BEIJING — As China prepares to host next week’s summit of leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, some are questioning whether the club of fast-developing nations is viable anymore given economic woes and sharp rivalries.
With no unifying political philosophy, the BRICS group has never been as cohesive as other global alliances like NATO. And with the global economy slowing, some BRICS members have been hit harder than others.
In recent weeks, the competition between China and India has also come into focus with a tense military standoff across disputed borders in the high Himalayas.
The summit Monday and Tuesday in the city of Xiamen gives Chinese President Xi Jinping an opportunity to showcase his leadership and promote his country as a central pillar of 21st century global governance.
Here is a guide to BRICS, its future prospects and what to expect from the summit.
WHAT IS BRICS?
A Goldman Sachs economist came up with the acronym BRICs for Brazil, Russia, India and China in 2001 to describe emerging economies that might challenge the West. The four held their first summit in 2009, and were joined by South Africa in 2011.
Together, the five countries now account for 40 percent of the world’s population, and have accounted for 45 percent of the increase in world growth since 2009, driven mainly by China and India.
The BRICS also account for 23 percent of its gross domestic product — a figure that is expected to steadily increase.
WHAT’S IN STORE FOR THE XIAMEN SUMMIT?
The summit’s agenda — under the theme “Stronger Partnership for a Brighter Future” — includes discussions on economic collaboration, political and security cooperation and people-to-people exchanges, and probably also issues of particular concern for China and India like renewable energy and coping with climate change.
Officials are also expected to discuss setting up a BRICS credit rating agency as an alternative to the big three Western agencies that some nations accuse of favoring Western economies. China’s own credit rating was downgraded by Moody’s in May.
They may also discuss expanding BRICS to include new members, something analysts say may be crucial in energizing the grouping. China has employed a “BRICS Plus” approach this year by inviting leaders from Egypt, Guinea, Mexico, Tajikistan and Thailand to attend the summit. The goal was for “a more broadly based partnership,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Wednesday.
The BRICS nations will likely position themselves as advocates of globalization, even if protectionist elements persist in their economies, especially in China, where key sectors are still closed to foreign investors.
Their final statement is expected to underline their commitment to globalization — in contrast to the West’s more inward-looking trend following the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and the British vote to leave the European Union.
Typically, final statements are “bland” and intended to project an image of consensus, said Steve Tsang of the China Institute at SOAS University of London.
“You can always draft them. You don’t have to agree with each other,” he said.
More interesting will be the discussions happening on the side. Bilateral meetings between Xi and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be closely watched following the seeming conclusion this week of China and India’s most serious confrontation in decades — a 10-week border standoff over disputed land.
WHAT HAS BRICS ACHIEVED TO DATE?
Observers say one of the group’s top achievements is somewhat intangible — shifting the global power balance toward the developing world, and winning a bigger say in global economic discussions at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
The group is also lauded for establishing the alternative New Development Bank in 2014. This week, the bank announced $1.4 billion in new loans for sustainable development projects in China, India and Russia.
BRICS nations “have a demographic advantage” over Western nations, said analyst Sreeram Chaulia, dean of Jindal School of International Affairs near New Delhi. “We have high economic growth, and in some cases also rising military power.”
BRICS also promotes ties between countries that had limited links before. Brazil’s politically embattled president is eager to court potential investors to help his country’s ailing economy, and the opportunity to meet face-to-face with other leaders makes this his “most important weekend on the foreign policy front of the year,” said Oliver Stuenkel, professor of international relations at Getulio Vargas Foundation in Sao Paulo.
The China-India dialogues could help reduce tensions between the world’s two most populous nations.
IS BRICS STILL VIABLE?
Almost a decade after the first summit, relations between China and India are hampered over their wide-ranging political rivalry.
Brazil, Russia and South Africa, meanwhile, are in economic recession or in the early stages of recovery.
Some see too many divisions and disagreements between the members for BRICS to provide leadership for the developing world.
“Russia, India and China all care deeply about security issues in Asia, but have different preferences, and in some ways are strategic rivals,” said Scott Kennedy of the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington DC.
In terms of governance, he said, “India, Brazil and South Africa are democracies, whereas China and Russia are not, and hence, have conflicting views about individual liberty and issues such as Internet privacy.”
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