BRICS: China’s End-Game

31 Jul, 2014    ·   4587

Teshu Singh comments on the significance of the forum for Chinese foreign policy

Teshu Singh
Teshu Singh
Senior Research Officer

The recently held BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) Summit (14-16 July 2014) is representative of developing countries and forty per cent of the world's population. It is also a successful non-Western international organisation that has representation from three continents.

Among the five participating countries, China, one of the co-founders of BRICS, is the most influential. The growing role of China in the BRICS therefore raises as important question: What is the Chinese endgame in the BRICS? What are its objectives?

Strategic Importance of the BRICS for China
Since the mid-1990s China has expanded its bilateral and multilateral partnerships to increase its comprehensive national power. It joined the ASEAN+3 in 1997, WTO (World Trade Organisation) in 2001, SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) in 2001, and BRICS in 2008. Chinese foreign policy has become less personalised and more institutionalised, and more specifically, it is indicative of China’s growing interest in ‘multilateral diplomacy’ and ‘peripheral diplomacy’.

China’s interest in the BRICS is further accentuated by the fact that it forms one of the pillars of China‘s ‘multilateral diplomacy’ as highlighted in the CPC (Communist Party of China) working report during the 18th Party Congress in November 2012. The other pillars of multilateral diplomacy are the UN, G20 and the SCO. For this, there are several research institutes in China for ‘BRICS studies’.

All the members of the BRICS are not China’s neighbours, and China is therefore using this forum to take forward its ‘peripheral diplomacy’. At an exclusive conference held in Beijing on 24-25 October 2013 on ‘peripheral diplomacy’, Li Keqiang stated, “If there is anything like the BRICS bank plan, it is likely that China would offer to pay a larger share of the capital in exchange for greater control.” During the recent BRICS Summit, China announced the establishment of a bank for the smooth functioning of the ‘Maritime Silk Road’ (MSR). The MSR is a tool for China’s peripheral diplomacy. In addition to the smooth functioning of the MSR, China has announced the opening of the Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank dedicated to the MSR project. Thus, the developments of the BRICS indirectly cater to China’s ‘peripheral diplomacy’ also.

Towards Achieving the Chinese End-game
In its quest for great power status and zeal to contribute to the international system, the BRICS announced the establishment of the New Development Bank (NBD) with its headquarters in Shanghai and the Contingent Reserve Arrangements (CRA) during the 2014 Summit. The idea of the NDB was mooted during the 2012 BRICS meetings as an alternative to the Western financial system. With respect to the CRA, each of the BRICS countries is contributing ten billion USD and China is contributing forty billion USD. This will form the backbone of the bank. The location of the headquarters itself exemplifies the dominance of China. The entire process will increase China’s role and decrease dependence on the World Bank and IMF that are dominated by the West. This is a good opportunity for China to project itself as a responsible power in terms of its investment strategy in the developing countries.

Chinese leaders have deemed the next twenty years a strategic opportunity (zhanlue jiyuqi) to develop their country and China is using the BRICS as a strategic platform for its power projection. The diverse partners in the organisation have opened vistas of opportunity for China to make investments. Since China is making the maximum investments it is bound to reap larger dividends from the bank. This also exemplifies the fact that China wants to reform the international financial system in a way that will allow it to play a much larger role. Thus, the bank will bring economic and strategic benefits to China and the ratio in terms of funding has already put China in the great power club.

China is also using BRICS as a forum to disburse the ‘China threat' theory. The recent developments in the Asia Pacific have projected a very aggressive view of China and have raised questions about the ‘China rise’/its peaceful development. Resultantly, China is using BRICS to promote its foreign policy agenda of becoming a responsible global power. 

China believes that it is imperative to restructure its foreign policy if it seeks to play a larger international role. It has started popularising new concepts like the ‘model for big–small States’ to highlight its relations with developing countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka. To highlight its relations with the US, it has come up with the term ‘new type of relationship’. China is using the BRICS to emerge as the leader of the five countries that in turns feeds into its foreign policy agenda of becoming a responsible global power.