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Covid Age: When BRICS foreign ministers meet

NewsCovid Age: When BRICS foreign ministers meet
The BRICS—comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—as an important grouping of emerging economies, has always attempted to reach to a consensus on pertinent important themes impacting economic stability among member countries in particular and the rest of the world in general. Covid-19 has raised the debates on economic recession and how it will have adverse implications on the global economy, which in turn will see a declining trend among BRICS nations.
It is expected that the Foreign Ministers of BRICS nations will be meeting through video link to deliberate on the emerging situation due to Covid-19. So far, there have been no formal interactions among BRICS nations on how to deal with the virus. Hence, the forthcoming virtual summit will gain salience especially in the context of understanding each other’s perception.
There seems to be a lack of initiative among member countries in terms of addressing the challenges emanating from Covid-19. All member countries seem to have differing perspectives on the mechanism to combat Covid-19. The scheduled interaction may look for convergences on many of these areas arising due to Covid-19.
After assuming chairmanship of BRICS, Russia was to hold the summit in April 2020, which now stands postponed indefinitely.  Russia began with a new vigour after taking over the chairmanship of BRICS and planned a number of events aimed at improving relationships and strengthening economic cooperation between the “big five” and other stakeholders. Russian President Putin had said, “The main objective of cooperation between the BRICS member countries, as we see it, is to deliver real benefits for people and help improve living standards and the quality of life.”
There is no denying the fact that BRICS got evolved as a unique institution with independent historical perspectives, diverse civilisational past, different political dispensations and distinctly separate characteristics. Yet the economic agenda witnessed the setting up of New Development Bank (with project portfolio exceeding $15 billion) and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (with a capital of $100 billion).  In his remarks at the Extraordinary Virtual G20 Leaders’ Summit convened on March 26, 2020 to discuss the challenges posed by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and to forge a global coordinated response and also expressing concern over the social and economic cost of the Covid-19, Prime Minister Modi had pointed out that 90% of coronavirus cases and 8% of deaths were in G20 countries which share 80% of the world GDP. Now if such a body is nowhere in the fight against coronavirus, what can BRICS do at such a time of crisis?
Besides, there are multiple undeniable credible proofs to conclude that coronavirus, initially referred to as Wuhan virus had its origin in Wuhan in China. Beijing suppressed the information and took no action to prevent its spread outside city limits.
Amidst growing concern over the extensive damage to the world economy and loss of lives, Estonia brought a resolution to discuss the Covid-19 virus, its origin and the consequences of the pandemic. China nixed the proposal with the support of Russia and South Africa, three of BRICS’ five members.
In such a circumstance, it is anybody’s guess as to what concern China will show for transparency in dealing with issues of common concern and economic meltdown due to Covid-19. Ironically, none of the BRICS countries seems to be on the same page as far as dealing with the epidemic is concerned. Brazil and Russia have not declared total lockdowns. while South Africa has followed the Indian model. There is no coordinated effort among BRICS members to form a united approach to the crisis or to face the aftermath in the coming months especially on economic issues.
These are extremely challenging times when multilateral bodies like BRICS are expected to pool in their talents and knowledge and work as a team in mitigating the pain and panic of the pandemic. Far from it, China seems to be pursuing an independent agenda and is trying to defeat the very purpose of BRICS.
In spite of the general global economic slowdown, BRICS countries, especially India, have great opportunities to perform better than probably the most developed countries in the present circumstances. Prime Minister Modi conveyed this well in advance at the 11th BRICS Summit held at Brazil’s capital city Brasilia. “India is the world’s most open and investment friendly economy due to political stability, predictable policy and business friendly reforms,” the Prime Minister told the leaders at the Summit and added, “BRICS countries account for 50% of the world’s economic growth. Despite the recession in the world, BRICS countries accelerated economic development, brought millions out of poverty and achieved new breakthroughs in technology and innovation.”
In a way, the Prime Minister’s suggestions to the G20 countries hold good for BRICS members too. He underscored the need to put human beings at the centre of our vision of global prosperity and cooperation, freely and openly share the benefits of medical research and development, develop adaptive, responsive and humane healthcare systems, promote new crisis management protocols and procedures for an interconnected global village, strengthen and reform intergovernmental organisations like WHO and work together to reduce economic hardships resulting from Covid-19, particularly for the economically weak.
BRICS member countries will have to work in tandem in understanding each other’s predicament in this hour of crisis. There is a dominant view emerging that China has done irreparable damage to the countries globally by maintaining secrecy on Covid-19. The rest of the world is getting prepared to sue China for its negligence. How this will feature in the discussion among Foreign Ministers of BRICS countries remains a part of the discourse.
Dr Arvind Kumar is a Professor of Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), Manipal. Seshadri Chari is a well known political commentator and strategic analyst.

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