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.