Dr. Panda’s paper treats the rise of multilateralism in the context of the decline of US power. It locates itself in the larger debate on multilateralism and the rise of new powers. In this context, it deals with three central questions: a) Is China taking the lead to formulate a ‘New World Order’? b) What is the Chinese perception of BRIC? C) How does the scope of BRIC permit both China and India to cooperate, whether cooperation is possible or it is just a rhetorical adjustment?
The term BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) was coined in 2001 and gained currency following the Goldman Sachs Report of 2003. The collective economic capacity of the BRIC countries is huge. With an average annual growth of 10.7 per cent during 2006-08, BRIC countries have become major contributors to the world economy. By 2050, BRIC countries will be four of the top six global economies. Similarly other numbers emerging from BRIC have been equally impressive.
China’s serious involvement in interest based multilateral institutions has created the debate on whether it seeks to influence, shape or preserve the status quo in global affairs. Chinese desire of ‘new’ multilateralism with “multi-polarism” indicates a “double-track” strategy to deal with the “rising” Western opposition, and to shape the Chinese-desired future structure of world politics. The Chinese treat BRIC as not just an economic entity but as one having a strategic component as well. Involvement in multilateral bodies might allow Beijing to deflect doubt about its intentions while continuing to increase its global power and ambitions. It can also allow China to work with mainstream developing countries to expand its clout and formulate new global rules without having to fulfil the requisites of the developed countries.
According to the author, realism would indicate that China’s increasing participation in cross-regional multilateralism is aimed at cooperating with other powers having similar interests for mutual benefit. For instance, China is associated with BRIC primarily to design its own desired world order. This notion suggests a zero-sum dynamics rooted in a struggle for relative power, in which countries vie for strengthened ties with rival powers like India. Seen in this light, BRIC is a gadget of “economic” statecraft as China pursues a “multipolar” strategy.
Post-Cold war global politics created doubt over the possibility of a unipolar world order. Many strategists relied on structural realism and balance of power to forecast that uni-polarism would not last long. Since the 1980s, Chinese strategists have emphasized on both ‘uni-polarity’ and ‘multi-polarisation’. There is less agreement, whether the current world order is really unipolar, multipolar or in transition. In tandem with these thought processes, building cooperation and accommodation has been the hallmark of Chinese strategy towards global issues.
Coordinating policy at the level of BRIC is not easy, given that their interests clash at the ground level. For instance, India and Brazil have set their goal for permanent membership of the UN Security Council, while China and Russia are opposed to it. BRIC could be a catalyst for resolving many pressing problems like the North Korean and Iranian nuclear ambitions, containing the threats in Pakistan, stability in Central Asia, climate change, running the world trading system, etc.
While it is too early to conclude that the USA is no more the supreme power, Chinese do recognize the importance of “newly emerging powers” as a force. Chinese cooperation in the BRIC format should not necessarily be conceived as a response to US hegemony. For China, besides reducing the over-dependence on the US on multilateral issues, cooperating with other BRICs serves several functions like endorsing multi-polar dialogue, links with developing countries, economic diplomacy in areas like energy and climate change, promote public diplomacy. The multi-polarization process is understood in China as involving a twofold scope: the rise of developing countries; and the interactions and readjustments of relations among powers.
Conclusion: China has deepened its cooperation with BRIC and would like to live with the current order of world politics till it grows to a distinctly new higher level. China remains the crucial player in BRIC. Following a “cooperative strategy” remains the key feature in Chinese diplomacy, as China steps up its calculated steps to gain energy supplies, reforming international financial institutions, capturing vibrant markets and countering rising powers in the process, etc. What China is advocating currently is to advance the global order through an improvement in the global powers’ relations and through overcoming the areas of dissatisfaction for a more transparent and vibrant world order.