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NO. 37, 2017
Bigger BRICS, Larger Role
In its second decade, BRICS is ready for a greater share in global governance
By Yu Lintao | NO. 37 SEPTEMBER 14, 2017

Leaders from the five BRICS countries, as well as Egypt, Guinea, Mexico, Tajikistan and Thailand, pose for a group photo on September 5 in Xiamen, southeast China's Fujian Province

When the first BRIC Summit was held in 2009 in Moscow, the Chinese version of the bloc leaders' joint statement was only around 1,500 characters. This month, the Xiamen Declaration of the Ninth BRICS Summit saw its list of outcomes exceed 12,000 characters.

Though the achievement of this cooperation platform of emerging economies can't be measured by the length of the joint statement, it still serves to underscore the growing cooperation among the five countries.

From simply an economic term to an outstanding cooperation platform of emerging economies, the tenor of BRICS has rapidly expanded in the past decade. Its agenda has evolved from promoting economic cooperation and development to improving global governance and jointly addressing global challenges.

Observers say with the enhancement of the cooperation mechanism, BRICS is expected to play a larger role in the world arena.

A larger role

Different from the Group of Seven (G7), which is often dubbed a rich countries' club, BRICS is not based on ideology or geopolitics. It developed from an economic term coined by former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill in 2001 into a cooperation platform for emerging economies to pursue economic cooperation and now, better global governance.

In the past decade, the bloc was the source of more than half of global growth. In 2016, it accounted for 23 percent of the global economy, almost double the group's share in 2006.

Even O'Neill is surprised that 16 years later, BRICS' share of the global GDP is bigger than every scenario he has projected.

What's more, their fields of cooperation are expanding as well, particularly in the past two years, from the establishment of the New Development Bank (NDB) to the Contingent Reserve Arrangement, a measure to combat global liquidity pressure; from jointly combating protectionism to handling the climate change issue with one voice.

"The social value of BRICS' pragmatic cooperation is emerging gradually," said Wang Wen, Executive Dean of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, in an interview with Beijing Review. However, the West has been trying to belittle the platform, with reports of a "fading BRICS" emerging in the Western media time and again, he added.

Given its size—the BRICS countries together account for 43 percent of the world's population and 26 percent of global territory—and its current economic contribution to the world economy, BRICS should assume a larger role in world affairs, Wang added.

In a recent article in World Affairs, a leading Chinese publication on global issues, Xu Xiujun, a researcher on BRICS studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote that global issues are becoming more prominent of late while economic and political issues are becoming closely intertwined. So, though positioned as an economic cooperation platform, the spillover effects of BRICS in other fields, such as global politics and security, are unavoidable.

During the Seventh Meeting of BRICS High Representatives for Security Issues in Beijing in July, the five agreed that deeper political and security cooperation would be the key to strengthening the BRICS mechanism. The political situations in the Middle East and North Africa were the main focus of attention. The joint declaration also referred to issues related to Afghanistan.

The Western world has seen a wave of anti-globalization represented by Europe's refugee crisis, Brexit, as well as U.S. President Donald Trump's protectionist trade agenda. The changing world situation is providing an opportunity for BRICS to have a bigger voice in global governance.

Oliver Stuenkel, an associate professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo and author of The BRICS and the Future of Global Order, told Xinhua News Agency that against the backdrop of the rising anti-globalization movement and protectionism, particularly in the Western world, it was up to the BRICS countries to defend globalization and "assure that the world does not commit the same mistakes that have been committed in the past century, leading to conflict."

At the BRICS Seminar on Governance in Quanzhou, southeast China's Fujian Province, in August, Jorge Eduardo Navarrete, a former Mexican diplomat and senior researcher with the National Autonomous University in Mexico, stressed that "global governance practices and institutions should be profoundly transformed to keep them in line with the evolution of an international economy in which the industrial, technical and financial relations and balances are constantly changing in favor of large emerging economies."

He said the situation is the same in the sphere of political relations and power balances, both globally and regionally. "The new multiregional institutions, such as the BRICS, have an important contribution to make for the construction of new global governance architecture," Navarrete said.

BRICS is increasing its participation in global governance. The achievements include the establishment of the NDB, which offers an alternative in addition to the large financial institutions which are often alleged to overlook the needs of developing countries or do not have enough reach, and more voting rights in global financial organs like the Word Bank and International Monetary Fund.

The Xiamen Declaration stressed the bloc's commitment to a more efficient global economic governance framework that reflects the current world economic landscape. It emphasized the importance of an open and inclusive world economy enabling all countries and peoples to share in the benefits of globalization and safeguarding the interests of developing countries.

"From the rim of global governance, where they had almost lost their voice, the BRICS platform is bringing developing countries back to center stage," Wang said.

Beyond BRICS

On the sidelines of the Xiamen Summit, the Dialogue of Emerging Market and Developing Countries was held under the BRICS Plus form, where leaders of Egypt, Guinea, Mexico, Tajikistan and Thailand were invited to join the BRICS leaders.

The BRICS Plus mode was proposed by China following the Durban Summit in 2013, when some regional countries were invited for dialogue on the sidelines of the main meeting.

This time, China developed the BRICS Plus model by inviting five developing states from three continents, namely, Africa, Asia and Latin America, to boost dialogue and discussion about cooperation between BRICS and other developing states.

"The mode will enrich the BRICS cooperation mechanism. Particularly, against the current backdrop of anti-globalization and protectionism, it will offer the wisdom of developing countries for global economic governance," said Chen Fengying, a senior researcher with China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

"The special agenda of the Xiamen Summit showed China's aspiration to make the development pie bigger and let all countries share the achievements of emerging economies," Wang added.

This, he said, will expand BRICS' circle of friends. "With broad partnerships, the group can evolve into a more influential platform for South-South cooperation. It also reflects China's vision for a new globalization with promoting common development as its core," he said.

According to him, many emerging economies, including Indonesia and Turkey, have shown great interest in joining the platform.

The Xiamen Declaration also proposed to strive toward broad partnerships with emerging market and developing countries, committing that the dialogue and cooperation with non-BRICS countries would be on an "equal footing."

"By expanding the bloc's partnership, BRICS Plus would infuse a fresh driving force for its development in the next decade," Chen said.

A third drive

All the five BRICS members are regional powers with long histories and colorful cultures. However, compared with their extensive economic and political dialogues, their people-to-people exchanges are still far from adequate.

"Many of the existing problems among BRICS countries derive from insufficient understanding and lack of trust," Chen told Beijing Review. "That is why the Xiamen Summit emphasized the role of people-to-people exchanges in the BRICS cooperation mechanism this year."

The Xiamen Declaration highlights enhancing people-to-people exchanges to create a public opinion foundation for the fresh development of the bloc in the next decade.

According to Wang, the BRICS cooperation mechanism is evolving from a "two-wheel drive of economy and politics" into a "three-wheel drive" with economic cooperation, political dialogue and people-to-people exchanges as its major pillars and the content of cooperation.

"No matter whether it is for deepening BRICS' own cooperation or building a wider partnership, mutual understanding and friendship among peoples are indispensable. It helps the cooperation mechanism to be more stable and lays a solid foundation for the mechanism's future development," Wang told Beijing Review.

According to Chen, there is vast cooperation potential in cultural and people-to-people exchanges for the five to tap, such as Russia's literature, India's film industry and Brazil's football. "Deeper and wider exchanges will make the people of each country fall in love with the others' cultures," she added.

In recent times, such exchanges have been making pragmatic progress. Earlier this year, the first BRICS Games was held in China. The five countries have also held two film festivals and shot their first co-production movie, Where Has Time Gone? More and more Indian films are being shown in China, winning the hearts of Chinese audiences. Next, the first BRICS Cultural Festival is scheduled to be held in Xiamen from September 15 to 22. (Reporting from Xiamen)

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to yulintao@bjreview.com

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