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Cementing the BRICS
Voicing the concerns of developing nations in global affairs
By Srikanth Kondapalli | NO. 43 OCTOBER 27, 2016


BRICS leaders attend a dialogue with representatives of the BRICS Business Council in Goa, India, on October 16 (XINHUA)

The Eighth BRICS Summit, bringing together leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, was held in the Indian state of Goa in mid-October. The meeting further consolidated coordination between these five emerging countries in issues of global governance.

Having suggested alternative solutions to the global financial crisis in 2007-08 after the Yekaterinburg meeting of 2009, the group expanded to include South Africa at the Sanya meeting in 2011. This made the bloc more trans-continental in nature and enhanced its worldwide appeal.

The BRICS, through their summit meetings and coordination at global and regional levels, have touched upon many issues, with economic, political and security aspects being the most prominent. As the global resource centers of Russia, Brazil and South Africa combine with China and India--the world's manufacturer and "back-office" respectively, the BRICS are poised to exert greater clout in the international arena.

First, in light of the trend toward unilateralism, preemptive military action and regime change, the BRICS have emphasized negotiation, peaceful resolution and the role of the UN in resolving conflicts. BRICS joint statements called for resolving issues peacefully in Egypt, Libya and Syria as well as on the Iranian nuclear program. They were also unequivocal in raising concerns on the spread of terrorism in various regions of the world. Although these statements remained declarative in nature, impact on the international community has been significant.

Second, coinciding with the formation of the BRICS was the intensification of the climate change proposals. Moving on from the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, which centered on industrialized nations, developing countries have now been incorporated into the global drive to cut emissions.

Third, one of the most significant aspects of the BRICS summit was the resolve to broaden the base of global economic governance. For instance, the Bretton Woods institutions, which have governed the world's economic affairs since 1945, are heavily skewed toward the industrialized West, with GDP being the criterion determining voting rights in these institutions.

However, while emerging economies have enhanced their GDP profiles over the last two decades, there is no commensurate increase in their influence within these institutions. Specifically, as the global financial crisis and the eurozone crisis intensified, financial institutions began to divert capital toward the European region, sometimes at the cost of promoting infrastructure development in developing countries. Pressure from the BRICS finally led the International Monetary Fund to reorganize its voting mechanism to accommodate higher voting shares for China and India.

The BRICS also formed a coordination group in the Group of 20 (G20) to articulate the interests of the developing countries in global economic governance. At the recently held G20 Summit in China's Hangzhou for example, the group's concerns on sustainable development, innovative practices, maintaining growth rates and the like were noticed.

Fourth, as the international role of the BRICS bloc has increased on regional security and economic development issues, many countries today want to join the group. Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey and others are interested in joining, although a decision has not yet been made on potential membership expansion. However, since these are also emerging nations, some kind of mechanism to accommodate them could evolve in the future.

To address the expansion of representation, regional multilateral institutions and nations are being accommodated in BRICS summit meetings as observers and participants. For instance, the 2013 BRICS Summit held in Durban, South Africa, saw many African Union members registering interest in the talks. In a similar vein, South American countries attended the Fortaleza summit in Brazil in 2014, while Eurasian nations were invited to the 2015 Ufa meeting in Russia, and Southeast and South Asian countries attended 2016 Goa summit. This will tend to expand the appeal of the BRICS in the long run and widen its initiatives.

Fifth, one of the major outcomes of BRICS cooperation has been the formation of the New Development Bank, headquartered in Shanghai. A contingency reserve is being raised and efforts are being made to finance hard and soft infrastructure projects in developing countries.

The Goa summit focused on global and regional security and economic matters. In addition, as the New Development Bank is taking shape with financing projects, credit ratings of the BRICS countries' economies have become of paramount importance. And, an agricultural institute is likely to be established, given the pivotal role this sector occupies in the lives of many people in BRICS countries.

While declines in commodity prices have recently hit Brazil, South Africa and Russia, China and India have continued to maintain high growth rates with increasing foreign exchange reserves. Ultimately, the voice of the BRICS group in global affairs is likely to increase over the coming years.

The author is a professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi 

Copyedited by Dominic James Madar 

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