A divergence of interests between the emerging powers known as the BRICS is complicating Beijing’s efforts to form an alternative axis to counter Western democracies’ influence, says a leading analyst.
“Given the leverage that China enjoys in BRICS, it should come as no surprise that Beijing has suggested that IBSA – the grouping of democracies India, Brazil and South Africa – be shut down in favor of BRICS,” says Harsh V. Pant, who teaches at King’s College, London.
“China’s power makes the other members nervous, leading them to hedge bets by investing in alternative alliances and partnerships even as China’s rapid accretion of economic and political power adds to its own challenges to make friends,” and there are also tensions between the two leading autocratic powers, he writes for Yale Global Online:
Russia and China are united in their aversion to a US-led global political order, but elite distrust of each other remains. Though they coordinate in trying to scuttle western policies, ….the partnership is one of convenience. Russia’s failure to develop its Far East has allowed China to gain a toehold in this strategic region and allowed Beijing to define the Asian security landscape. … China could emerge as the greatest potential security threat to Russia.
“There’s a long history of this kind of ambitious rhetoric coming from the two countries, and it usually doesn’t amount to much,” Walter Russell Mead writes on The American Interest:
The Soviet Union and Mao’s China famously couldn’t make things work. And more recent history is littered with initiatives, like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which were supposed to herald a new era of Sino-Russian cooperation but in fact have made little difference to world affairs.
The SCO has been described as “the most dangerous organization that the American people have never heard of,” an authoritarian international for Eurasia’s illiberal regimes, and “one of those international bodies whose proclaimed ideals conceal an often sordid reality.”
The SCO’s approach to counter-terrorism is modeled on China’s Three Evils doctrine for combating terrorism, extremism and separatism, which, as one study notes, this has “too often acted as cover for suppression of ….legitimate opposition groups and the cutting-off of trans-regional ties between them.” The Beijing/SCO focus on territorial integrity, non-interference, and social stability “contributes to supporting repressive regimes at the expense of national, regional, and global human rights,” according to a whitepaper from Human Rights in China, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.
“The fascination with BRICS is partly an offshoot of the discussion on the emerging so-called post-American world. Many commentators argue multipolarity is likely to be the norm,” Pant argues:
Even if the BRICS get their economic act together, the grouping will find it difficult to turn that strength into a unified political force. China’s dominance makes most of the goals articulated by the BRICS states wobbly. The point of this coalition was always to show that the balance of power is shifting toward emerging countries, away from the West’s historical dominance. But a multipolar world isn’t the same as China just trying to tilt the balance of power toward itself.
“The narrative surrounding the rise of BRICS is as exaggerated as that of decline for the US,” Pant concludes. “BRICS will remain an artificial construct, merely an acronym coined by an investment banking analyst, for some time to come.”