China and BRICS: the missing links

Thursday, April 4, 2013 - 11:06

‘Mutual benefit’ is one of the key points in  China’s 8 principles international cooperation which set out the country’s international development policy..

China hopes that the formation of the BRICS group will strengthen the economies of the world’s emerging powers. But with this hope comes concerns from developing and rich countries –  particularly those that see international cooperation as a means to promote a better and more just world for everyone.

 China’s new President Xi Jinping was quoted in the China Daily as say that “the global economic governance system must reflect the profound changes in the world economy and the representation of emerging economies and developing countries”. .

A view echoed by Said Li Feng from the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs who says that “BRICS is clearly not just an economic grouping; it is a united attempt by five leading developing nations to promote an economic governing structure that reflects the changed realities of the global economy in the 21st century.” Despite all the expectation attached to this group, there are concerns about what the future journey of the BRICS will be.

  1. Defining Development: By being grouped with developing countries, China sees its cooperation in terms of mutual benefit and solidarity. The outcome of China’s cooperation with other countries will mutually benefit China and other countries’ development. But how will this development be defined? China still needs to improve the standard of living of poor people domestically and it strongly follows a national development strategy that focuses on the inequality and capacity development of poor people by investing on stronger public education, rural public health system, progressive labour laws etc. Will China promote these practices from its own experience as part of development approaches through the BRICS forum or the BRICS development bank? If so, recipient countries may experience a different international cooperation based on the principle of solidarity to overcome poverty through development processes that China and other BRICS countries have experienced recently. 
  2. China and Africa - compatibility and competitiveness: Growth prospects in Africa have improved dramatically through increased trade and investment from some of the BRICS countries particularly China and India. But the question still remains whether South Africa is still compatible and/or competitive with Chinese and Indian trade and business entities. Since China and other BRICS countries have developed good policies to strengthen state owned enterprises (SOEs), will African local franchises, services and supply chains be compatible or competitive with them as well as with other western countries? Will the investment from BRICS or BRICS bank help African businesses to grow in parallel? If BRICS can do it, the African continent may see the benefits and develop.
  3. Contribution and resourcing: Different media sources indicate that the total investment from BRICS countries for the BRICS bank is expected to be US $240bn. From that each country will contribute $10bn as initial capital. In terms of GDP share China’s contribution will be 0.12% where South Africa’s will be about 2.5%. How will South Africa allocate this amount? Will BRICS support South Africa to plan for this resourcing without reducing public expenditure designed to improve poor people’s life and living standards? If so the BRICS will be a good alternative model for developing of the countries.
  4. Existing International interdependency: BRICS countries are still members of international financial entities such as IMF, World Bank which are criticised by BRICS countries for their controversial development approaches. How will BRICS countries co-exist with these institutions while they aspire to a better development model? Will BRICS countries withdraw their memberships or influence them to reform?    

If CSOs engage with BRICS, we can transform these hopes into reality. If we do and if leaders take their rhetoric seriously, I believe that BRICS countries will bring a new approach to development that will resonate with the global poor, developing countries and those struggling for a better world.