The coming of China’s chairmanship in the BRICS grouping in 2022 is likely to provide a fresh impulse to the BRICS+ initiative that was launched during the Xiamen summit in 2017. A lot has changed in the course of this 5-year period and, if anything, these developments have reinforced the need for BRICS countries to reach out to the Global South economies and to advance their vision of a more balanced global governance. The various modalities of the BRICS+ framework discussed in the preceding years increasingly point to the relevance of a regional approach that prioritizes greater cooperation between regional integration arrangements where BRICS economies are members as well as their respective regional development institutions.
What happened in the span of the 5 years between China’s chairmanship in BRICS in 2017 and 2022? It appears that a lot of the developments in the BRICS universe were associated with the advancement of regional initiatives:
- The launching of the RCEP project led by China and the ASEAN economies
- The launching of the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA)
- BRICS+ summit in South Africa, with invitees being representatives of regional blocs from the Global South
- The signing of a memorandum on understanding between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and MERCOSUR (in 2018) as well as between the EAEU and ASEAN (2018)
- The creation of regional centers of the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) in South Africa, Brazil and Russia.
- Approval of the expansion in the membership of the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) to include Bangladesh and Uruguay — the regional partners of India and Brazil respectively
There is also the Covid pandemic that has rendered the global economy more fragmented and regionalized. Another important development of the past several years is the emergence of regional/trans-regional blocs such as the QUAD and AUKUS. The QUAD in particular aims to expand its purview from military cooperation to economic policy matters within the format of an enlarged QUAD+. In the structural sphere a key trend of the past several years is the emergence of the “platform economy”, with corporate platforms becoming the leading engines of growth and innovation. Similar trends are also observed at the regional level, with mega-regional integration arrangements serving as platforms for the aggregation of the multitudes of bilateral and regional FTAs.
All these developments point to the expediency of further advancing the BRICS+ platform on the basis of cooperation among regional integration arrangements and their development institutions where BRICS countries are members. Such a platform could have the BEAMS concept as its core — namely cooperation among the key regional integration initiatives of BRICS economies such as BIMSTEC, EAEU, ASEAN-China FTA, Mercosur and SADC/SACU. This circle of cooperation could be complemented by platforms between regional development banks/regional financing arrangements and NDB/BRICS CRA respectively.
One of the ways to upgrade/modernize this BRICS+ concept into a “BRICS+ 2.0” would be to take on board some of the recent proposals from the World Economic Forum (WEF) concerning the modalities of economic alliances in the modern world. The proposed governance structure (as reflected in the World Economic Forum report entitled “Globalization 4.0 Shaping a New Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution”) was characterized by greater flexibility at various levels of governance to pursue plurilateral agreements in specific sectors without the need to ensure complete support for new liberalization initiatives from all countries. In the context of the BRICS+ circle such a framework may leave open the possibility for bilateral and plurilateral agreements to complement the core network of regional alliances formed by BRICS countries and their respective regional neighbours.
Ultimately, the value of the BRICS+ paradigm is not in extending the BRICS countries’ reach or ambition — it is about a qualitative change in the pattern of economic development in the Global South. Rather than competing one by one to edge closer to the model of advanced Western economies, the BRICS+ paradigm focusses BRICS countries efforts towards cooperating in building ties with their regional partners and building a common platform for the integration of developing nations into the global economy.
Compared to the original BRICS format, BRICS+ has the advantage of stronger “gravitational ties” at the level of regions that are more massive (and hence exert a stronger gravitational pull in line with the indications of the economic “gravity model” à la Tinbergen) than the respective five BRICS economies. Another important advantage of the BRICS+ framework is greater scope for connectivity projects, which is something that is currently pursued via the creation of BRICS NDB regional centres and the expansion of BRICS NDB membership to include BRICS regional neighbours such as Bangladesh and Uruguay. There is far less scope for such connectivity to be pursued in the more narrow and geographically more separated BRICS space.
The BRICS+ also increases the optionality and the scope of alliances that may be pursued by BRICS countries across the Global South economic space. Moreover, BRICS+ may be the only viable and harmonized format for BRICS to advance common initiatives in the sphere of economic integration, since the majority of BRICS economies now conduct their trade policy only in the framework of their respective regional integration arrangements. This is the case in particular with Brazil (MERCOSUR), Russia (EAEU), South Africa (SADC/SACU). To put this more bluntly, the regional BRICS+ format is the only feasible platform for economic integration alliances to be finally launched among the BRICS countries after an extended period of limited economic advances in the sphere of common economic integration. It may be time then for BRICS to effect a transition to a consistent regional format that could open the possibilities for a new phase of alliances across the wide economic terrain of the Global South.
From our partner RIAC
Nepal-China Relations and Belt and Road Initiative
China appears to be more “functional” in Nepal recently. A new administration led by leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal has acted on the same pitch initially also. The Rasuwagadhi border crossing, which had been blocked for three years, has been reopened for two-way trade, and the much-anticipated Gyorong-Kathmandu train project’s final survey has also begun as of January 1, 2023. The second phase of the 10-lane ring road project from Kalanki to Chabhil is anticipated to start soon as well. All these accumulatively demonstrate the current nature of friendship between them and the profound Belt and Road Initiative is the key rostrum for the current complexion of the relationship between them. Hence, the trends are indicating a greater form of cooperation even in the regional domain as well.
Meanwhile, China and Nepal have inked a six-point agreement to strengthen bilateral collaboration and exchanges on governance, legislation, and supervisory practices, in line with Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). On September 12, 2022, in Kathmandu’s federal parliament building, Agni Prasad Sapkota, Speaker of the Parliament, and Li Zhanshu, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress, signed the agreement. According to the agreement, the nations would exchange information about each other’s legislative, oversight, and governance activities. Five years after BRI’s founding, on May 12, 2017, Nepal formally joined the process. Nine projects – the upgrading of the Rasuwagadhi-Kathmandu road, the construction of the Kimathanka-Hile road, the construction of the road from Dipayal to the Chinese border, the Tokha-Bidur Road, the Galchhi-Rasuwagadhi-Kerung400kv transmission line, the Kerung-Kathmandu rail, the 762MW Tamor Hydroelectricity Project, the 426MW Phuket Karnali were on the to do list. However, more than any other nation, China invested US$188 million in Nepal during the 2020–21 fiscal year. During KP Sharma Oli’s visit to Beijing in 2016, Nepal and China also ratified a transit transport agreement for commerce with other parties.
However, amidst the current global tension and the changing rapport of international politics, China remains as a key investor in Nepal. Besides, the recent activities from the Nepal administration showed a shift in policy domain from the previous regime which in some cases was rigid to Chinese projects. Meanwhile, the BRI becomes more eminent in the strategic, political and economic domain of the status quo. Against such backdrop, the next sections will discuss current trends of the BRI in Nepal.
Nine Projects: Token of Continuation of the Initiative
Nepal put forward nine potential projects to be undertaken under the BRI at the beginning of 2019. These included setting up a technical institution in Nepal, building new highways, tunnels, and hydroelectricity dams, as well as conducting a feasibility assessment for a trans-Himalayan railway that would connect Jilong/Keyrung, a Chinese port of entry, with Kathmandu. This enhanced the significance of the project which will direct to more prosperous China- Nepal relations.
Nepal, the “Pillar”
Hou Yanqi, the Chinese ambassador to Nepal, stated in April 2022 that Nepal was one of the BRI’s most significant pillars and that projects were still moving forward despite the “speed of pragmatic collaboration” slowing down because of the coronavirus pandemic and Nepal’s changing political climate.
Transit Through China: Better Connectivity and Trade
Kathmandu protocol agreement with Beijing, Nepal will import and export goods from a third country through China through Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang seaports and land ports of Lanzhou, Lhasa and Shigatse. They will also get the facility of transporting goods through six dedicated transit points of the two countries. It will boost the trade for improved connectivity.
Extended Cooperation in Domains Except for BRI
In addition to the BRI projects, China is currently making significant investments in Nepal’s infrastructure, including ring road expansion, dry ports at the border crossings of Larcha and Syabrubesi, the establishment of China Study Centers, a new international airport in Pokhara, and optical fiber cable connectivity from Kathmandu to the Chinese border.
Energy Exploration: New Domain of Cooperation
China is also looking into the prospect of discovering gas and oil deposits in Nepal and is building a border river crossing at Hilsa, Humla. It will open a new domain of cooperation based on mutual interest.
Poverty Reduction and Generating Newer Income Sources
Currently, roughly six Chinese airlines offer regular flights to Nepal. Nepal has the fastest-growing Chinese tourist industry. Nepal granted China access to choose 16 Himalayan regions that border China to develop as part of a program to fight poverty.
Security: Bringing Peace
Joint military drills between China and Nepal are also a new development in security cooperation. It will bring peace in the region since the image of Nepal is very clean.
Increased Diplomatic Connectivity
The BRI appears to be one of the three priority pillars for the Chinese government’s organizing principles of foreign policy, along with the Global Development Initiatives and the Global Security Initiatives, in terms of developing successful international relations rather than just an economic endeavor. It will bring a fresh start in the diplomatic domain of both countries and the future prospects of ties in the diplomatic arena can be discussed robustly.
No More Landlockedness
Under BRI and the Trans-Himalayan Multi-dimensional Connectivity Network, which will transform Nepal from a landlocked country to a land-linked one, there are multiple road, sea, and corridor networks throughout the world. It will boost the relationship to a great extent while there will be a surge in the arena of export and import.
The extension of the Qingzang railway from Tibet to Nepal and the border with India is among the most significant BRI projects. Three routes are being considered for this railway. The first would connect Shigatse to Kathmandu via Kerung and continue on to Pokhara and Lumbini before reaching the Indian border. The second would run from Shigatse to the Burang border and connect Humla and Darchula districts in Nepal with Pithoragdh, Uttarakhand, while the third would link Shigatse to the Yandong border of Sikkim, India.
As China and India have no trade disputes with one another, India would gain from this project as well after trading through this route. In comparison to other industrialized parts of the world, South Asia could see an increase in commerce and investment if this project is carried out on a win-win basis between China and Nepal.
Additionally, loans are typically provided on commercial terms through the Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), both of which are led by China (SRF). Due to project site clearance delays and the nation’s political instability, along with its comparatively short repayment time, Nepal’s big projects have raised concerns that they may not get off the ground.
Besides, three primary issues with China are of particular concern to the Nepalese government. First, instead of commercial loans, the nation favors grants and lenient loans from China. Second, it wants the interest rate and repayment period to be comparable to those of multilateral funding organizations like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. Thirdly, it thinks that bid competitions ought to be allowed for the BRI projects. But the Chinese authorities are not responding on the same page.
The Inception of a Recommenced Cooperation
Pradeep Gawali, Foreign Minister in the KP Sharma Oli’s government, said that from the perspective of Nepal, the BRI projects were the way to be connected to the trans-Himalayan multipurpose connectivity network. Nepal had been able to select the nine projects included in the BRI with great success. However, Chinese authority said on December 26 that it looks forward to cooperating with the new government to advance projects under the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, a day after the Maoist party chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal alias Prachanda was named as Nepal’s new prime minister (BRI). China aims to develop initiatives under the Belt and Road collaboration, according to Mao Ning, the official spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, who congratulated Prachanda on his appointment. Beijing claims that as a longtime ally and neighbor of Nepal, China cherishes Nepali relations very highly. China is prepared to collaborate with the new Nepalese administration to broaden and deepen friendly relations and cooperation on all fronts, pursue high-quality Belt and Road cooperation, strategic cooperative alliance marked by enduring friendship for growth and prosperity new impetus, and bring more benefits to peoples from both sides.
Hence, it is evident that China’s policy toward Nepal is generally stable and uncomplicated, and the two countries’ bilateral relations have been cordial and shaped by Nepal’s strategy of balancing the divergent impact of China and its southern neighbor. Through BRI projects, Nepal could gain better connectivity relations with its northern neighbors, but in order to do so, Nepal must enhance its negotiations with China.
Territorial Rise of China: It’s Impact on International Borders
The rise of China has had a significant impact on the international order and the way countries interact with one another. One of the main areas where this has been felt is in the realm of international borders. China has long had disputes with its neighbours over the demarcation of its borders. In recent years, it has become more assertive in advancing its territorial claims, particularly in the South China Sea. This has led to tensions and military standoffs with other countries in the region, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan.
China’s territorial claims have also been met with pushback and condemnation from the international community. Many countries and international organizations, such as the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations, have criticized China for its territorial expansion and militarization of disputed islands in the South China Sea. In addition to its territorial disputes, China’s rise has also led to increased competition and tensions with other major powers, such as the United States, over issues related to trade, technology, and influence in various regions around the world. Overall, the rise of China has led to a re-evaluation of the existing international borders and the way countries interact with one another, and has the potential to reshape the international order in the coming years.
Focus of the Study:
The territorial rise of China and its assertive actions in advancing its territorial claims have been seen by many countries as a threat to their own sovereignty and security. This is particularly true for countries in the Asia-Pacific region, who have territorial disputes with China over islands, reefs and waters in the South China Sea. The territorial disputes have led to increased military activity and a build-up of armed forces in the region, raising concerns about the potential for military conflict. The disputes have also led to economic disruption and have hindered freedom of navigation and overflight in the region.
China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea have also been met with pushback and condemnation from the international community. Many countries, including the United States, have called for China to abide by international law and respect the sovereignty of other countries in the region. The territorial disputes and assertiveness of China also have a broader impact on the global order. The strong opposition from other countries has led to the formation of alliances and partnerships between countries to counterbalance China’s rising power. In addition, China’s territorial expansion can also be seen as an attempt to gain control over the resources in the disputed areas, such as fisheries, oil, and gas reserves, which can be a major concern for the countries in the region that are dependent on these resources. This can also lead to economic disruption, as they can impede freedom of navigation and overflight in the region. This can disrupt the flow of goods and resources, and can negatively impact the global economy. China’s territorial rise and assertiveness in advancing its territorial claims have been seen as a threat to the sovereignty and security of other countries in the region and have the potential to destabilize the regional and global order.
Tensions and military standoffs between China and other countries in the region, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan, are primarily due to territorial disputes over islands, reefs, and waters in the South China Sea. China claims a large portion of the South China Sea as its territorial waters, including islands and reefs that are also claimed by other countries in the region. China and the Philippines have long-standing disputes over the Spratly and Scarborough islands, with both countries claiming sovereignty over the islands and their surrounding waters. China’s construction of military facilities on the disputed islands has led to a military standoff between the two countries and condemnation from the international community. Vietnam and China also have territorial disputes in the South China Sea, primarily over the Paracel and Spratly islands. China’s assertive actions in the region, such as oil and gas exploration and the building of military facilities on disputed islands, have led to tensions and military standoffs between the two countries. Similarly, China and Japan have a dispute over the Senkaku (Diaoyu) islands, which are uninhabited but are believed to be rich in natural resources. China’s increasing maritime activities in the area and its claim over the islands have led to tensions and military standoffs between the two countries, raising concerns about the potential for military conflict and escalating tensions between China and other countries in the region such as the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan.
In terms of trade, China’s rapid economic growth has made it a major player in the global economy, and it is now the world’s largest trading nation. However, its trade practices and economic policies have been a source of tension and disagreement with other major powers, particularly the United States. For example, the US has criticized China for its trade surplus, currency manipulation, and intellectual property theft. These tensions led to a trade war between the two countries, with tariffs and trade restrictions being imposed on each other’s goods, which affected the global economy. In terms of technology, China’s rapid technological advancements, particularly in areas such as 5G, artificial intelligence, and semiconductors have been a source of concern for other major powers, including the United States. The US has accused China of stealing intellectual property and engaging in forced technology transfer, and has imposed restrictions on Chinese companies such as Huawei in order to limit their access to American technology. In terms of influence, China’s rise has led to increased competition with other major powers for influence in various regions around the world. For example, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure and investment program, has been viewed by some countries as a way for China to expand its economic and political influence in Asia, Europe, and Africa. This has led to concerns about China’s increasing global influence and its potential to challenge the existing international order. China’s rise as a major economic and military power has led to increased competition and tensions with other major powers, particularly the United States, over issues related to trade, technology, and influence in various regions around the world. These tensions have the potential to disrupt the existing global order and have a significant impact on the global economy.
The solution to the territorial rise of China and its assertive actions in advancing its territorial claims is a complex and multifaceted issue. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, and a variety of approaches may be necessary to address the problem. One approach is to seek a diplomatic solution to the territorial disputes. This can involve negotiations and diplomatic efforts to resolve disputes peacefully and through international legal mechanisms, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Another approach is to strengthen regional security and military cooperation between countries in the region to counterbalance China’s rising power. This can involve increasing military exercises, sharing intelligence, and building a regional security architecture to manage disputes and prevent conflicts.
Economic measures such as trade sanctions, tariffs, and investment restrictions can also be used to pressure China to change its behaviour. However, this approach carries the risk of economic disruption, and it is also not guaranteed to change China’s behaviour. Another alternative solution would be to involve China in multilateral organizations and global governance systems, encouraging them to play a constructive role in maintaining international peace and security, and promoting economic cooperation, this would help in tackling China’s territorial rise of borders, by making them a responsible stakeholder in the international community.
Ultimately, a comprehensive and coordinated approach, involving a combination of diplomatic, economic, and military measures, is likely to be most effective in addressing the territorial rise of China and its assertive actions in advancing its territorial claims. It’s important to understand that this is a complex issue that requires a nuanced approach and cooperation among the international community.
Dependency Trap: Chinese Strategy to Mute Global Response to its Multidomain Aggression
China is known to entrap weaker economies through its debt trap, but the bigger threat, not so much talked about, is its strategy to entrap stronger economies like USA, G7 Countries as well as India into its dependency trap, which indirectly mutes counter actions against Chinese aggressive design, irrespective of its magnitude, dimension and implications.
How Grave is Chinese Aggression?
China has launched multi-domain aggression on most countries of an unprecedented magnitude, but it has not been acknowledged globally to avoid responding aggressively to it. The western world has been keenly counting the casualties in Russia Ukraine War and collectively contesting against Russia, whereas the casualties’ figures caused by China through coronavirus by direct invasion on to global health system remains unpunished. China lied, people died is common slogan but the clamor to probe into its origin seems to be waning, once USA got dragged into the controversy of gain of function research. After two years of pandemic, it appears that world has to lump the bitter pill to assume that coronavirus originated from nowhere!
While global deaths of over 6.7 million people may not be attributed to China alone but the delay in declaration of pandemic by tamed WHO and not controlling international flights two years back to avoid its economic setback by China is certainly a direct assault on global health. The death due to coronavirus certainly exceed deaths in all wars of many decades put together.
China has once again has unleashed the infection by suddenly opening up after draconian Zero COVID Policy due to unprecedented domestic protests and has threatened countries like Japan and South Korea trying to test people arriving from China by visa stoppages, thereby forcing them to accept infected Chinese, but there is no unified global response. Many countries like Thailand have succumbed to its pressure by doing away with tests putting their people at risk. It emboldens China that the world is ready to adjust to its needs and lump its aggression. Its blatant refusal to share data which impacts global health hasn’t seen any sanctions by world community and organizations meant to take action. No-one has gone beyond expressing concerns and no resolution was sought to force China to share information to protect lives of others.
As a token Chinese reluctantly released first official deaths toll of almost 60,000 Covid-related deaths in a month, after suddenly lifting controls of Zero COVID policy with over 90 percent casualties of over 65 years as per its National Health Commission. This appears to be gross under-report by referring COVID as fever and not reporting fever deaths as COVID related deaths. Is CCP cleansing older people using COVID, who were left least vaccinated due to its awkward policy, to get the correct demographics for mass manufacturing?
In other domains too including Chinese incremental encroachment, the global response has been inadequate, be it grabbing inhabited features in South China Sea and converting them in military bases and junking all rulings of PCA on the subject. Its aggression on Himalayan borders is being responded to by India on stand-alone mode. Its fire power demonstration on Taiwan has been responded by nothing beyond posturing. Its fishing trawlers illegally fishing all over the globe have seen limited resistance by individual affected countries. It dares to operate secret police stations in all so-called powerful countries as influence operations as part of its Three warfare Strategy hasn’t seen a worthwhile push back. Its BRI projects have pushed many weak economies into unending debt trap.
Why Global Response is Muted Against China?
By design as well as default China became the global factory due to US efforts to push China up to disintegrate USSR. The investments as well as dependence of West on China grew to an extent that during coronavirus outbreak, New York had a sanitation problem when supply chain of toilet rolls from China got disrupted. The world realized its helplessness due to over-dependence on China during COVID-19 pandemic but the magnitude of dependency was such that despite strong desire/efforts to decouple, it is finding difficulty in doing so till date.
Countries suffering Chinese aggression like Japan may be criticizing it on daily basis but their trade with China continues to grow. Chinese total goods trade touched a record high in 2022, reaching 42.07 trillion yuan ($6.3 trillion), a rise of 7.7% from 2021. Measured in US dollars, exports jumped 7% in 2022, while imports increased 1.1%. That translates into a trade surplus of $877.6 billion, surpassing 2021’s record of $676 billion.
Chinese exports to Japan in 2022 saw increase of 3.87 percent over 2021. Similar is the story of most major economies including US, which suffered maximum deaths due to coronavirus. The allegation that coronavirus was a biological weapon unleashed to dislodge US from its top position in global dominance is yet not ruled out. The nature of warfare has changed and so have the instruments of war. Its certain that commercial interest of countries have overshadowed/compromised security interest and health of their people in context of China. China has thus muted global response to its unchecked aggression making full use of global commercial dependency on it. The trade figures indicated above prove that. That’s why China is again infecting world with new variants of COVID19 & no-one has stopped its flights.
The Case of India!
While troops endure freezing winters at the LAC, MEA India says its relations with China can’t be normal till border issue is resolved. However, the trade deficit has grown to $101 billion in 2022, out of bilateral trade of $126 billion, marking a sharp rise of 46 percent tells a different story. More than 160 companies in India have Chinese CEOs. The API reliance is indirectly humbling Indian border efforts. China continues to cherish such ‘not normal relations’, which in financial terms are better than normal. Indian consumers too need to set it right besides expecting concrete measures by the Government of India.
What Needs to be done?
It is necessary to pursue some initial steps taken by the Quad countries to synergize medical, scientific, financial, manufacturing, important emerging technology, and developmental capabilities in order to create an alternative supply chain, trade, technological, and health eco system that is independent of China. To send the proper signals that the intentions of a non-military grouping can alter overnight if there is interoperability between militaries of like-minded countries, Quad members must continue freedom of navigation and military drills in the Indo-Pacific.
To prevent vulnerable economies from falling into the debt trap set up by China through the BRI, an alternative infrastructure architecture in the form of the B3W, Blue Dot Network, and Friendship Highways is crucial. It is necessary to plan a collective reaction to threats from the cyberspace, space terrorism, biological agents, and Chinese nuclear expansion.
India needs to be self-reliant at unprecedented speed. India must increasingly create a negative import list of all products imported from China that have been or can be manufactured in India in response to economic and digital invasion and gradually forbid their imports, as is being done to increase self-reliance in defence manufacturing.
In addition to the Quad, strategic alliances with like-minded democracies like France and the UK as well as collective naval posturing to create a multi-front situation for China in the Indo-Pacific are crucial for containing Chinese expansionism, the challenge to international law, and the threat to the global commons posed by unilaterally enforcing Coast Guard Law and Maritime Traffic Safety Laws that are China-centric. To counter Chinese military activities near India, India is appropriately forming a variety of strategic alliances with the USA and other China-wary nations.
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