BRICS need to address challenges to strengthen ties

By Chen Xiaochen and Chang Yudi Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/20 23:03:39

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

BRICS nations, while achieving substantial benefits through their joint efforts, must also face up to the divergence in their interests, which has given rise to concerns that BRICS not only suffer from a lack of economic luster, but are also losing their shine in the political space. It has been argued that the BRICS members face three key issues: the lack of a solid foundation for shared interests, a weak cooperation mechanism and external pressures. If the member countries aren't careful enough, they might capsize while sailing around the world.

In regards to shared interests, competition and disagreement between the BRICS nations have been an impediment. The five emerging countries all value exports and foreign investment, resulting in inevitable collisions and friction as they compete for resources, market footholds and foreign investment inflows.

Worth noting is that some of the five seem to be sending signals of trade protectionism as cooling economic growth puts a drag on trade. Brazil, India and South Africa often seek to launch anti-dumping probes against China, and India and Brazil have been among the countries that have implemented the biggest number of protectionist measures against China.

Another concern is geopolitical tensions. Territorial disputes between China and India have been an obstinate disease between the two sides. Additionally, some Indians believe that China supports Pakistan, which is viewed as tantamount to supporting terrorism.

Yet another impeding factor is the divergent political and economic pursuits among BRICS states. Brazil and South Africa hope that cooperation within BRICS will boost their regional influence both politically and economically. Russia, for its part, cares more about the BRICS' political and strategic importance. It considers the grouping as a buffer against Western pressure and hopes to enhance the country's negotiating power in the field of energy and resources through cooperation.

The second risk that BRICS faces is an insufficient cooperation mechanism. In addition to the recently concluded eighth annual BRICS summit in Goa, many ministerial meetings are held annually. However, the grouping of BRICS remains a loose union lacking stability. There is yet to be any institutions such as a secretariat or any guidelines and procedures designed for BRICS cooperation.

Cooperation among the BRICS nations has mainly taken the form of dialogues, negotiations and exchange of viewpoints, none of which are mandatory or binding. Consequently, enthusiasm for meetings varies depending on each nation's practical benefit consideration and on how much attention the meetings will receive from the current leadership. Although the current system ensures flexibility, it also adds to uncertainty, as leadership changes may possibly result in shifting attitudes toward BRICS cooperation and can affect the functioning of the union. 

In addition, there are still no clear rules for the addition of new members or for the withdrawal of existing countries, putting the grouping's operations at stake.

The collective rise of emerging economies poses challenges for the existing pattern of global governance. The cooperation mechanism of BRICS and the joint international institutions they established, such as the New Development Bank, will inevitably compete with other international institutions led by developed countries. Ever since the launch of BRICS, Western countries have never ceased courting or alienating individual BRICS countries or elbowing them out from participating in the global governance.

India has always been a target for the US to contain BRICS members within the club of emerging powers. By launching the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and Trade in Services Agreement, the US aims to isolate BRICS countries, putting more pressure on developing countries.

In terms of the connection between political dispute and economic cooperation, realists believed that economic cooperation belongs to low-end political exchanges whereas high-end political issues, such as territory, security and strategies play the dominant role in the relations between countries.

Functionists believe that economic cooperation can produce a spillover effect and gradually mitigate conflicts even if it belongs to low-end political exchanges.              

Nevertheless, it seems naïve to believe that trade and investment cooperation can resolve territorial disputes. Further, it seems arbitrary to conclude that territorial disputes would prevent economic cooperation. In today's world, both disputes and cooperation fall under the purview of global governance. The BRICS summit is one such global governance mechanism that builds trust among countries, deals with divergences and promotes cooperation. 

Chen Xiaochen is head of the Department of International Studies with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, and Chang Yudi is an research intern at the Chongyang Institute.

Posted in: INSIDER'S EYE

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