Indian Decade

BRIC vs IBSA = China vs India?

The disagreement between China and India over the BRIC and IBSA groupings reflects ongoing tensions.

The rivalry between India and China is intensifying—and going global. Their latest difference is over the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) group arrangements.

China reportedly wants the non-military bloc to be known as BRICS (The ‘S’ for South Africa), and also seems to want to amalgamate BRIC with the IBSA Dialogue Forum. With this in mind, it is in the process of organizing a BRICS (BRIC plus IBSA) summit in Hainan in April this year.

But India has seen through China’s game from the start. New Delhi knows the Chinese want IBSA closed down because Beijing has no direct role to play in it. It’s obvious that India, for its part, wants a diplomatic/strategic space for itself, where it doesn’t have to be in the company of its domineering, giant neighbour. In addition, South Africa is crucial for India’s efforts to counter China’s strategic forays into Africa.

When US President Barack Obama visited India last November, one of the key priorities he outlined in terms of greater Indo-US cooperation was the need for the two democracies to closely collaborate on Africa, and India has already declared that Africa will be one of its three ‘major foreign policy targets’ in 2011. Meanwhile, Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna has gone on record as saying that China is taking more than the usual level of interest in the Indian Ocean, something New Delhi is monitoring carefully. 

In light of all this, India politely conveyed to China that it wasn’t willing to wind up IBSA, but it has said that it has no objections to China expanding BRIC into BRICS. At the same time, India has conveyed its readiness to attend the upcoming BRICS summit in Hainan.

Indian diplomats insist that IBSA is here to stay in its present format, and they usually quote Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 2010 remarks about IBSA and the forum’s importance and relevance for India. Indeed, as Singh has said publicly: ‘IBSA has a personality of its own. It is three separate continents, three democracies. BRIC is a conception devised by Goldman Sachs. We are trying to put life into it.’