The 14th BRICS Summit, which concluded on June 24, revealed much about the grouping of five emerging nations. That this bloc of five disparate countries has not only made it to its 14th summit, but has been able to demonstrate some concrete, albeit modest, outcomes of cooperation, such as the emergence of the New Development Bank (NDB), suggests there remains a strong convergence of interests amid undeniable differences. Indeed, ever since the first summit in Yekaterinburg in 2009, BRICS has had more than its fair share of naysayers, particularly in the West, and has been derided as a talk shop. In his address to the summit on June 23, which was hosted by China this year and held virtually, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described the binding glue as “a similar approach to global governance”. That approach, according to the lengthy joint Beijing Declaration that followed, was premised on “making instruments of global governance more inclusive, representative and participatory”.
That is certainly a laudable goal. However, the NDB, which has since its launch in 2015 funded around $30 billion worth of projects in emerging nations, still remains for the grouping an isolated example of their common interests translating into tangible outcomes. That points to another summit take-away: despite a tall agenda, the bloc remains constrained by differences. For instance, on two key issues for the grouping — UN reforms and terrorism — members India and China have found themselves on opposing sides of the debate. India and Brazil have made common cause on pushing for an expanded UN Security Council, yet China has suggested it is not in favour of a permanent seat for India. On terrorism, the recent blocking by China of an attempt by India to sanction the LeT terrorist, Abdul Rehman Makki, at the UNSC sanctions committee, served as a reminder of contrasting approaches. Indeed, those two different approaches found mention in the Beijing Declaration, which acknowledged both India’s concerns on a lack of transparency at the sanctions committee and Chinese claims, seemingly driven by the desire to shield Pakistan, that these cases amounted to “politicisation”. On Ukraine, the bloc affirmed a commitment to respect sovereignty, despite Russia’s actions, and stopped short of condemning NATO, as Russia and China have done, reflecting different views within BRICS. These differences certainly cast doubt on the bloc’s loftier goals of reorienting the global order. They do not, however, suggest that the BRICS countries cannot cooperate on issues where interests align, whether in financing projects, as the NDB has done, working on climate change, as India and China have continued to do despite the LAC crisis, or even on space cooperation, where the five countries have agreed to create a joint constellation of remote sensing satellites.