In 2001, Goldman Sachs analyst Jim O’Neill coined the term BRIC to loosely align a group of rapidly growing emerging economies in Brazil, Russia, India and China. In 2010 this group was expanded to also include South Africa, forming the acronym BRICS.
The economic clout and influence of BRICS nations is staggering. Collectively, the five BRICS nations account for 42% of world population, 20% of output, and nearly all of current growth in the global economy.’ And they are looking to capitalize on this collective influence. During the most recent BRICS summit, these countries met in South Africa to begin the unprecedented steps toward establishing BRICS institutions. Out of this, the measure that has garnered the most attention is their plan to form a new international Development Bank to rival the Western dominated IMF and World Bank. Funded by BRICS nations, the aim is to deliver infrastructure and aid to developing markets by bypassing traditional Western structures.
Despite the economic promise of BRICS nations and their ambitious plans to realign international development institutions away from the West, critics are quick to point out many of the challenges facing the BRICS agenda.
China has become too big for BRICS. At the formation of BRIC, many forecast that the economic growth rates of Brazil and India would soon match China. It was believed that these countries economic growth would continue unabated, and a new global power structure would emerge capable of challenging US preeminence in global affairs. This has not been the case. While China’s growth has continued at unparalleled rates, other developing markets have not, and the result is a China that has left behind its fellow BRICS nations. “The Chinese economy is not only the second largest in the world but also larger than the economies of the other four members combined.”
And it is projected to grow even wider. As Oxford Analytica, a global analysis and advisory firm, points out, China accounted for around 70 percent of the growth in the BRICS’ share of global economic output between 2000 and 2011.’
This disparity in power between China and the rest of the BRICS nations has made some emerging countries nervous of the role and influence they will play in this New International Order. These countries are separated by more than just money. BRICS countries do not trade or invest in each other, they do not share a common language, culture, currency, or regime type (with autocratic regimes in Beijing and Moscow, and democratic traditions in Brazil, India, and South Africa.)
What binds these developing countries is the shared pursuit of an alternative to US led dominance and the neoliberal development model of the past several decades and the western-dominated IMF and the World Bank that still advocate it. With the United States as the largest economic and military power in the world, weaker countries seek to align and coalesce their collective power to increase a shared influence.
BRICS a Political Tool for China
“For China, since the BRICS countries’ share and importance in the world economy has been growing but has not yet surpassed the developed countries’, the next step, naturally, would be for them to act as one group to increase their collective voice and bargaining power against traditional developed countries.”
The problem with their collective power is that it is not shared power. BRICS countries represent a dominant economic political force only because China’s growth has risen to the point where it is more closely identified with the US than other emerging markets.
A coalition that began in 2001 is now looking to exert its influence on the world stage. Led by China, they seek to create a new power center away from the West, and democratize the political influence of emerging markets away from unipolar US leadership. What remains to be seen is if this coalition can really institutionalize itself and actually rival the West and American leadership, and if so, will this really help transition to a more multipolar world order? It is one thing to try and transition to a multipolar world where emerging countries have a seat at the table. It is another thing entirely to simply shift from a US dominant international order to a Chinese one.
“This underscores the uncomfortable reality that even as remaking the current international economic order is the glue holding BRICS together, non-Chinese BRICS members are at pains to avoid replacing the current order with a Chinese-dominated one. Given the power disparity between them and China, this task is difficult to say the least.”