BRICS and the Doctrine of Energy Cooperation

Authors: Urmila Rao* and Manish Vaid

One of the prime outcomes of the BRICS Summit 2016, (October 15-16, Goa, India) was setting up of three working groups by the Indian government; on counter-terrorism, cyber security and energy security. BRICS 2013 saw the issues of cyber security and terrorism discussed in the wake of US snooping revelations and terror-related violence in China. Summit 2013 saw the narrative revolve around countering cyber prying and terrorism through information sharing and following of best practices among Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS)., BRICS 2016 built up on that sentiment.

While it may appear that the first two groups i.e. cyber security and counter-terrorism, hold BRICS common interest, it is in reality the third i.e. the energy security that will sustain the Forum. How so? First, there is every possibility that the narratives of cyber security and terrorism will get mired in the rigmarole of ‘one country dictating the other, or ‘one interfering in the internal affairs of the other.’ Consider individual positions. China holds significant investments in its ‘all-weather’ ally Pakistan, and in all likelihood will not change its friendly stance towards Pakistan in response to Mr. Modi’s ‘mothership of terrorism’ refrain. In April this year, China and Pakistan conducted a joint military exercise, the fourth since 2004. Further, despite India’s cringing, Russia too held its first ever joint military exercise with Pakistan in September, just weeks before the Summit. India’s call of isolating ‘terrorism-inflicting’ Pakistan may not be of interest to other BRICS countries. Guarding its neutral position on Mr. Modi’s call, China stated that it “opposes linking terrorism with any specific country or religion” a position gapingly different from the incumbent Indian administration.

Second, BRICS survival and growth rests on pursuing common interests. Individual countries’ hustling doesn’t help and interference is damaging. Political tangos are tricky, especially when countries’ relative positions don’t hold a common political, economic or geographical interest. Brazil and South Africa have, and in all probability, will choose to remain aloof on India-Pak tensions and/or on Indo-China border dispute owing to relative geographic isolation. Russia will play neutral on India-China-Pak fracas. In fact, on occasions India’s political leadership too has chosen to keep away from interference. It has kept a low profile on Russia’s position with regard to Crimea and Ukraine’s tread. China, too has avoided taking a stance on Russia’s heavyweight actions in its region.

Cooperation on energy, however, holds common interest and the hydrocarbon diplomacy promises to keep BRICS together. A non-disputable established individual position makes alliances easier; Russia and Brazil are oil producers and exporters, while India, China and South Africa are net importers. A hand-shake on energy, thus, becomes a win-win situation. While Russia needs to diversify its energy interest outside EU, emerging economies India and China need energy security for their continued development. Russia, with dependency rate of 17-25 per cent towards GDP growth, wants to counter reduced demand from Europe whereas growth ambitious China and India are willing to seize the opportunity.

The energy narrative of BRICS has flown smoothly since its first Summit, held in Yekaterinburg, Russia in 2009.The joint statement of 2009 stated that BRIC supported the “diversification of energy resources and supply, the security of energy transit routes; the creation of new energy investments and of new energy infrastructure, including the linkage between energy producers, consumers and transit states”. The Delhi Declaration, issued by India during the fourth Summit, in 2012, for the first time emphasized on ‘multilateral energy cooperation within BRICS framework’, this time with South Africa in the Forum which joined in 2010.              

The complimentary nature of BRICS energy relationship has helped the countries to clinch some of the energy deals that can help bridge the demand-supply gap. In 2014, for instance, Russia and China stuck a 30-year deal for Russia to build $42 billion ‘Power of Siberia pipeline’, a 4,000 kilometer-long line tapping two new source fields running from Siberia to China, expected to start in 2019. Russia offered Beijing a stake in its Gazprom's Vladivostok liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal and a 19 per cent stake in its oil giant Rosneft. China’s National Petroleum Corp purchased a 10 percent share of Vankorneft, the upstream subsidiary of state-owned Rosneft.

In 2015 Russia’s oil major Gazprom and China National Oil Corporation (CNPC) inked a deal for pipeline deliveries of natural gas from Russia to China via ‘Power of Siberia 2’ gas pipeline, a supplementary agreement between the two countries. In March 2016, Gazprom secured $ 2.2 billion loan from China. Earlier this year, China Development Bank Corp lent $10 billion loan to Brazil’s oil giant, Petrobras for oil import to up to the tune of 200,000 barrels a day.

The 8th edition of the Summit saw further agreements across hydrocarbon value chain, dubbed as “energy bridge” between Russia and India. Enlarging India’s larger presence in Russia’s hydrocarbon sector, both the countries agreed to cooperate on LNG sourcing by building an estimated $25 billion worth of 4,500-6,000-km natural gas pipeline from Siberian gas field, connecting Russian gas grid to India.

In the Roseneft and Essar deal struck during the Summit, for instance, by selling 98 per cent of its company to Russia’s Roseneft (for $10.9 billion), India’s Essar got the route of reducing its debt burden. In another win-win alliance, it is expected that Russia’s Gazprom and India’s GAIL will sign a deal on LNG.

BRICS has showcased that strong synergies can also be forged on adoption of clean energy as pledged in 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement. The first meeting of BRICS Working Group on “Energy Saving and Energy Efficiency” was held towards that in Vishakhapatnam, India (July 4-5, 2016.) In this meeting, member countries agreed to cooperate in the field of energy saving and energy efficiency through joint research, technology transfer; conferences and best practices. Instead of remaining the odd one out, India ratified the Paris Global Climate Agreement this October and together with other BRICS nations, raised the bar on climate efforts.

Hydrocarbon cooperation can too be brought under the ambit of BRICS framework. The energy bridge planned by India and Russia should make China as a stakeholder, to reap the benefits of energy cooperation. Interestingly, in the recent proceedings of the 4th India-China Strategic Economic Dialogue held on October 7, 2016, India and China have agreed to cooperate on sourcing energy from international markets. Siberian gas field of Russia is one such markets where joint sourcing of natural gas can be done by India and China with an attempt to cut down is transportation cost, amid growing rising energy demand, through appropriate policy measures.

In the current backdrop of low global oil supply scenario, it’s wise to secure energy security through cooperation as opposed to one-upmanship.

Thus, the mutually profitable agreements of diverse nature, have and in all likelihood, will keep BRICS strong. It is the BRICS strategy of commerce which will keep the West on the edge and its ‘pivot to Asia’ a challenge. Western style of securing oil supplies by military interventions has so far been untenable. This has proven from 1953 coup in Iran to bombing of Libya in 2011 and following of the Carter Doctrine, 1980 stating use of military force if anyone tries to undermine the US control of Gulf.

BRICS has shown that reputation, goodwill and energy security can be attained by following the doctrine of cooperation.

(*Urmila Rao is a freelance journalist and researcher based in Dubai. She keeps a keen eye on the energy sector. Manish Vaid is a Junior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation, India. He has authored several articles on energy domain)

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.

Manish Vaid is a Junior Fellow with the Observer Research Foundation, having research interest in energy policy and geopolitics.

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