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BRICS Summit Focuses On UN Reform, Terrorism, Stemming Protectionism

Five major emerging economies opened a summit Monday to map out their future course, with host Chinese President Xi Jinping calling on them to play a bigger role in world governance, reject protectionism and inject new energy into tackling the gap between the world’s wealthy and developing nations. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP)

XIAMEN, China (AP) — The BRICS group of five major emerging economies called Monday for reform of the United Nations and tougher measures against terrorist groups, while denouncing North Korea’s latest nuclear test at a summit in China that seeks to enlarge the organization’s presence on the world stage.

The nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa— agreed in a joint declaration to strengthen cooperation against a range of organizations it described as terrorist, including some based in Pakistan, in a diplomatic victory for New Delhi.

The five also pledged their opposition to protectionism, a theme increasingly taken up by host Chinese President Xi Jinping as anti-globalization sentiment in the West poses a threat to China’s vast export markets.

In the 43-page declaration, Xi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Brazilian President Michel Temer and South African President Jacob Zuma said they would work together to improve global economic governance to foster “a more just and equitable international order.”

They also strongly condemned North Korea’s sixth — and most powerful — nuclear test that took place Sunday and has overshowed the two-day BRICS summit in the southeastern Chinese city of Xiamen that China is using as a showcase for its growing international status.

Preeti Saran, an official with India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said each leader had referred to North Korea’s nuclear test when they spoke during their meeting.

The declaration said the five emphasized that the issue should only be settled through “peaceful means and direct dialogue of all the parties concerned.”

They called for “comprehensive reform” of the U.N. and the U.N. Security Council “with a view to making it more representative, effective and efficient, and to increase the representation of the developing countries so that it can adequately respond to global challenges.”

No proposals on specific reforms were offered.

China, the world’s second-largest economy, wants BRICS to play a more important role in international affairs. But some observers suggest the group’s influence is waning given the ongoing political and economic rivalry between China and India and the economic woes faced by Brazil, Russia and South Africa.

In addressing terrorism, the declaration named organizations including the Pakistan-based militant groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Islamic State group and al-Qaida.

Saran said it was the first time there had been a specific listing of alleged terrorist groups in a BRICS document, calling that “a very important development.”

China, a key ally of Pakistan, has repeatedly blocked India’s attempts to have the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammad, Masood Azhar, put on a U.N. Security Council terror blacklist. India has accused archrival Pakistan of harboring and training militants to launch attacks on its soil.

China is a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council and has been seen as using that clout to gain an edge in its political and economic rivalry with India. The nuclear-armed Asian giants recently ended a 10-week border standoff high in the Himalayas that re-awakened memories of their 1962 frontier war, paving the way for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attend the BRICS summit in China.

Saran denied any connection between China’s agreement to list the Pakistan-based organizations and the withdrawal of Indian troops from the contested Himalayan area last week.

“This is a multilateral forum with five sovereign countries. There is no linkage to any other development,” she said.

At earlier BRICS summits, China balked at India raising Pakistan-sponsored terrorism allegations and defended its ally’s role in countering terrorism, said Sreeram Chaulia, dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs near New Delhi.

The inclusion of the two Pakistan-based groups in the declaration shows that “India has finally succeeded in persuading all BRICS members that Islamist fundamentalists pose a universal threat,” Chaulia said.

That came despite comments by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Thursday that China did not consider Pakistan’s counter-terrorism efforts to be an “appropriate topic” at the summit.

Saran said Modi and Putin discussed oil and gas cooperation and how to promote trade and investment between their two nations. Xi and Modi are expected to hold a meeting on the sidelines of the summit tomorrow.

The declaration also expressed concern about the Haqqani network that is active in Afghanistan, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, accused by Beijing of fomenting unrest in China’s northeastern region of Xinjiang.

The declaration said nations should unite to fight terrorist groups in accordance with the principles of international law, but emphasized the importance of not interfering in the sovereign affairs of individual states.

Xi announced in his opening address Monday that China would set aside 500 million yuan ($76 million) for economic and technological cooperation and exchanges among BRICS countries, and $4 million to support the BRICS’ New Development Bank.

The figure was much smaller than the 780 billion yuan ($120 billion) that Xi pledged at a summit in May for his own signature initiative, the “One Belt, One Road” project to boost connections between China, Europe and Africa.

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