BRICS not to break as standing together

Authors: Wang Wei, Edward Lai

The concept of the “BRIC” began to affect the audiences in 2001 when economist Jim O’Neill first used the term referring to the emerging countries like Brazil, China, India and Russia combined. And later it was added with South Africa. The argument go that the relative size and share of the BRICs in the world economy would rise exponentially and gradually imply for the G-7, which is regarded as the economic hegemony of the West, to make a rearrangement of the world order.

In 2003 scholars like Dominic Wilson echoed the same thesis in the report on “Dreaming with BRICs: The Path to 2050” that in all likelihood by 2025 the BRICs could account for over half of the size of the G-7 in terms of GDP. And in less than 40 years the BRICs’ economies together could be larger than the G-7. Although controversial as it was, the key underlying idea behind all discourses is that China and India will arise as the world’s principal suppliers of manufactured goods and services, while Brazil and Russia will become similarly dominant as suppliers of raw materials. In addition, what the BRICs have in common is that they all have an enormous potential consumer market, complemented by access to regional markets and to a large labor force. It argues that three key issues that BRICs have to embrace for their partnership development are as follows: inclusive growth, sustainable solution and foreign policy, and the post-Western world.

In the long run, China as the second largest economy of the world has more expectation on the role played by the emerging powerhouses. During the 2017 G-20 Summit in Germany, the leaders of the BRICS nations held informal meeting reaching key consensus on building an open world economy and improving global economic governance. As scheduled to holding the rotating presidency of the BRICS bloc during September of 2017 in China, President Xi Jinping lost no time to reiterate that the member states would establish an open world economy, maintain a multilateral trade system and advance inclusive, balanced and win-win economic globalization. Only in so doing, is it possible to make the fruits of economic growth accessible for all people. Why has the BRICS nations highlighted the tenets of inclusiveness and multiple world order in their further work towards a common vision on critical international issues?

The BRICS nations are important not just because of their recent and current rapid development, but because of the predicated changes that are going to transform the global economy and even change the balance of global economic power. The 2007-2009 financial crises, regarded by many economists as the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression in 1929, were relatively well withstood by the BRICS economies. As a result, this crisis reinforced the view that, though debatable, international economic institutions had to be reformed to reflect shifting economic power. Brazil and India had long demanded reform of international economic institutions as well as seat on the United Nations Security Council. So do China and Russia, although they have demanded from different perspectives. Little progress with UN reform were made since then, but considerable change occurred within the WTO, with Brazil and India becoming members of the inner negotiating circle, also being well-known as “new quad” along with the US and EU. For many, a major symbolic step occurred with the creation of the G-20 in 2008. As Andrew Hurrell put it, “The G-20 was a major symbolic of how the structure of global governance were shifting in response to the new geometry of power, and a sign of what the future would bring about.” Obviously, all the BRICS nations are now the members of the G-20. At the time of economic globalization, the bargaining power of the BRICS nations’ vis-à-vis U.S.-dominated global institutions is growing.

Second, there is no doubt that the BRICS member-states also have their own internal challenges and external divergences on many issues. The central point of the role of the BRICS nations in the world affairs is not where world order is now, but where it was going to in the next decades, to say by 2050. Building on the idea that “a shared voice is stronger than a single voice”, the emerging powers realize that they need to cooperate in order to push forward their own agendas. Given this, the new forms of multilateralism led by today’s emerging and regional powers—China, India, Brazil and Russia as well—have put the idea of globalism firmly back on the political and intellectual map. In his latest speech in Hamburg, President Xi highlighted the importance of the G-20 and in particular the BRICS in boosting international economic cooperation and improving global governance. At the same time, he also encouraged the BRICS nations to play a leading role in the support of developing countries, especially African ones in terms of infrastructure, mining and energy industries, since this is the practical way to help them make progresses in the highly interconnected world. Thanks to the growing clout of the BRICS nations, the leaders of the bloc agreed that they would keep the good momentum of deepening cooperation on politics, economy and people-to-people exchanges in order to push forward more substantial programs among the BRICS members, for example, the multilateral exchanges of culture and education.

It is held that the BRICS has primarily confined itself to economic issues, but political problems are also being discussed increasingly by the bloc leaders. This is because global issues like climate change, terrorism and growing inequality in the world are high on the agenda of each member-state. Particularly as China is about to become the largest economy of the world by replacing the US, Russia has stabilized economically and decreased its debt while India and Brazil have comparatively high GDP and a large middle class to uphold economic growth. Therefore, the common vision, coordination and cooperation have facilitate the BRICS to be more proactive and constructive on international political issues ranging from war on terrorism, and the Israeli—Palestinian conflict to more topical subjects like Syria, Afghanistan and the Iranian nuclear question and Africa.

The key concern remains how to validate the BRICS nations as a functional grouping rather than just a forum? Globally, it is vital for the BRICS to become a knowledge base for other developing countries in view of substantial and sustainable aid. Technically they should take up some areas like solar energy, ethanol, urban landscape, slum-alleviation, special economic zones, and biotechnology and share its best practices with southern countries. As different from the G-7, World Trade Organization and other Western institutions which are deemed to retain economic hegemony over the vast developing lands, the BRICS nations are committed to multilateralism and human development and social welfare in accordance with the outlines of the United Nations.

For sure, the BRICS still have long way to go in terms of massive education and technology innovation, not to mention the hidden concerns with China’s economy towering over the rest of the BRICS states, particularly India and Russia. However, they have already advanced with huge strides in the multilateral direction. The disagreements remain between them, but all are aware that BRICS should not break as long as they stand together.

(*) Edward Lai, Lecturer at Dalian Maritime University, China

Professor of Government, China Foreign Affairs University

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