Newly-expanded BRICS bloc tackles economic, political issues

16:56, April 14, 2011      

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The third summit of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) nations opened in Sanya, a costal resort city in China's southern island province of Hainan on April 14. South Africa’s inclusion in the organization of the world’s top emerging economies turned it into a larger group consisting of members from Asia, Europe, Latin America and now Africa.

Despite the turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East, the earthquake in Japan and subsequent nuclear crisis as well as the escalating sovereign debt crisis in Europe, the first summit of the expanded group of five nations has still attracted great attention of the international community.

First, what will South Africa bring to BRICS as a new member? There has been continuing controversy since South Africa joined BRICS at the end of last year. There are huge gaps between South Africa and other members of the group in terms of population, land area, economic volume and growth rate.

It is widely believed that the four founding members invited South Africa to join the group mainly because of geopolitical factors rather than economic factors. To be more specific, it is because South Africa represents over 1 billion people in more than 50 countries on the continent of Africa.

South Africa will likely pay great attention to African affairs at the summit so as to justify its inclusion in the BRICS, cope with challenges from Nigeria and other African countries and enhance its influence as well as consolidate its leading role in Africa.

However, South Africa’s top priority is to improve its own difficult economic and employment situation but not to resolve African issues. A high unemployment rate of more than 25 percent has put the African National Congress, the ruling political party in South Africa, under unprecedented pressure. South African people will be deeply disappointed if President Jacob Zuma fails to obtain any tangible benefits, such as foreign investments, for his country at the summit.

Second, what is the future form and development outlook of the BRICS countries? Thanks to two earlier summits of leaders, the BRICS bloc has evolved from an economic term into an influential multilateral cooperation mechanism. Despite a loose form, these countries take common positions in major issues involving economics and security and have become an influential force in the international community.

Some international commentators are worried that if the BRICS bloc becomes further institutionalized and emerges as a formal international organization, it will become a new inestimable force, challenging the world’s existing economic and political order dominated by developed countries.

However, some others suppose that despite the consensus on some major issues, the five countries also have serious disagreements over others. For instance, they have different interests on issues such as trade liberalization, exchange rate systems, U.N. Security Council reform and commodity prices.

The members have not yet reached a consensus on the bloc's future functional orientation, development goals or organizational forms. Therefore, the outlook is still uncertain on whether the bloc will become an organization that is subject to articles of association. However, outside attention is still focusing on whether the members will talk about gradually institutionalizing the bloc. For instance, will the five countries discuss the official establishment of the secretariat? Will they set up subcommittees to handle affairs in different fields or regularly hold ministerial meetings in order to step up cooperation?

Third, what roles will China play as it holds the rotating presidency? With a fast economic rise, China has rapidly entered the center of the world stage. China tops other BRICS members in terms of population, GDP and growth rate. A foreign media agency said that China intends to become the leader of the BRICS and use this platform to boost its international influence, seek more rights to speak and further form a new international economic and political order that is in its own interests. As the host of the first summit of the BRICS countries, what topics will China stress or play down and what type of leaders’ statement will China seek to conclude during the summit will be the highlights of outside attention and discussions.

By People's Daily Online
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