BRICS is an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa -- five countries that together form an association of major emerging national economies.
In the recent past, Afghanistan, Argentina, Indonesia, Mexico, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, Sudan, Syria, Bangladesh, and Greece have also expressed interest in joining BRICS.
Since 2009, the BRICS nations have met annually at formal summits with member countries taking turns to host. China has just hosted the 9th BRICS summit of these leading developing and newly industrialised countries in Xiamen from September 3 to 5. India convened the previous summit in 2016. As of 2016, the five BRICS countries represent over 3.6 billion people, or about 48% of the world population.
They have a combined nominal GDP of $16.6 trillion, equivalent to approximately 22% of the Gross World Product (GWP) and a combined GDP (PPP) of around $37tn with an estimated $4tn in combined foreign reserves.
Overall, the BRICS group expanded its economy by about 4.5% in 2016, as opposed to its estimated growth of 3.9% in 2015. The World Bank has since observed that it expects BRICS growth to pick up to 5.3% in 2017.
Bilateral relations among BRICS nations have mainly been conducted on the basis of non-interference, equality, and mutual benefit. This principle was however seriously tested this year just before the 9th Summit.
In July, world capitals reacted with relief after the two-month long stand-off and the prolonged confrontation between the armed forces of China and India at the Doklam tri-junction in the Himalayas eventually toned down.
Subsequently, both the Indian Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping used the opportunity of their side-line meetings during the summit to reiterate their commitment to work together on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.
This was an example of positive dynamics at work.
Du Yifei of the People’s Daily of China has noted some important aspects of the 71-point Xiamen Declaration issued on September 4 at the conclusion of the meeting.
The participating leadership agreed to improving global economic governance
It was pointed out that the participating leadership agreed to energise practical cooperation to boost development and enhance communication and coordination in improving global economic governance.
This was stressed to foster a more just and equitable international economic order. The declaration also emphasised the need for fairness and justice to safeguard international and regional peace and stability.
But while the BRICS states were right to agree on the above principles they seem to have forgotten to look outside their meeting room and take notice of the inhuman activities being perpetrated in the Rakhine State of Myanmar.
Nevertheless, one needs to also note some other positive outcomes of the Xiamen summit.
Indian Prime Minister Modi stressed the importance of collaborative action to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
He also correctly noted that domestic efforts in this regard needs to be buttressed by strong international partnerships and proactive sharing of experience and resources across a range of sectors: From strengthening democratic institutions to deploying high-tech solutions for the public good.
He further referred to the need to focus on development partnerships projects related to providing water, electricity, roads, health care, tele-medicine, and basic infrastructure to people.
The participants also reiterated the need to create a safer world through organised and coordinated action in the areas of counter-terrorism, cyber security, and disaster management.
There was also consensus on a number of other areas: The need to counter climate change, through initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance; sharing and deploying suitable technologies to enhance efficiency, economy, and effectiveness; bridging the digital divide within and outside the BRICS economies; enhancing the skills of the emerging youth population; creating a healthier world by cooperating in research and development to eradicate diseases, and enabling affordable health care for all; creating equality of opportunity for all, particularly through gender empowerment and equality; creating a connected world by enabling free flow of goods, persons, and services; and, promoting ideologies, practices, and heritage that are centred on peaceful coexistence and living in harmony with nature.
Zhao Minghao, an analyst from China’s Renmin University, noted that such aspirations have underlined the positive efforts on the part of the BRICS mechanism and has transformed it into an important international economic bloc.
BRICS members’ trade in services had reached about $540bn in 2015, about 11.3% of the world’s total. Zhao Minghao has gone on to suggest that “with the middle class expanding in BRICS countries, there is plenty of opportunity for cooperation in health care, tourism, education, and other sectors.” He further emphasised the need to avoid protectionism with regard to trade.
Bangladeshi entrepreneurs should carefully monitor how BRICS countries will undertake this task and try to replicate the scenario.
This is already being done successfully by Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. We need to remember that we will be able to move forward at a faster pace in Bangladesh and within the sub-region if we can create further stimulus and help develop small and medium sized e-commerce enterprises.
The Xiamen Summit, as in the case of the BRICS Summit held in Goa, India last year (where there was the BIMS-TEC outreach factor), added a dimension through the concept of “BRICS Plus.”
Mexico, Egypt, Guinea, Thailand, and Tajikistan attended the Summit in China as part of the BRICS Plus initiative. This enabled the BRICS to reach out to Central Asia, South East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.
The other important aspect was the careful scrutiny of the need to have deeper political and security cooperation. The existing political situation in the Middle East and North Africa received careful attention, while issues relating to Afghanistan found their place in the Joint Declaration.
The BRICS leaders also condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations wherever committed and by whomsoever.
It was however interesting to observe that though China’s Foreign Ministry condemned North Korea’s nuclear bomb test (carried out at the same time as the Summit meeting) President Xi did not mention North Korea during his 45 minute address or in his televised remarks.
It was decided that the next BRICS Summit will be convened in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2018. The world will have to wait and see how international affairs evolve over the coming months.
Several factors in Europe, Brexit, Far East and South East Asia, South Asia and in the Middle East will influence the geo-strategic paradigm and BRICS will need to step forward with care.
Muhammad Zamir is a former Ambassador and Chief Information Commissioner of the Information Commission, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance, he can be reached at [email protected]