India and China are so often mentioned in the same breath, especially in climate change negotiations. Prior to Copenhagen, they joined up with Brazil and South Africa to form the BASIC grouping. But many in Delhi are asking a two-pronged question about BASIC; ‘does it serve India’s interests’ and ‘for how long’?
In some respects BASIC is an evolutionary beast whose ancestors were the G90 and G20 that mated during the Doha round of World Trade Organisation talks and ultimately brought them to a grinding hault. Like the ‘G110’, as it became known during the WTO’s 2005 ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, BASIC is also a blocking constituency. However, it differs from the G110 in the rather obvious respect of being a much smaller group of large, developing world economies and is also Sino-centric; the G110 was not.
For now, the answer to the first part of the question appears to be ‘yes’. BASIC most manifestly benefits China because it lends cover to a Chinese government as yet unready for the role of global hegemon. Traditionally, the relationship between China and India has always been cast as one of rivalry. However – perhaps triggered by the BASIC grouping – there appears to be a new mood of cooperation between Asia’s two big beasts.
The answer to the second part of the question is linked to whether or not BASIC has ambitions to become more than a blocker. If so, then interests may not be so easy to align and the very different social, cultural, political and economic conditions of India and China may not make for such a positive alliance.
One further question asked by some in Delhi is what in fact are India’s interests in global climate negotiations? India has hitherto been very adept at articulating what it doesn’t want and at gaming within the UNFCCC and it is along these lines that BASIC works. But if the Delhi government – led in negotiations by Jairam Ramesh (pictured) – has a vision of an agreement or at least more cooperation to help bring about some of its existing ambitions on energy efficiency and renewable energy – and it’s not clear that it currently does – then will BASIC help or hinder India in its pursuit of this vision?