A) BRICS off the wall

At Copenhagen in 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and other leaders of the newly formed BASIC group (with Brazil and South Africa) were sitting in a conference room, negotiating a statement on the failure of the climate change summit. The group of emerging economies had been bolstered by the formation of the BRIC group (Brazil, Russia, India and China, South Africa joined in 2010) with a declared objective of battling “Western hegemony”. The BASIC group had decided they would walk away from Copenhagen without a deal, unless the demands of emerging economies, which couldn’t afford the same emission cuts, were reflected. The scene, as described by Shyam Saran (then India’s chief climate negotiator) in a new book on Indian foreign policy, turned dramatic: with a knock on the conference room door, the U.S. team, led by then President Barack Obama and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, barged into the meeting. After much back and forth, Mr. Wen and Dr. Singh accepted an American compromise on the wording of the drafts, and the Copenhagen accord went ahead.

The power of five

The event didn’t just change the course of international negotiations on global warming at the time, it heralded the arrival of emerging economies as a political force, and particularly the potential of the combined political clout of India and China. BRICS (BASIC was later disbanded) went from a modest 16-paragraph joint statement at Yekaterinburg in June 2009 to the more substantive 110 paragraphs that the five countries agreed upon in the Goa Declaration of October 2016, developing common positions not just on climate change but also on terrorism, energy, and world politics.Over time, it no longer met with sneers and references, like being called the “Bloody Ridiculous Investment Concept” by one investment banker, or the group of “paper tigers”, a reference to the fact that the term BRIC was coined in a paper by Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill in 2001. The valuation of the BRICS grouping, that represents 40% of the world’s population and a quarter of its growth at $17 trillion, also did well, with more and more investment being driven into the five economies, mainly led by India and China. Not only did the BRICS countries better their positions in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, they also struck a small blow against Bretton Woods institutions, and the BRICS New Development Bank set up in 2015 has already given out about $6 billion in loans for 23 projects across BRICS countries. This is no mean feat given the vast differences in size and political systems, and internal turmoil in BRICS countries.

From Doklam to Xiamen

Despite all of these gains, the truth is that BRICS now faces its most challenging summit, not because of the West or the developed world, but because of growing differences between its two biggest members, India and China. And as Prime Minister NarendraModi prepares to travel to Xiamen for the September 3-5 summit, it is important to see how the bilateral relationship and several other changes in geopolitics are now going to change the course of the BRICS engagement as well.The Xiamen summit follows a gruelling two and a half months during which the rhetoric between India and China — especially the latter’s — has been quite sharp. While diplomats smoothed out a victory over more hawkish elements by disengaging the troops at Doklam and obtaining a Chinese assurance that it would not continue its road construction at the tri-junction area, more heavy lifting will have to be done to restore the situation to pre-June terms. The bilateral tensions will no doubt spill over to the multilateral negotiations at Xiamen, especially given the negative atmosphere built up by state-run Chinese media these past few weeks.Beyond the bilateral issues over the boundary, Nuclear Suppliers Group membership for India, terrorism, the Dalai Lama and others, the rift over China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is also likely to dominate discussions at BRICS, as it now underpins all of China’s other policies. India’s refusal to be a part of the BRI over sovereignty issues, coupled with its broader objections to the transparency and agenda of the project, was a cause for tensions before the Doklamstand-off, with some commentators even arguing that it precipitated the crisis. There is little doubt that China will aim to bring the BRI on the table for negotiations at BRICS, to win a statement of endorsement as it did at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation last year. India will have to use considerable leverage with other members to ensure that its concerns prevail. However, it must be remembered that Russia and South Africa are important parts of BRI, and while Brazil is not, it is no less a recipient of Chinese investment, with a $20 billion Brazil-China infrastructure fund inaugurated this May.

Multiple challenges

Another challenge for India is likely to arise from China’s plan for a “BRICS-Plus” or “Friends of BRICS” grouping, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s plan to include Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Mexico to an expanded version of BRICS. The suggestion of including Pakistan is something India has baulked at and won’t pass quite yet, but it wouldn’t want to be seen to be opposing China’s rationale of promoting “south-south cooperation” further.Meanwhile Russia, which was the prime mover for the grouping, has moved closer to China and away from India; this could affect the language of the joint statement, especially on issues like Afghanistan, on which BRICS members had previously been on the same page. Russia’s estrangement from the U.S. and Europe post-2014 and the Ukraine crisis in particular have increased its dependence on its east and south, mainly in the direction of the $300 billion Russia-China oil pipeline that China is funding. Russia’s shift on dealing with the Taliban is a strong signal of which way it is headed.The U.S.’s new Afghanistan-Pakistan-India policy, that builds India’s economic assistance into its own strategy for Afghanistan, will crystallise battle lines in the latest round of this age-old battle, with Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan ranged on one side, and India, the U.S. and NATO allies now on the other. In keeping with this, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has called the U.S.’s Afghanistan policy a “futile course”, while President Vladimir Putin’s Afghanistan envoy ZamirKabulov has warned against “putting too much pressure” on Pakistan. At both the BRICS conference in Goa last October, as well as the Heart of Asia summit in December, Russian officials cavilledat backing India’s strong language on terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

The road ahead

Nevertheless, it is an indicator of the importance of BRICS that both Mr. Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared to have exerted enough pressure on officials to bring about the disengagement in Doklam a week before the summit at Xiamen. The Modi government must be credited for ensuring that it won peace at Doklam without building the outcome up as a defeat of China, which would have made their rivalry at BRICS that much more intense. In this, BRICS has fared better than two other groupings, SAARC and the Non-Aligned Movement, whose last summits India skipped, and appears to have abandoned. It remains to be seen how the two leaders use next week’s bilateral encounter to chart a road map to repair ties. This could provide a realistic understanding of where the road ahead leads for BRICS as well, and whether post-Xiamen it can still bear out the potential that was promised a decade ago in Yekaterinburg and Copenhagen.

B) Pragmatic in London

The Labour Party’s surprise announcement that Britain should continue in the European single market, at least for some time after the March 2019 Brexit deadline, reflects the late dawning of realism over disengaging with the European Union. It implies an acceptance of the principle of free movement of people from the bloc, a contentious issue that had alienated the opposition party’s core support base during the 2016 referendum. Equally significant is the ruling Conservative Party’s sudden acceptance of the possibility that the European Court of Justice may still have a role after Britain’s exit from the EU. Independence from the jurisdiction of the Luxembourg court had all along been equated with the assertion of national sovereignty by the Leave campaign. This hard line was also the centre-piece of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Lancaster House address in January. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a staunch Brexiter, has also made a striking departure. Last month he made news with his “go whistle” comment to European leaders over London’s outstanding dues, but has since said that as a law-abiding country Britain would indeed pay its bills. There are thus good chances that Eurosceptics in both the parties will be further isolated within and outside Parliament, allowing divisions between the U.K. and EU negotiating positions to be narrowed. The bottomline for Brussels is to ensure that Britain’s exit does not set a precedent. A necessary implication of this premise is that the terms of a future partnership would be vastly inferior in comparison with the benefits of full membership. Conversely for Britain, to conform to a set of rules and regulations without a real voice in their formulation would be far from an ideal arrangement.This late pragmatism does not detract from the contentious round of negotiations between the U.K. and the rest of the bloc. Brussels has, ever since the June 2016 referendum, insisted uponadherence to a sequential process of unwinding the long partnership. The withdrawal agreement deduced from Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union entails three distinct elements. It includes a decision on the status of British and EU migrants resident in their respective territories, the financial settlement of €60-100 billion, and reconfiguration of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Any meaningful negotiations on a future trade agreement between the two parties hinges on a resolution of these outstanding issues. Little progress has been achieved so far on many of these critical matters. The European Commission and some EU member-states have expressed concern that London is not doing enough to hasten the process. The emerging shifts in the U.K.’s negotiating stance vis-a-vis the EU should be read against this overall backdrop.

C) Après le deluge: on the Mumbai floods

The return of the deluge to Mumbai and the paralysis suffered by the city bring up the question of why Indian cities are unable to improve their resilience to extreme weather events. As the nucleus of financial activity, Mumbai’s losses naturally have national implications. The flooding reduced trading volumes in the stock market, and thousands had to stay on in their offices after the workday. All this brings back memories of the disaster of 2005 caused by over 99 cm of rainfall in a 24-hour period leaving hundreds dead. There has been distressing loss of life this time too, but on a lower scale. Beyond the political wrangling on bad management, such extreme weather eventstrigger valuable research and analysis on developing better prediction and management systems. Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai have, for instance, provided pathways for nearly 450 sq. km of the city to better prepare for monsoonal floods, using the worst-case scenario of a dozen years ago as the baseline. There should naturally be an inquiry into whether the reforms proposed over time, ranging from clearing of drainage channels and removal of encroachments to the creation of holding ponds to temporarily store large volumes of water, gained any traction. Over time, mangrove wetlands in the eastern fringes and drain paths in the north-west of the city have lost much of their capacity owing to unplanned development. The latest downpour underlines why loss of urban wetlands should be halted and compensatory lakes created.Learnings from Mumbai are important for other cities as well, to prepare for a future in which scientists think there will be more days of short but intense rain spells. Numerical weather prediction has consistently improved. Researchers from IIT Gandhinagar published a forecast on social media warning of 100 mm-plus rainfall for the region on August 29, four days ahead. These remarkably accurate models open up possibilities for authorities to evacuate vulnerable sections early, residents to stock up on essential supplies and disaster management authorities to review options. Indian cities are poorly planned and managed, exposing them to cyclical weather havoc; it is imperative that civic bodies produce flood risk maps and restrict development in the areas. Given that monsoon flooding is inescapable, citizens and communities need to prepare. Putting new constructions on stilts, retrofitting houses to locate electrical installations high above, and creating a first response protocol are all important. Introduction of insurance cover for householder losses will provide financial protection and, crucially, require city administrations to provide professional management. If there is a single priority that every city needs, it is to reopen the veins of natural drainage that have been callously built over. Mumbai this year and Chennai’s disastrous flood of 2015 underscore that lesson.

Words/ Vocabulary

1) Bolstered

Meaning: Support or strengthen.

Example: The fall in interest rates is starting to bolster confidence.

Synonyms: Strengthen, Support

Antonyms: Undermine

2) Hegemony

Meaning: Leadership or dominance, especially by one state or social group over others.

Example: Germany was united under Prussian hegemony after 1871.

Synonyms: Leadership, Dominance

Antonyms: Self-government

3) Heralded

Meaning: Be a sign that (something) is about to happen.

Example: The speech heralded a change in policy.

Synonyms: Signal, Indicate

4) Clout

Meaning: Influence or power, especially in politics or business.

Example: I knew she carried a lot of clout.

Synonyms: Influence, Power

5) Ridiculous

Meaning: Deserving or inviting derision or mockery; absurd.

Example: That ridiculous tartan cap.

Synonyms: Laughable, Absurd

Antonyms: Serious

6) Gruelling

Meaning: Extremely tiring and demanding.

Example: A gruelling schedule.

Synonyms: Exhausting, tiring

7) Rhetoric

Meaning: The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.

Example: He is using a common figure of rhetoric, hyperbole.

Synonyms: Oratory, Eloquence

8) Hawkish

Meaning: Advocating an aggressive or warlike policy, especially in foreign affairs.

Example: The administration’s hawkish stance.

9) Disengaging

Meaning: Remove (troops) from an area of conflict.

Example: The ceasefire gave the commanders a chance to disengage their forces.

Synonyms: Withdraw, Leave

Antonyms: Enter

10) Underpins

Meaning: Support, justify, or form the basis for.

Example: The theme of honour underpinning the two books.

11) Stand-off

Meaning: A deadlock between two equally matched opponents in a dispute or conflict.

Example: The 16-day-old stand-off was no closer to being resolved.

Synonyms: Deadlock, Stalemate

12) Endorsement

Meaning: The action of endorsing someone or something.

Example: The issue of full independence received overwhelming endorsement.

Synonyms: Support, Backing

Antonyms: Opposition

13) Leverage

Meaning: The power to influence a person or situation.

Example: The right wing had lost much of its political leverage in the Assembly.

Synonyms: Influence, Power

14) Baulked

Meaning: Hesitate or be unwilling to accept an idea or undertaking.

Example: He balked at such a drastic solution.

Synonyms: Eschew

Antonyms: Accept

15) Estrangement

Meaning: The fact of no longer being on friendly terms or part of a social group.

Example: The growing estrangement of the police from their communities.

Synonyms: Alienation, Antagonism

Antonyms: Unity, Reconciliation

16) Futile

Meaning: Incapable of producing any useful result; pointless.

Example: A futile attempt to keep fans from mounting the stage.

Synonyms: Fruitless, Vain

Antonyms: Useful

17) Cavilled

Meaning: Make petty or unnecessary objections.

Example: They cavilled at the cost.

Synonyms: Complain, Carp

18) Emanating

Meaning: (of a feeling, quality, or sensation) issue or spread out from (a source).

Example: Warmth emanated from the fireplace.

Synonyms: Emerge, Flow

19) Exerted

Meaning: Apply or bring to bear (a force, influence, or quality)

Example: The moon exerts a force on the Earth.

Synonyms: Bring to bear, Apply

20) Dawning

Meaning: The beginning or first appearance of something.

Example: The dawnings of civilization

21) Realism

Meaning: The attitude or practice of accepting a situation as it is and being prepared to deal with it accordingly.

Example: The summit was marked by a new mood of realism.

Synonyms: Pragmatism, Practicality

22) Contentious

Meaning: Causing or likely to cause an argument; controversial.

Example: A contentious issue.

Synonyms: Controversial, Disputable

23) Alienated

Meaning: Transfer ownership of (property rights) to another person or group.

Example: They defended the Masai against attempts to alienate their land.

Synonyms: Transfer, Convey

24) Jurisdiction

Meaning: The official power to make legal decisions and judgements.

Example: The English court had no jurisdiction over the defendants.

Synonyms: Authority, Control

25) Staunch

Meaning: Very loyal and committed in attitude.

Example: A staunch supporter of the anti-nuclear lobby.

Synonyms: Stalwart, Loyal

Antonyms: Disloyal, Unfaithful

26) Go whistle

Meaning: Summon something or someone by blowing a whistle.

27) Law-abiding

Meaning: Obedient to the laws of society.

Example: A law-abiding citizen.

Synonyms: Well behaved, Lawful

Antonyms: Lawless, Criminal

28) Precedent

Meaning: An earlier event or action that is regarded as an example or guide to be considered in subsequent similar circumstances.

Example: There are substantial precedents for using interactive media in training.

Synonyms: Model, Exemplar

29) Implication

Meaning: A likely consequence of something.

Example: Many people are unaware of the implications of such reforms.

Synonyms: Consequences, Result

30) Pragmatism

Meaning: A pragmatic attitude or policy; An approach that evaluates theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.

Example: Ideology had been tempered with pragmatism

31) Adherence

Meaning: Attachment or commitment to a person, cause, or belief.

Example: A strict adherence to etiquette.

32) Resilience

Meaning: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

Example: The often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions.

Synonyms: Flexibility, Pliability

Antonyms: Rigidity, Fragility

33) Wrangling

Meaning: Have a long, complicated dispute or argument.

Example: The bureaucrats continue wrangling over the fine print.

Synonyms: Argue, Quarrel

Antonyms: Agree

34) Encroachments

Meaning: Intrusion on a person’s territory, rights, etc.

Example: Minor encroachments on our individual liberties.

Synonyms: Trespass on, Invasion of

35) Traction

Meaning: The extent to which an idea, product, etc. gains popularity or acceptance.

Example: Analysts predicted that the technology would rapidly gain traction in the corporate mobile market.

36) Vulnerable

Meaning: Exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.

Example: We were in a vulnerable position.

Synonyms: Endangered, Unsafe

Antonyms: Invulnerable, Resilient

37) Havoc

Meaning:Widespread destruction.

Example: The hurricane ripped through Florida causing havoc.

Synonyms: Devastation, Destruction

38) Imperative

Meaning: Of vital importance; crucial.

Example: Immediate action was imperative.

Synonyms: Vital, Crucial

Antonyms: Unimportant, Optional

39) Retrofitting

Meaning: Provide (something) with a component or accessory not fitted during manufacture.

Example: Buses have been retrofitted with easy-access features.

40) Callously

Meaning: In a way that shows an insensitive and cruel disregard for others; unfeelingly.

Example: They use other people callously and remorselessly for their own ends.

Other Hindu Editorials:

Hindu Editorial 30 August

Hindu Editorial 29 August

Hindu Editorial 28 August