Workers make clothes in the China-invested C&H garment factory in Kigali, Rwanda, on April 30. All the 1,200 workers in the factory are local people (XINHUA)
With the convening of the 10th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, on July 25-27, the world's gaze was fixed on a cooperation mechanism that consists of emerging markets and developing countries, with members from Asia, Africa, Europe and South America.
The BRICS mechanism came into being at a time when the world was undergoing profound changes. When former Chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management Jim O'Neil coined the BRIC acronym (Brazil, Russia, India and China) in 2001, it was only a concept classifying the most potential and attractive emerging markets for multinationals according to their economic indicators, such as population, resources, market potential and economic growth. With the rapid rise in strength of developing countries and the increase of South-South cooperation, it has now developed into a new platform for emerging markets and developing countries to strengthen multilateral consultation and cooperation.
Gateway to Africa
Though a latecomer to the BRICS partnership, South Africa, the only African country in the group, is playing an increasingly important role in facilitating BRICS-Africa cooperation. Its inclusion in BRICS reflects other member nations' recognition of the continent's rising status and development potential in the coming years.
In terms of economic aggregate, South Africa's GDP accounts for nearly a quarter of Africa, but is still considerably less compared with other BRICS members at about a quarter of Russia's, which itself was the lowest of the former BRIC group. Despite this, South Africa serves as an important gateway for other BRICS countries to strengthen mutually beneficial cooperation with the African continent.
Along with the expansion of BRICS' geographic coverage, South Africa's membership also reflects the group's vision which now extends beyond the original scope of economic cooperation to much broader areas, such as international politics and geostrategic structures. It has become a platform for comprehensive dialogue and collaboration among emerging markets and developing nations.
BRICS countries occupy important positions in the global political and economic structure. China and Russia are two permanent members of the UN Security Council, while Brazil, India and South Africa are important powers in South America, Asia and Africa. Economically, the combined GDP of the five countries is 20 percent of the world total. Their combined territory and population account for 30 percent and 43 percent of the world, respectively. Given this, it is natural for the mechanism to transcend economic cooperation and take on a broader vision.
Thanks to close economic and trade cooperation between BRICS and African countries, Africa has successfully emerged from the international financial crisis and the wake of unrest in North Africa, and is now in the process of rapid recovery. African economies and BRICS nations are supporting each other through mutually beneficial cooperative programs to achieve sustainable development. In little more than a decade, BRICS countries have not only contributed 50 percent to world economic growth, but promoted Africa's development through trade and investment, making great contributions to poverty reduction in Africa and around the world.
Another achievement is the establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB), which came into operation on July 21, 2015, and the launch of its Africa Regional Center (ARC) in Johannesburg in August 2017. The NDB is committed to supporting infrastructure construction and green energy development. Sources indicate that it will grant loans of $1.5 billion to South Africa over the next 18 months.
The launch of the ARC reflects BRICS's determination to fulfill its commitment to Africa's sustainable development. It also provides an opportunity for developing countries to realize independent financial innovation. In the future, the ARC will, through its financial capital and backed by project development, greatly promote African integration as well as industrialization and infrastructure upgrading on the continent.
FOCAC and the Belt and Road
As the largest economy in the BRICS association, China is spearheading BRICS-Africa cooperation. To better promote African development, China is synergizing BRICS with other cooperation platforms involving Africa, such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).
FOCAC was established in 2000 and has served as an important engine in promoting China-Africa collaboration ever since. FOCAC summits in Beijing in 2006 and Johannesburg in 2015 pushed China-Africa economic cooperation to new heights. In order to push forward Africa's industrialization, China also established the China-Africa Fund for Industrial Cooperation with startup capital of $10 billion and increased the capital of the China-Africa Development Fund and the Special Loan for the Development of African Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises by $5 billion each.
BRICS is also expected to synergize with the Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward the initiative in 2013, and it aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along and beyond the ancient Silk Road trade routes. It has since been reinvigorating other regional cooperation mechanisms in Africa, with many countries on the continent enthusiastic about participating in Belt and Road construction. Shortly after the close of the annual sessions of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body, in March, presidents of Cameroon, Namibia and Zimbabwe visited China and expressed their hopes of aligning their own development strategies with the Belt and Road Initiative.
Driven by the Belt and Road Initiative, improving infrastructure interconnectivity and strengthening industrial capacity cooperation have become key areas of China-Africa relations in recent years. It is the new consensus of both China and African nations to promote industrial development and reduce poverty through investment in infrastructure-related projects via the platform of the Belt and Road Initiative.
China-Africa interconnectivity and industrial capacity cooperation have begun to yield important results of late, including the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, which opened in October 2016, and the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway in May 2017. The construction of industrial parks along these rail routes has already seen preliminary achievements.
Following the 10th BRICS Summit in South Africa, the FOCAC Beijing Summit will convene in September. Chinese and African leaders will gather to discuss China-Africa cooperation in the new era. In this context, the BRICS mechanism is expected to synergize with FOCAC and the Belt and Road Initiative to further promote African development.
The author is a senior researcher with the Charhar Institute and a researcher with the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Copyedited by Francisco Little
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