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Building with BRICS: India, China must embrace new mantra

Having disengaged from Doklam plateau, China and India should now engage to avail of the huge opportunity related to sustainable development for their people and address the threat of climate change, writes Rajendra Shende for South Asia Monitor

Sep 1, 2017
By Rajendra Shende
 
The Stone Age didn't end because the world ran out of stones. It ended because people invented bronze tools, which were more productive.
 
A standoff between Indian and Chinese soldiers at a 10,000 feet high Himalayan plateau called Doklam ended recently. The reason was not that supply-lines to Doklam ran out, (Doklam literary means ‘rocky road’ in local language), but because a more productive way was found to resolve the issue, diplomatically.
 
Experts on the India-China relationship and the media are now busy trying to declare the real winner, which is actually diplomacy. However, diplomacy can never be a long term winner.
 
There is, however, a game-changing and long-term win-win opportunity for both India and China, which has been overshadowed by territorial conflicts. Border-protection is important, but the development of the people of the two countries is more important.
 
Having disengaged from Doklam plateau, China and India should now engage to avail of the huge opportunity related to sustainable development for their people and address the threat of climate change.
 
Filling the gap left by developed economies in North America and Europe, due to their economic downturn, regarding development of green technology and products is a historic opportunity for China and India.  Not exploiting such opportunities is tantamount to denying the development of their own societies and overlooking the prospects of assuming global stewardship. 
 
The personal chemistry between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping is conducive to long term cooperation. Their visits to each other’s home states early on had set harmonious tones. Their mutual praise in July 2017, even when the Indian and Chinese battalions were facing each other on the Doklam Plateau, while Modi and Xi faced each other in Hamburg, Germany on the margins of the G-20 summit, was simply amazing.
 
Importantly, both countries have institutional frameworks to build on and have made the smart beginning on critical issues like clean energy. BRICS; a consortium of five major emerging national economies; Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, representing 40 percent of the world’s population and 25 % of world’s GDP, is all set to seize the emerging opportunities. The foundation has also been laid for energy- related cooperation between India and China since 2016, with a joint dialogue between the concerned ministries of both countries.
 
What are the common threats that people of India and China face which need a joint approach to address them? On the top of the list are air-pollution, climate change, energy dependence, restless youth because of serious unemployment, fast urbanizing population, eroding the agricultural base, and terrorism. India and China probably are capable of addressing these challenges on their own. But partnership between India and China would be essential in saving the time and cost, particularly when time is not on our side, for example, in the case of climate change, and costs are prohibitive in the short term.
 
China and India currently account for 60 % of incremental world energy demand. Coal-dominated and oil-dependent energy structures are the drivers of energy insecurity. Use of fossil fuel and inefficient use of bio-mass burning are responsible for air pollution that causes premature deaths of 5.5 million people in both countries together, (China’s share being 4.3 million) as per World Health Organization (WHO) figures.
 
Reducing carbon emissions is, therefore, critical not only because of the Paris Climate Agreement, to which both countries are passionately attached, despite US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal, but also for the healthy and pollution-free life of their people. It is of interest to both countries to enhance energy efficiency and rapidly increase the share of renewable energy in their total energy mix and reduce the dependence on coal.
 
China has effectively demonstrated its extraordinary speed and scale in implementing its renewable energy target. It has met its 13thfive-year plan capacity target of solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity 3 years ahead of schedule. By the end July 2017, its solar PV capacity was 112 GW against a target of 105 GW by 2020. India is planning to reach its targeted 100 GW by 2022, and has presently reached about 13 GW.
 
 On the other hand, India has an edge in energy information and management systems, like IOT and technology in wind energy. India also has a large energy market, from which China can benefit.  China has advanced solar energy technologies and the cost of its solar energy manufacturing is low while India has abundant solar energy resources but its solar energy manufacturing sector is still in the fledging stage.
 
The two countries have an opportunity to jointly invest in the solar PV industry through joint ventures, technology cooperation and development to expand their solar energy market. China has expertise in management of power grids, whereas power transmission with low loss and grid construction has always been the barrier in the development of India's power sector. The two countries can jointly develop and invest in transmission technology.
 
Despite campaigns like ‘Make in India,’ if no Indian manufacturer is coming forward to set up solar cell and panel manufacturing, which seems to be the case, then India should not hesitate to get Chinese investment with the proviso of sharing of export markets, balancing the trade deficit –which is now more than USD 50 billion- and enhanced technology development and joint research. Markets in India and elsewhere are so huge that partnership between India and China is exceptionally essential. 
 
Employment potential for the renewable energy sector is very high and accelerating. New employment in solar and wind energy over the last few years was more than in the fossil fuel sector, according to a report from United Nations Environment. India and China are facing a huge task of gainfully employing their young generation that is getting steadily restless, reflecting the possibility of social disturbances. The renewable and clean and green energy sector provides opportunity for them.
 
India and China are yet to utilize the full potential of two excellent initiatives of China, fully supported by India as major shareholder. One is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) based in Beijing. The second is the BRICS’ New Development Bank (NDB)-based in Shanghai with capital of USD 100 billion each. India and China can leverage green financing for joint projects.
 
The next BRICS Summit is being held on September 3 to 5 in Xiamen in China’s Fujian Province, just a week after disengagement from the Doklam stand-off.  The theme of the meeting is “BRICS: Stronger Partnership for a Brighter Future”.
 
A move away from ‘assaulting with stones’ to ‘building with BRICS’ could be a new mantra for India and China to forge a winning combination. Timing favours those who dare to act despite challenges and differences. The BRICS summit in Xiamen is that time.
 
(The author is Chairman TERRE Policy Centre and former Director UNEP. He can be contacted at shende.rajendra@gmail.com)

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