BRICS: A meeting of future superpowers?

Or not?


1. Is this a meeting of future superpowers, especially when we are talking about China and India?

2. What can India learn from China and vice versa?


Douglas Paal, Vice President for Studies, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

1.  We will all be feeling the effects of the rise of the BRICS, mostly in the social,  environmental and economic displacements caused by globalization.  None of the Brics is anywhere near ready or willing to assume super power  responsibilities, however, and hence will not achieve that status soon or even in the mid-term.  They are inward looking, and look outside themselves only to feed internal demands.

Moreover, I believe that both China and India will continue to grow their economies and lift millions out of poverty, but their rates of growth will decline significantly as China exhausts the vast early harvests of its emergence and use of the Asian development model and India confronts political and organizational challenges to a coherent development policy.

2.  India might learn to liberate its people from dependency on the land, with accompanying  poverty, by facilitating rapid urbanization as China has been doing.  But this is highly unlikely due to the fragile political composition of the Indian government.  China might learn from India to adopt a more accountable form of government, but Chinese do not see the Indian model working for themselves, viewing it as too messy, chaotic, and slow to deliver results.  China does hope to  market more products to India over time.

Sumit Ganguly, Professor of Political Science, Indiana University in Bloomington

1. No, I think not. India is currently faced with a host of domestic political and economic difficulties and is suffering from an acute shortage of imaginative leadership. China faces other problems. There is a serious problem of political succession, it has an aging population, its housing bubble is about to burst and it is far from clear that it sustain its export led growth model indefinitely.

2. China could learn how to open up its political system and allow dissent while India could learn a thing or two about how to build world class infrastructure in a timely fashion.

Alica Kizekova, Teaching Fellow, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Bond University

1. This is not a meeting of future superpowers. Although, it might be inevitable for China to gain the superpower status, despite predicted political upheaval, if it manages to solidify its military and diplomatic power; the short and medium term prediction is that China first needs to find sustainable solutions for its internal developmental problems: wealth disparities between rural and urban communities, health and environmental issues, and corruption. India, dealing with similar domestic issues, is further disadvantaged by its current status within the United Nations Security Council, where it does not hold a permanent position, and therefore, does not possess the veto power.

The BRICS countries try to exercise a new coordinated policy approach to international decision-making. All members of the BRICS support the multipolar world system. The countries are currently focusing on increasing the intra-regional trade. The first step is to generate a study that will explore the potential of setting up the BRICS development bank. Based on the experience from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, it’ll be interesting to see whether the votes in this bank will be allocated depending on the size of the countries contributions. If China’s contributions become too large, then it might be the one controlling the bank and the use of these resources to its own advantage.

Rosita Dellios, Associate Professor, Bond University

2. Before asking what one can learn from the other it is worth noting what they have in common. India and China are two Eastern civilization-states which are also rising powers that display holistic thinking. Their strategic cultures are governed by this philosophical assumption of interrelated complexity. Both regard the world as inherently polycentric – or ‘multipolar’ as termed in contemporary international relations. A genuinely multipolar world would entail the US sharing power with equals rather than being the paramount power. This would mean, for everyone involved, a more sophisticated grasp of the art of cooperative relations. China and India have the cultural resources to tap into this capacity, and they share a region of geostrategic pre-eminence in the current century.

Where they can learn from one another is in their interpretation of the holistic order. Indian holism reveals itself primarily as pluralism; Chinese holism as the harmony of opposites.

In India, with the philosophical-religious emphasis on the many paths to knowledge and enlightenment, there is tolerance for the opinions of others. India itself is one representation of the world in all its complexity, but also it matches the West’s core concern with representational values and freedom of expression. India projects a democratic image without masquerading as a Western nation. The West is merely another part of a polycentric system. So India is already well poised to assume a larger role in world affairs, without attendant threat perceptions from the status quo Western powers. This is something that China needs to learn – how to ease suspicion of its rise without losing its identity.

Thus China can learn more about the value of tolerance and allowing for the expression of diverse opinions, something which is also indigenous to Chinese philosophical tradition – ‘let a hundred flowers bloom, a hundred schools of thought contend’ is an ancient Chinese saying. This would add to China’s Comprehensive National Strength (CNS) which is the way in which it measures itself in relation to others: as China sees it, there are political, economic, cultural, informational and other sectors that together make a nation strong. A China that can add tolerance and pluralism to its power mix will be an even better equipped global power. Already it is showing this pluralistic, tolerant attitude in its multilateral relations, especially BRICS and SCO. However, domestically this feature is still to reveal itself.

India, on the other hand, can benefit from China’s emphasis on harmony. Indeed China’s slogans of ‘harmonious society’ internally, and ‘harmonious world’ externally derive from its Confucian oriented culture that was never lost, only occasionally marginalised during times of political upheaval. This harmony of opposites is well expressed in the traditional cultural symbol of the yin-yang, which is now a global icon for harmony and balance. India needs to find ways of balancing its diverse self and interests into a dynamic focused whole. This is what the yin-yang symbol represents, a unity of opposites because of their articulation of one another. India could use a stronger voice at the centre of its diversity, China could use a more voices via a more developed civil society in expressing its complex singularity (One China).

Whatever the case, with their rise as heavyweights in the global economy, political order, and regional security settings, India’s and China’s cultural orientations will become more globalised. Each will increasingly interact with the other and find they share more in common than they first thought. As developing countries with voracious appetites they will need to practice their deep-rooted diplomatic skills even more assiduously than ever. Cooperative practices will, in the longer term, serve their interests better than any tactical gains from competitive zero-sum calculations. BRICS potentially provides the glue for such positive sum outcomes.

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