Nearly 11 years after Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill coined the acronym BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), his prediction about the four countries turning into a global economic powerhouse has been more than met. Not a month passes without some adulatory article on the subject. Investors have flocked to these countries with gusto. Their heft in the world’s economy is there for all to see.
It has also led to the creation of a make-believe world. This was quite evident when leaders from the four countries, along with Jacob Zuma of South Africa—whose country now forms the capital “S” at the tail of O’Neill’s invention—met at Sanya in China this week. The statements of the leaders and a communiqué gave a hint of that on Thursday. It was couched in the language of economic concerns: reforms at institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, dangers of commodity price volatility and taking potshots at the dollar as an international reserve currency. In reality, the subject is political, for global monetary reform and other steps advocated by these leaders transcend economics. The five also called for close coordination and cooperation in global affairs among them.
This is the stuff of quixotic dreams. It is not difficult to build blocs on the foundations of shared ideas and this has been done in the past. Non-alignment brought together a large number of diverse countries. The Cold War led to the emergence of blocs based on opposition/approval to communism. BRICS, however, lack any cementing ideology save a mild form of anti-Americanism. Even that is deceptive: It is on display only at such meetings, while in real life each one has tried to build a special relationship with the US. In bilateral terms, the group’s bonhomie can’t hide the deep antagonism between some of them. India’s relations with China and those of Russia with China need no elaboration.
One way to foster closer ties would have been to focus on closer economic cooperation before pushing for stronger political ties. Instead there is an element of conflict in their pursuit of economic interests. India and China compete for raw material such as oil and gas across the globe. Russia and Brazil owe no small part of their prosperity to export of hydrocarbons whose prices they would like to remain high. While there is ample trade between India and China and China and Brazil this is missing among others in the group. As the group stands now, any coherence in the long run is likely to prove elusive. All five have individual ambitions that leave little glue to bind them. For now, it is best if the bundling of the five alphabets remains in the world of acronyms.
Can BRICS ever be a political force in the global affairs? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org