Can China-India row be the catalyst for a dispute resolution system among top emerging nations?
Months-long stand-off in Doklam shows BRICS bloc needs to find ways to tackle conflict between members, Chinese government adviser says
The BRICS group of leading emerging economies should use the recent border dispute between China and India as a catalyst for the creation of a mechanism for conflict resolution between members, a Chinese government adviser said on Monday.
Speaking in Beijing, Zhang Yansheng, chief economist at the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges, a government think tank, said the months-long stand-off in Doklam highlighted the need for BRICS – Brazil, Russia India, China and South Africa – to find an effective way to handle disputes in the future.
“I think the next step is for BRICS to build consensus and an action plan on what methods or principles should be adopted to resolve conflicts,” he said.
China and India on Monday agreed to an “expeditious disengagement” of troops from the disputed region in the Himalayas, just days before the leaders of the five nations are set to meet in Xiamen, southeastern China.
BRICS countries account for 40 per cent of the world’s population and 20 per cent of its gross domestic product.
“It’s going to be very interesting watching the BRICS [meeting] next week,” said Harsh Pant, a professor of international relations at King’s College London.
Anil Gupta, an expert in emerging markets at the University of Maryland, said the summit could provide a platform for Beijing and New Delhi to fully resolve the issue.
“If China and India were to go to war, then essentially BRICS collapses,” he said. “If BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation [of which India is also a member] did not exist, I think the escalation could happen faster.”
Zhang Guihong, an India expert at Fudan University in Shanghai, agreed.
“If it wasn’t for the BRICS meeting happening so soon, the stand-off would have lasted much longer,” he said.
Zhang Yansheng said the meeting, which is set to run from September 3-5, should help member states to improve cooperation on financial and economic issues, as well as see them working together to promote stability on a global level.
“BRICS is important [to India] because it gives a sense of the gradual multipolarisation of global politics and of India as a key player in it,” said Rajesh Basrur, a South Asia specialist with Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
While differences between Beijing and New Delhi “will be papered over” during the meeting, “a serious crack in BRICS could undermine the organisation”, he said.
New Delhi has long been wary of Beijing’s activities in the region – especially its “Belt and Road Initiative” trade plan and investment in ports in South Asia – and is unhappy with India’s increasing trade deficit with China, which stood at US$46.6 billion in 2016.
India’s electronics and IT ministry said it had asked more than two dozen smartphone companies to provide details of their “safety and security practices”. They included Chinese brands Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo, as well as global brands such as Apple. Chinese companies occupy about half of India’s US$8 billion smartphone market.
The Indian government has also tightened rules in the power transmission sector, setting new conditions for firms bidding for contracts. The solar energy sector is dominated by Chinese equipment suppliers, which make up 87 per cent of the market.
Zhang Guihong said both China and India would be keen to avoid damaging their economic ties.
There are currently about 500 Chinese companies in India employing 4,000 people. Chinese investment in India already stands at about US$2 billion, but several large companies, including heavy machinery maker Sany Group, have indicated that they plan to invest in wind power, real estate and consumer products in the country.
“The large and fast-growing Indian market is a big focus for China’s electronics and consumer goods companies,” said Alyssa Ayres, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in the United States.
“Despite all the security concerns, their trade relationship has continued to grow.”
Additional reporting by Kinling Lo and Catherine Wong