Almost a Year Later, Modi and Xi Meet Again at BRICS Leaders Retreat

Highlighting policy concepts like start-up ecosystems and digital payments, Modi invited the businessmen who were present at the forum to take part in India’s development journey.

New Delhi: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted on Tuesday, August 22, that transparency and mutual trust were necessary to implement the lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic about the necessity of resilient supply chains. He was speaking at the BRICS business forum, an event that Chinese President Xi Jinping chose to skip. 

However, both the Indian and Chinese leaders flanked the South African host for a family photo at the closed-door Leaders Retreat later in the evening. As both of them were meeting in a small group, they likely exchanged pleasantries but there has been no official confirmation so far. 

After departing from India in the morning, Modi arrived at Johannesburg in the afternoon local time to begin his three-day visit to South Africa to take part in the first in-person summit of the bloc of five emerging economies since 2019. 

Along with Modi, Brazilian President Lula de Silva and Chinese President Xi Jinping have flown in from their capitals for the meet chaired by South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa. With South Africa, Russia and China pushing for an expansion of BRICS, the leaders of dozens of other countries from Ethiopia to Indonesia and Iran will also be taking part in the outreach sessions on Thursday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin cancelled his trip primarily to prevent South Africa from grappling with the predicament of executing his arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court. India and Brazil had rejected South Africa’s proposal to relocate the summit to China in order to circumvent this issue.

At the airport, Modi was greeted by South African vice president Paul Mashatile. Since the Chinese president’s sojourn was also a state visit, President Ramaphosa himself welcomed Xi at the steps of his official plane. The South African foreign minister Naledi Pandor officiated at the welcome ceremony for the Brazilian president.

Since this would be the first time that Modi and Xi would be in the same multilateral event since last November, there has been a lot of speculation that both countries were creating positive atmospherics to allow the two leaders to meet in South Africa. Chinese President Xi Jinping is also expected to visit Delhi for the G-20 summit next month, but that may only be a quick trip.

However, Xi skipped the business forum on the first day, with China’s commerce minister Wang Wentao delivering his remarks.

There was no clarity on why the Chinese leader did not attend the BRICS business forum. He took part in formal talks and attended a lunch hosted by President Ramaphosa before this event. 

The two leaders met for the first time in nearly a year since Bali at the G-20 Leaders Retreat. However, no photo has emerged so far of both of them conversing as they did at the G-20 summit in 2022. It took more than eight months for India to admit that more than pleasantries had been exchanged between Modi and Xi, whose armies are still in a three-year-old standoff in the western sector of their mountainous boundary.

The Ministry of External Affairs has still not stated if there was any exchange of remarks at the BRICS dinner.

Both of them will be together for a series of summit events over the next two days, with the plenary on Wednesday, which will be followed by an outreach session the next day.

Indian officials have remained tight-lipped on the likelihood of a bilateral meeting between Modi and Xi.

At the BRICS business forum, Modi said that the COVID pandemic had taught the lesson of the significance of having “resilient and inclusive supply chains”. He said to achieve this, “mutual trust and transparency” are very important.

He also added that they could pool their economic strengths to help the Global South.

Highlighting policy concepts like start-up ecosystems and digital payments, Modi invited the businessmen who were present at the forum to take part in India’s development journey.

“India will be the growth engine of the world. It’s because India turned calamity and tough times into economic reforms. In the last few years, the ease of doing business in India has improved due to the work done in the mission mode,” he stated, adding that the country will “soon” be a $5 trillion economy.

Putin speaks about de-dollarisation

Unable to attend the summit in person, Putin delivered a recorded video message, during which he indicated that the agenda of the meeting would be to move away from the West-centred financial system.

He claimed that the summit would discuss the use of national currencies for trade between BRICS countries. 

“The objective, irreversible process of de-dollarisation of our economic ties is gaining momentum. Efforts are being made to work out effective mechanisms of mutual settlements and financial control,” he said. He also claimed the share of the dollar in trade within BRICS countries was already decreasing, amounting to only 28.7% last year.

Putin also referred to the collapse of the Black Sea grain deal, blaming the West for not implementing the condition of selling Ukrainian wheat mostly to developing countries impacted by the Ukraine war.

Stating that BRICS will meet the needs of the developing world, Putin stated, “We cooperate on the principles of equality, mutual support and respect for each other’s interests. This is the essence of the future-oriented strategic course of our association, a course that meets the aspirations of the main part of the world community, the so-called global majority”.

With rising concern in Western capitals that BRICS would be expanded to become an anti-West bloc, Brazilian President Lula said in South Africa that there should not be any such apprehension. “We do not want to be a counterpoint to the G7, G20 or the United States,” he said.

Stating that he supported other countries joining BRICS but with conditions, he asserted, “We want BRICS to be a multilateral institution, not an exclusive club.”

Meanwhile, the US said that it does not see the BRICS as a rival bloc. “This is a very diverse collection of countries… with differences of view on critical issues,” US national security advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters in Washington.