar-driven cooperation in the areas of economy, peace and security and people-to-people exchanges,” it said.

Fight against terrorism

The details of the statement reflect that the group of five emerging countries might now be looking for a bigger and different role in global affairs. A large part of the joint statement is devoted to “fight against terrorism”, which emerged as a major theme of the one-day meeting. In his address, General V.K. Singh (retd.), Union Minister of State for Transport, who stood in for External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said, “All our countries have been victims of terrorism and we need to support each other to end these groups and their supporters. The BRICS has to fight to end the financing of terrorist networks in all our territories.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi too during his speech called upon the BRICS countries to cooperate in combating terrorism.

The BRICS Working Group on Counter Terrorism — already in place — will hold a seminar on terrorism in Brazil from July 29 to August 2.

According to Indian officials, the inclusion of FATF in the statement is a positive move as India has been pushing for Pakistan to be put on this list for financing terrorism in the region.

On the issue of terrorism in Afghanistan, India clearly got a shot in the arm as the BRICS statement reiterated support for “international and national efforts to achieve an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process”.

With the Trump government working on a deal with the Taliban, India has been almost left out of the ongoing Afghan peace process. But with China and Russia two other major stakeholders in Afghanistan reaffirming their support to an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” process, India can hope to still play a role in a country it has invested heavily in.

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