A New Golden Decade of BRICS Cooperation

The prospects for BRICS cooperation are bright. However, its success does not emerge automatically.

BRICS, the acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, was translated into jin zhuan (golden bricks) in Chinese. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese scholars have been talking about the second golden decade of BRICS cooperation starting from this year.

It is remarkable that, at the inspiration of Jim O’Neill, a former chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, five emerging economies can align themselves as a new, important player in the world arena. Establishment of the New Development Bank, or the BRICS Bank, is the most successful evidence of BRICS cooperation. And, each year the five leaders come together and discuss all kinds of important issues. Apart from this annual summit, government officials, diplomats and scholars also meet and talk about BRICS cooperation on a regular base.

The prospects for BRICS cooperation are bright. However, its success does not emerge automatically. In order to make the next decade of BRICS cooperation more “golden” or more fruitful, the following issues need to be addressed:

First, it is necessary to pinpoint the most important area(s) of cooperation. The joint declaration issued at the 2009 BRICS summit had only 15 articles, or 1500 Chinese characters, about the areas of cooperation. But in recent years, it has become longer and longer, with about 10,000 Chinese characters covering all areas of cooperation, ranging from domestic affairs to international issues.

The long list shows a strong will of the BRICS to promote cooperation. However, BRICS is not able to accomplish everything. At present and in the near future, BRICS needs to focus on the urgent task of pushing forward global trade governance, global financial governance, cyber security, and fighting against unilateralism and hegemonism.

Secondly, BRICS must avoid the danger of becoming a “talk shop”. During summit, BRICS leaders discuss ways of promoting cooperation. This kind of top-level designing is important and necessary as it can serve as a road-map for BRICS cooperation.

However, on the bases of top-level designing, the most important thing is implementation. If there is no oversight or monitoring of the results of implementing what has been agreed by the leaders, the danger of becoming a talk-shop would emerge.

In order to increase the effectiveness of cooperation, institutionalization is needed. As a first step towards institutionalization, it is necessary to establish a permanent secretariat as soon as possible. In fact, the permanent secretariat can coordinate the positions of the BRICS members and to monitor the effectiveness of cooperation. Also, it can also deal with day-to-day administrative matters closely related to the functioning of the BRICS, avoiding the current scenario in which the rotating presidency does almost all the jobs.

Macau is rich and very open to the outside world. Geographically, it is close to Beijing, Moscow and New Delhi, and has a unique advantage in Portuguese (the official language of Brazil) and English (the official language of South Africa and India). It might therefore be feasible to host the permanent secretariat of the BRICS.

Thirdly, membership should be expanded. BRICS claims to be open and inclusive, not exclusive. As President Xi said at the just-concluded BRICS summit in Brazil, the circle of friendship and partnership can be widened for BRICS.

Undoubtedly, other BRICS leaders would agree on this point. BRICS countries are willing to strengthen cooperation with other emerging economies. Therefore, when conditions are ripe, it needs to welcome like-minded emerging economies to join.

Since the Xiamen summit in 2017, the BRICS summit has adopted the BRICS+ model, inviting a few leaders of other emerging economies to the summit. This model, a compromise between “more members” and “no more members”, is undoubtedly a major step in the direction of membership expansion.

The G20 currently has 20 members. In addition to the EU, the G7, Australia, and five BRICS members, there are six left there: Argentina, Mexico, South Korea, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. The BRICS countries may consider the possibility of accepting these six important emerging economies step by step or one by one.

As a matter of fact, BRICS expansion can also enhance its international status and become a more powerful player. But there is a fear that expansion is likely to make it harder to reach consensus. This unproven worry may be superfluous.

Last but not least, trust needs to be strengthened. Trust is the solid foundation of international relations. As President Xi said at the closing ceremony of a global governance forum co-hosted by China and France in Paris on March 26, 2019, in the world today, there is a deficit of trust.

BRICS members are very different in their political, economic, social and cultural systems. Furthermore, their national interests are quite diverse. These differences make up for diversity and complementary, but also tend to generate distrust and mistrust. Therefore, it is imperative for them to strengthen trust and speak with one voice.

Editor: Dong Lingyi