BRICS, China, Speaking

BRICS Academic Forum 2022 | Opening Plenary


Remarks by Dr Samir Saran at the Opening Plenary session of the BRICS Academic Forum 2022

It is a pleasure to be back again and be a part of the academic forum that has continued to raise important issues for intra BRICS cooperation and indeed, for the challenges that confront our world.

We are meeting today at an important moment—a moment that will be recorded and studied by future generations. It is important that all of us rise to the challenges that confront us and be creative in discovering solutions. Three major trends are seeking our attention and indeed, resolution.

First, global politics has been upended by the political actions in Asia and Europe. Conflicts, contests, and careless power projection have jeopardised stability, peace, and prosperity for all. Can we discover a new geostrategic balance and what role can BRICS play?

As we emerge from the pandemic—or at least begin to learn to live with it—what are the lessons that we have learnt? Will new development and growth models emerge, and will BRICS and other actors invest in what is most important for humankind?

And finally, we are experiencing the digitalisation of everything. Technology is having an impact on our economy, our politics, our societies, and indeed our individual behaviours, choices, and assessments of the world we live in.

New Politics, Green and Inclusive Growth, and our Common Digital Future beckons us. At the Indian presidency of the BRICS last year, we coined three words—Continuity, Consolidation, and Consensus. These remain relevant even as China steers the group and must continue to define the BRICS agenda.

We have to work together to overcome the contested politics of today. We must be contributors to stability in world affairs. We should reject actions as a group and as individual nations that can create further instability or exacerbate current tensions.

BRICS was always meant to be a grouping that would offer an alternative path to one prescribed by the Atlantic Order. We must continue to strive to do this. Unipolarity must give way to multipolarity. Bipolarity is not an option.

Three key elements will shape the path that BRICS and others must pave.

First, as the political assumptions of the 20th century may no longer be sufficient or valid for a more complex world, we must work together to script a multilateralism that is fit for purpose. It must reflect current realities, the aspirations of different geographies, and a governance structure that is plural, transparent, and accessible. The old hegemony of the Atlantic Order must not be replaced by a new hegemony from another region.

BRICS must continue—individually and collectively—to remain inclusive in shaping the multilateral system. This system must deliver on economic and trade growth. It must find new ways of catalysing financial flows for infrastructure and aspirational needs of multiple geographies. Multilateralism for this century will require new anchors and champions. BRICS can play that role, provided all members are committed to it.

Second, future growth and our economic needs will have to cater to our planetary responsibility. Green transitions must not simply be a buzzword, but the policy design for all. BRICS must work—both within and with others—to put together a template to invest toward a green planet. We have to rethink mobility, urban spaces, consumption, and our lifestyles. We must also work to protect those who are already being burdened by the deleterious consequences of global warming, rising sea levels, and harsh weather conditions.

Thirdly, we have to embrace technology and not allow it to become the new arena for zero-sum politics. The world must see technology as a digital public good and it must serve all of humanity equitably. The rules for this digital future are yet to be written. These rules must not be written only by the western hemisphere. In the absence of such agreed rules, sovereign arrangements must prevail over those written by the boardrooms. BRICS can share experiences and learnings from our individual journeys and offer to the world examples and methods of managing our common digital future. We must ensure that countries, within and outside, do not weaponise technology or game the digital public square.

It is impossible for BRICS to attain its full potential and contribute to global affairs unless each member is committed to the BRICS project and the thinking that led to its creation—peaceful co-existence, within the group and with others, being the primary ethos.

Books / Papers, Raisina Dialogue, Research

Raisina Files 2022

In the sixth edition of our flagship annual journal of essays, the Raisina Files, we seek to take stock of where we are as people, communities, and countries. We intend to discuss and clarify responses to challenges that have arisen due to the pandemic, and discover and chart pathways to opportunities in the post-COVID19 world. Our contributors engage with the new war in Europe, and its consequences for the region and the world. Most importantly, the fine minds who have penned the essays that follow, seek to describe what lies ahead, how it will be arranged, who will shape it, and who will likely benefit from what unfolds.

Raisina Files 2022 mirrors the theme of this year’s Raisina Dialogue, “Terra Nova: Impassioned, Impatient, and Imperilled.” We have identified six pillars and areas of discussion within this overarching theme to engage with critically—Rethinking Democracy: Trade, Tech, and Ideology; End of Multilateralism: A Networked Global Order?; Water Caucuses: Turbulent Tides in the Indo-Pacific; Communities Inc.: First Responders to Health, Development, and Planet; Achieving Green Transitions: Common Imperative, Diverging Realities; and Samson vs Goliath: The Persistent and Relentless Tech Wars. Together, these six pillars of the Raisina Dialogue capture the multitude of conversations, opportunities, and anxieties countries engage and grapple with.

In this volume:

Editors: Samir Saran and Anahita Khanna 

  • The DragonBear: Putin’s Choices | Velina Tchakarova
  • Forging China-Resistant Supplier Compacts | Jeffrey Jeb Nadaner
  • Democracy, Technology, Geopolitics | Sameer Patil and Vivek Mishra
  • Materials That Matter | Andreas Kuehn
  • Scripting a Third Way: The Importance of EU-India Partnership | Amrita Narlikar
  • Emerging Domains of Conflict in the 21st Century| Lydia Kostopoulos
  • Advancing Trade Governance – Only for Democracies? | Renato G. Flôres Jr.
  • The World in Disarray: Is This the End of Multilateralism for Trade? | Stormy-Annika Mildner
  • Anticipate, Reform, and Elevate: Looking Toward W20 India 2023 | Erin Watson-Lynn
  • The Pandemic at 24 Months | Sridhar Venkatapuram
  • The Season of Caucuses: QUAD, AUKUS, and the Exclusive-Inclusive Duality of Indo-Pacific Asia | Rory Medcalf
  • Oceanic Choices: India, Japan, and the Dragon’s Fire: How does the QUAD Work? | Satoru Nagao
  • Diverging US and Indian Approaches to Europe: The Problem of Ukraine | S. Paul Kapur
  • India’s Unicorn Step-Function Growth Signals the Emergence of its Innovation Ecosystem | Nisha Holla
  • Exploring the Inequities of Climate Finance | Mannat Jaspal and Terri B. Chapman
  • Enabling the Green Transition to be a Just Transition | Nuvodita Singh and Akshima Ghate
  • Meta-Soft Power: Flipping the Scales Between Art & Culture | Nicolò Andreula and Stefania Petruzzelli
Green Technology, Research, security, Writing

All roads connect Delhi and Brussels

Co-Authored with Amrita Narlikar

Our text of ancient fables, the Panchatantra, speaks of “natural allies”. If there are ever natural allies in politics, the European Union (EU) and India should exemplify this relationship. Our cultural exchanges date back to ancient times; our languages have common roots; our borders are closer than ever via a human bridge that connects us: There are millions of Indians in the Middle East, and millions from the Middle East in Europe. Europe and India are a geographical continuum. And both the EU and India— “the world’s largest democracies”—face shared threats and challenges. All roads must now connect Delhi and Brussels.

Here, we lay out a map to address three key challenges: The green transition, the digital transformation, and the preservation of our shared geopolitical landscape. On all three issues, direct and close cooperation between the EU and India will not only be vital for these two major powers and their people—but also for the world at large. 

Green Transition

To address climate change, the EU and its members have been upping their domestic game. The European Green Deal is only one amongst several key initiatives that illustrate the seriousness with which the EU is addressing the existential threat of climate change. At the same time, there is much angst in Europe that these efforts will not suffice unless they are matched by China and India. While the concerns are understandable, a narrative framed in terms of “what will become of the world if every Indian has a car” is patronising and misplaced, especially when one compares the per capita fossil consumption in India to the EU members. In any case, specifically with respect to India, the EU is pushing through an open door on the issue of addressing climate change. India has led the way in international initiatives on the issue of clean energy, for instance, by creating the International Solar Alliance with France. India’s commitment to protecting the environment, moreover, does not stem from recent pressure exercised by Greta Thunberg or Fridays for Future. Contra western anthropocentrism in which activists advocate climate change mitigation for “our children’s future”, Indian philosophy teaches us that the planet belongs to humans, plants, animals, and all living beings. There are, therefore, deep-rooted and inclusive reasons for Indians to be committed to protecting the planet. This commitment should not be doubted. Instead, the EU needs to find ways to invest in this Indian cause and co-create solutions for our common future.

The European Green Deal is only one amongst several key initiatives that illustrate the seriousness with which the EU is addressing the existential threat of climate change.

To achieve this, we need actions and not words. It has taken a full-blown war in the heart of Europe for Germany to recognise the risks of over-dependence on Russia for energy purposes; diversification is proving to be far slower and more complicated than many would like. In light of this experience, it is perhaps even more unreasonable than before to demand that India “phase out” coal at the click of a finger. The EU will have to put its money where its mouth is if it is serious about addressing the global problem of climate change. The Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, for example, should be more than a “poverty tax”, as it is seen in India; it should be a tool to finance and incentivise the green transition in globally integrated sectors in the emerging world. Technologies vital to low-carbon growth will need to be co-created and co-owned by Europe and partners like India. European capital must be given a nudge to flow into climate-conscious investment in the emerging world. It is up to the EU to make sure that India’s efforts pay off—through significant European financing in key sectors, via public-private partnerships.

Digital Transformation

The EU is leading the way in setting people-centred standards on digital governance via GDPR. India’s Aadhaar Card scheme has shown the pioneering role that digitalisation can play in empowering the poor and facilitating development. There are also already several worrying examples of the pernicious effects of digital technology: Surveillance of local populations by authoritarian states, as well as the manipulation and control of infrastructure and security systems by external actors. To preserve the individual liberties of their people, and strengthen digital sovereignty, European and Indian cooperation will be key.

Research collaborations on dual-use technology, public-private partnerships for implementation and marketing of these innovations, and working jointly and through like-minded coalitions to establish rules for data governance and cyber-security are essential.

These two democratic powers will also be well-served to collaborate on diversifying away from their dependence on China, for e.g., on 5G technology and infrastructure development. Any trade agreement between the EU and India should prioritise this key consideration. Research collaborations on dual-use technology, public-private partnerships for implementation and marketing of these innovations, and working jointly and through like-minded coalitions to establish rules for data governance and cyber-security are essential. Neither the EU nor India can get left behind in a game that is dominated by the boardrooms in the US and party headquarters in China. India and the EU need to enter into a technology partnership that allows for all of this, and for ensuring reliable and integrated supply chains.

Shared geopolitical landscape

Our shared geopolitical landscape—extending beyond geographical proximities and including the Indo-Pacific—has been under extreme stress in recent years. The EU has a war triggered by Russia on its borders; India and its neighbours have had to put up with Chinese adventurism on the Himalayas and in their maritime neighbourhood.

Research collaborations on dual-use technology, public-private partnerships for implementation and marketing of these innovations, and working jointly and through like-minded coalitions to establish rules for data governance and cyber-security are essential. 

This is a time for both the EU and India to be working together to help restore balance in the region. The EU will need to jump off the fence with respect to China; the European mantra of “partner, competitor, rival” is highly inadequate in dealing with a China that has signed a “no-limits” partnership with Russia. India will also need to rethink its own dependencies. The two democracies have now very real incentives to develop closer economic and military ties.

Sanctimonious lectures about morality will need to be replaced by a shared empathy of the like-minded. And all this will require the use of not only Europe’s favourite tool of “soft power”, but also the use of hard power through infrastructure projects, green investment, and military cooperation. Re-aligning their economic and security cooperation with each other will enable both the EU and India to stand up for the values that they both hold dear: Democracy and pluralism.