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Assessing China’s “global” ambitions: BRICS and the G20

Today, China’s unprecedented “participation” in BRICS (comprising members Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the G20 has forced foreign policy experts to “assess” China’s growing ambitions. Some define Beijing’s active participation as “hegemonic” while some experts go to an extent to define it as “active role-player in global politics”. Nonetheless, China continues to play an important role “global-groupings”, quite focussed on earning member nations confidence with a “dual-faced” diplomacy. To understand the importance of these groupings for China followed by Beijing’s ambitions, let’s look at China’s “objectives”, agendas and interests it aims to address through these groupings.

Assessing China’s “international engagement” in a decade, China transitioned from “once passive” to an “active” player in geopolitics. It is a member of almost all the international organizations and proves to be a “significant” investor from time to time. Although, Beijing’s continues to keep a “low profile”, but it has proved to be “non-hesitant” particularly in showing its “ambitions”. With a traditional foreign policy, still in play followed by ambitions for a global player, foreign policy experts have started questioning on Chinese role in the global world. Some experts argue on China’s “hegemonic tendency in South Asia”, while others argue on “China’s ability to accept the global order”. With a tendency to make its own rules of the game, many experts fear that China would influence the international system by creating its own institutions and which it will then use to set new “self-suiting” rules and norms.

China’s “ambitions in global order” is clear from its active participation in the G20 and BRICS. In light of the financial crisis, G20 was “elevated” to the stature of heads of state, with China among other “emerging” economies became members of the “group”. With Russia’s initiative, the BRIC began to host summits on its own and South Africa was formally incited officially as the member of group (now acronym is BRICS).

Developments such as these came as a calling for the rise of “emerging” nations in the global order diminishing the hegemony of “industrialised nations of the global North”, while opening doors of opportunity to emerging economies South-South and South-North.

The G20

Understanding the “scholastic” views of foreign relations experts in Beijing, the G20 is “not yet ready” to address the global issues of today. When German Chancellor  Schröder invited China to participate in the G7/8 Summit of 1999, Beijing invited experts to discuss role of China particularly when it was still “traditionally” influenced under “passive” foreign policy. Although, China declined prominently because the member nations were power economies and it still considered itself “developing”. Furthermore, the agenda’s discussed in the then G8 summit was focussed on macroeconomics, financial management, energy and trade, which during that time, was not a “relevant” for China: Beijing showed no interest. With the coming of active leadership in 2003-04, Beijing saw a major shift towards active foreign policy and leaders then supported China’s active participation in the G8. This resulted in a series of discussion between the emerging economies of the South with developed economies of the North. Today, China does not consider it as a developed economy rather takes in pride to call itself “emerging economy in Asia”. It expresses no desires to take responsibility in the global world and its “hegemony” continues to be challenged when any developing economy of the South becomes a member of “powerful member groupings”. Many experts’ questions China’s ability to take a leading role in G8, where it remains alone, devoid of “like-minded” nations. Although the global financial crisis of 2008 substantially changed the notions of “western economies” towards infrastructural investments in China particularly in IT industries.

Today, China continues to view G20 role in “geo-politics” as strictly “economic”. According to Beijing, G20 can resolve some of the major economic and financial crisis in the world. On the contrary, China views UN as the superior organization in resolving conflicts and disputes between nations.

This “limited” judgement of Beijing has raised “doubts” over the nation’s readiness in hosting the summit. The bid took a “hike” in 2016. However, this bid was lost to Japan, it became more valid judgements for Tokyo to host the G20 than an “unprepared” Beijing. Another probable candidate was Indonesia, however in the light of elections, it too remained “disinterested”.

According to Beijing, G20 continued to hold “credibility”, providing a unique platform for nations to discuss and deliberate on key issues, particularly when a “emerging economies” could get a seat at the table. G20 becomes more than just a platform for emerging economies to interact with the power nations, it rather opens the doors of opportunities in the international arena. Whether it is the Syrian crisis or a debate on financial matters, emerging economies get opportunities to discuss.

Many experts seems divided on the issue of G20’s credibility in handling the financial crisis of 2008, whereas many experts argue this to be entirely “vague” while praising the G20 for taking effective steps in an effort to further de-escalate the aftermath of financial slowdown of 2008. Experts moreover seem to be divided on the individual role of member nations at the G20, a frustration of many experts who continue to believe on “stringent financial measures” in domestic markets. Taking this frustration to an extent, these experts criticise the “invitation to extend the G20 membership” stating it the “principle” reason compromising its effectiveness.

While looking at the official speeches and official spokesperson address of Beijing’s foreign office, China is looking for an aggressive “engagement” with the G20. This does not come as a surprise particularly when Beijing seems to play an active role in international affairs particularly strengthening its trade with Asia and Africa.

Many experts argue on the fact that China and Germany are “strengthening” their position at the G20, as both the nations have similar economic stances. Both the nations, on numerous accounts, have been criticised by fellow member nations at the G20 for “over-relying” on exports and both nations continue to criticise the US for its monetary policies.

The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa)

Although there is no comparison between G20 and the BRICS, according to the Beijing, the stature of BRICS is in “minority” when compared to the G20. Particularly comparing it with regional groupings such as APEC, ASEAN-plus or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), BRICS remains “casual” on the Chinese lists: It is not a priority for China. Member nations particularly those neighbouring China continues to hold higher ratings, as China remains “careful” in forming ties with neighbouring countries, Beijing’s development model requires the neighbouring nations to eliminate ties with nations in alliance to counter China. In the light of recent change in Chinese “neighbourhood” policy, Beijing “feels nice” to become a member of BRICS rather than an absolute priority.

According to the Beijing, the prospect of becoming a member of BRICS waters the “development model” particularly in infrastructure, allowing FDI from Russia and South African multinational companies. According to Beijing, through BRICS, China can coordinate with members economic, socio-political and development models, in an effort to establish ties with the member nation “independently”. Although, China continues to have differences with member nations, these differences do not re-surface during summits, since all BRICS member nations cooperate to strengthen their economies.

Importantly, the formation of BRICS bank clashed with the establishment of Beijing led- Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which was first introduced in a speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping. However, depending upon its size, initial years were quite difficult to understand its investment budget, however, both the banks could assist a nation with a starting “corpus” of US$50 billion. Headquartered in Beijing, the AIIB had begun its operations under the leadership of Jin Liqun, chairman of China International Capital Corp., China’s top investment banks.

It is also important to understand that, the goals of the AIIB and BRICS are quite similar – to assist emerging economies with infrastructure financing. China continues to play a leading rule in AIIB and BRICS, whereas Japan chairs the Asian Development Bank and the U.S. leads the World Bank.

These two banks are not competitors rather complement each other unlike World Bank and ADB. Although both World Bank and ADB have extended their infrastructure lending. The World Bank also launched its Global Infrastructure Facility (GIF) in 2014, which has increased the competition.

The decision to invite South Africa at BRICS was taken after considering the nations “valuable” resources and a “probable” entry in African markets. Experts then argued on China’s “limitless” investments in African continent which then forced policy makers to create a “framework” for investments in foreign countries, thus limiting China’s investment into Africa.

Furthermore, China plays an “aggressive” in Shanghai Co-operation Organization (SCO) than in BRICS. Experts points it to Beijing’s performance in the G8/G20 summits: If Beijing’s began to play more assertive role in G20, it would not be needing to participate in BRICS. The future of BRICS in comparison to G20 is “less promising”, since BRICS mandate is “limited” to address global issues. Also, whether the BRICS nations will be able to assist third countries remains unclear. Since, the formation of BRIC group was initiated by Russia (the extension was granted to India, China and South Africa), its member countries remain dormant in addressing issues within the groupings. Beijing motive to come out of isolation can be considered as a probable cause for accepting the membership. One key factor that experts see as a probable cause of “balance” for China, fragile US-China relationship: While Beijing denies the usage of BRICS as a forum for anti-western propaganda, experts see it as none less than China’s “alliance” with Russia and an agenda to strengthen its “hegemony” in Asia particularly its “not-so-friendly” neighbour India.

 anant-mishra Anant Mishra is a former Youth Representative to the United Nations. He has served extensively in United Nations General Assembly, the Security Council along with the Economic and Social Council. He is also a visiting faculty for numerous universities and delivers lectures on political economics and foreign policies.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of The Indian Iris and The Indian Iris does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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