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Cover Stories Series 2011> BRICS Summit Wrap-Up> Archive
UPDATED: April 24, 2010 NO. 17 APRIL 29, 2010
A Harmonious Quartet
BRIC nations voice shared concerns over global issues at their second summit

PARTNERS IN ARMS: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (from left to right) join hands at the second BRIC summit in Brasilia on April 15 (LI XUEREN)

When Goldman Sachs first coined the BRIC concept a decade ago, the international investment and securities firm by no means expected that Brazil, Russia, India and China would later unite into a formal alliance. Indeed, if anything, the four fast-growing economies have since proven that BRIC represents far more than just an eye-catching acronym.

"Despite the differences in political systems, development modes, religious beliefs and cultural traditions," said Chinese President Hu Jintao at the second BRIC summit in Brasilia on April 15, "our four countries have become good friends and good partners."

This is scarcely a small feat from a diplomatic point of view. Moreover, the four countries' willingness to transcend their differences to seek a common voice—as shown at the increasingly institutionalized BRIC summits—will help speed changes in international economic and political dynamics, Chinese international studies experts said.

A bigger say

Given the declining role of the United States in the wake of the global financial crisis, the other major world powers have since vied to secure themselves favorable positions in international economic and financial negotiations, said Jin Canrong, Associate Dean of the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China. With this in mind, he added, they have formed a variety of groups based on common interests.

At their second summit in Pittsburgh in the United States in September 2009, leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies designated the G20 as the "premier forum" for international economic cooperation. This year, the G20 leaders are scheduled to meet in Canada in June and South Korea in November for two more summits.

The BRIC summit in Brasilia was meant for the BRIC nations to prepare for the coming G20 summits by coordinating their positions, Jin said.

The four powers, meanwhile, held their first summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia, in June 2009—three months ahead of the G20 Pittsburgh summit. The BRIC countries, not surprisingly, are home to 42.9 percent of the world's population, and make up 15.5 percent of global GDP.

The BRIC countries are also large countries with global aspirations and have, in the past, been relatively marginalized in the currently U.S.-dominated international system. These commonalities, Jin added, have enabled them to work in concert to seek a greater say in the international community.

The reform of international financial institutions offers a good example. Reforming the international financial system, including adjusting voting power in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), was among the major agreements reached at the summit. The IMF and the World Bank urgently need to "address their legitimacy deficits," BRIC leaders said in a joint communiqué.

Restructuring the governance of these institutions requires a substantial shift in voting power in favor of emerging market economies and developing countries, thus bringing their participation in decision making in line with their weight in the world economy, said the communiqué.

Apart from economic issues, BRIC leaders also addressed diverse topics at their second summit. These range from poverty reduction to antiterrorism—evidence that the summit has become more institutionalized. But the expanded agenda may pose risks, added Jin, because of the countries' inherent differences.

The BRIC countries, for instance, hold vastly different views on some international issues such as the Iranian nuclear issue and the reform of the UN Security Council. Moreover, China and India tend to compete over market shares and resources. Brazil and Russia, meanwhile, are both major exporters of raw materials to China, so frictions between suppliers and buyers are practically unavoidable, Jin cautioned.

Future plans

In the face of both "rare opportunities" and "severe challenges," the BRIC countries need to chart a future course for their cooperation, Hu said at the summit. In this respect, he noted, political trust, practical cooperation in diverse fields, institutional development, win-win results, openness and transparency are of pivotal importance.

At the summit, Hu called on the BRIC nations to take the lead in laying a more solid foundation for global economic recovery by enhancing coordination in macroeconomic policies. The BRIC countries, he added, should also encourage other parties to address imbalances in the global economic governance structure, while increasing the representation of emerging markets and developing countries in international financial institutions.

At the same time, said Hu, they should promote trade liberalization, properly handle trade disputes, oppose protectionism and promote the establishment of an open and a mutually beneficial multilateral trading system. The alliance, he added, should work to improve the international financial regulatory system by expanding the scope of regulation while identifying regulatory responsibilities.

The BRIC countries should also call on the international community to redouble its efforts to pursue development while respecting different models of development that countries have practised, based upon their actual conditions. Industrialized countries in particular, Hu said, must honor their commitments to assisting developing nations, debt relief, market access and technology transfers to help developing countries achieve economic growth.

Hu also said that China will host the third BRIC summit next year.

Hu's words, said Wang Yizhou, Associate Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, demonstrated hopes for deepened cooperation between the BRIC nations.

Despite the dramatic rise in their economic clout in recent years, emerging countries have yet to play a leading role in many international forums, he said. Against this backdrop, there is a driving need for BRIC nations to work together on international issues.

Wang also voiced his belief that BRIC cooperation remains at an early stage, and thus the four countries will need decades to realize their long-term objectives.

A growing partnership

During their talks on April 15, Hu and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva agreed to further advance bilateral ties. Hu had planned on paying state visits to Brazil, Chile and Venezuela after attending the second BRIC summit. But when a devastating earthquake struck China's Qinghai Province on April 14, he decided to cancel visits to Chile and Venezuela and return home to direct disaster relief efforts.

Before his departure, Hu told Lula that both the Chinese and Brazilian governments should encourage their businesses to invest more in each other's countries in areas such as energy, mining, agriculture, industry and infrastructure development.

China is also willing to cooperate with Brazil in oil exploration and in developing new energy resources such as bio-fuels.

In terms of cooperation with regards to science and technology, Hu recommended that both sides collaborate closely in the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite program, under which the two jointly develop and operate Earth observation satellites.

In addition, China will launch a "Month of Chinese Culture in Brazil" later this year, while Brazil will stage a "Month of Brazilian Culture in China" in 2011 to promote cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

During Hu's visit, China and Brazil also signed the 2010-14 Joint Action Plan, as well as 15 other documents concerning areas such as trade, culture and product quality inspection.

China is Brazil's biggest trading partner, second biggest export market and second biggest source of imports. Two-way trade, according to China's official statistics, reached $42.4 billion in 2009.

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