The BRICS nation will now face 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 Narendra Modi 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 tough two and a half months during which the rhetoric between India and China 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. India’s refusal to be 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 Doklam stand-off. But there is little doubt that China will aim to bring the BRI on the table for negotiations at BRICS summit. India will have to use considerable leverage with other members to ensure that its concerns prevail.