Zhu Ming
Research Fellow
Center for west Asian & African Studies
Institute for Global Governance Studies
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Sep 04 2017
BRICS: Unity is power
By Zhu Ming

China will host the ninth BRICS leaders' summit in Xiamen, a coastal city in southeast China's Fujian Province, in September. I think that the most important issue for China as host at this year’s BRICS summit is unity. As President Xi Jinping once put it, the BRICS are like five fingers, each with its own strength; when the BRICS come together, they pack a powerful punch. There are four aspects to this:

First, unity in spite of conflicts. Tensions between China and India, the two most populous countries in the world, recently escalated due to the re-emergence of border conflicts along their borderline. After around 70 days of conflict, on 28 August the two countries reportedly decided on “mutual disengagement” but a permanent solution is still required. At this summit, Beijing and New Delhi need to explore more effective ways of crisis management, since they are the only neighboring countries within BRICS with some unsolved historical and geopolitical issues.

Second, unity as one is power. The unity and stability of the BRICS group have been a source of confidence and “positive energy” in China and beyond, and is a kind of rare public good in this chaotic world. According to one World Bank research report in 2016, a sustained 1 percentage point decline in growth in the BRICS would reduce growth in other emerging and developing economies by around 0.8 percentage point and global growth by 0.4 percentage point. On the contrary, many big "Black Swan" events have occurred in recent years, such as Brexit and Donald Trump’s US presidential election victory. The number of the "Black Swan" events are so many that some Chinese scholar even label today’s world as a big black swan lake (full of too many "Black swans").

Thirdly, unity in spite of growth rate division. At the beginning of this century, all BRICS countries have enjoyed their relatively high economic growth rate, labeled as model of developing countries. But now, to some extent, the BRICS group as a bloc could de facto been viewed as two groups inside. One group is composed by China and India, which still could keep their GDP growth rate as high as 7%. The other group includes the rest three BRICS countries, suffering from much lower growth rates compared with previous decade. Now the EU, model of regional bloc, has been challenged by the double-speed regional division, raising the question of the future direction of EU. BRICS should draw the lesson of EU.

FIGURE: Growth in emerging and developing economies

Source: World Bank, January 2016.

Finally, unity after enlargement. After ten years of development, the future direction of BRICS is a hot topic. In February 2017, H.E. Yang Jiechi, State Councilor of the People's Republic of China, stated at the opening ceremony of 2017 First BRICS Sherpa Meeting that we should carry out more outreach dialogue to benefit more parties with our cooperation, foster a "BRICS " model of open cooperation, and set up a more broad-based South-South cooperation platform for the common development of emerging market economies and developing countries.

Now, it is just reported that some emerging powers, e.g. Egypt and Mexico, would also attend the Xiamen Summit. "BRICS " could surely expand the influence of BRICS group, but it also could surely face more difficult internal integration challenges.

Source of documents:SIIS