BRICS must make itself the voice of the developing world

Tom Fowdy
China has identified itself as a Global South country and sought to commit itself to solidarity with the developing world.
Tom Fowdy

Early this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, in anticipation of the 15th BRICS Summit. BRICS, an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is a grouping of the world's largest "economies of the future," primarily representing the developing world.

Together, BRICS have sought to envision a new form of multilateralism and economic coordination that addresses the global disparity in wealth and development, which of course has always favored the West. Within the past year, many additional countries have also applied to join the grouping.

China has identified itself as a Global South country and sought to commit itself to solidarity with the developing world. As detailed in Xi's letter to the South African media, "each of my visits to South Africa gave me new impressions. But the deepest is invariably the brotherly sentiments we have toward each other. Our friendship has traversed a long span of time. As early as in the mid-20th century, the newly founded People's Republic of China lent firm support to the South African people in fighting apartheid, and stood with the African National Congress as comrades and friends."

It is on this legacy that China has offered vast amounts of support to the Global South, including humanitarian aid, development assistance, infrastructure construction and enhanced economic ties, all while respecting national sovereignty.

It is based on this premise that the organization of BRICS strives to be a greater multilateral effort between the major nations of the global south themselves in order to address economic inequalities to better facilitate the development and interests of these countries.

In doing so, BRICS is not about a question of "hegemony" or "ideological dominance." Rather, BRICS is about achieving an equal international environment premised on multipolarity where each state can successfully attain its right to development in conjunction with national sovereignty.

For the past four hundred years, the pathway to economic development has been exclusively dominated by a select group of Western countries, who, having built vast global empires, were able to incorporate themselves as the primary holder of global wealth at the expense of those they colonized.

Although the area of "formal colonization" came to an end in the 1950s and 1960s, the "right to development" amongst the newly independent nations of the Global South has been blocked by the fact Western nations have made it solely conditional upon subservience to their ideological, economical and strategic interests, which have only perpetuated this inequality.

For example, while some nations, such as South Korea, have became wealthy on the premise of ceding sovereignty to the US military and therefore aligning with American strategic objectives in Asia, in which they were granted access to export markets and technology, other countries, such as Iran, have had their road to development blocked because they did not wish for their country to be ruled by the US or subject to its ideological vision.

The US is subsequently able to control the foreign policy choices of these countries when it sees fit in a way which contravenes national sovereignty.

When it comes to China itself, China's own development and engagement with the US were only conditional on the belief reform and opening-up would "transform" China to reflect the vision of America. The US subsequently turned hostile when this proved to be not the case.

The same story is true with post-Soviet Russia. This has left many countries across the world seeking to develop themselves, but on their own terms and conditions, without having to cede sovereignty or make strategic choices which are deemed to compromise their national interests.

This is why the rise of BRICS as an alternative economic institution is very important, because it is a collaborative effort as to how these countries can work together and therefore envision a new pathway for themselves.

As part of this, it is vital that all countries within BRICS hold a greater understanding of each other, and do so by enhancing educational and people-to-people exchanges.

As quoted in Xi's letter to the South African media: "amity between the people holds the key to sound state-to-state relations." Above it all it must be a partnership of true solidarity and mutual understanding, as well as common interests.

BRICS countries must be prepared to work together and enhance cooperation, exploring a shared worldview and developmental historical experience. As stated: "A job well done in this regard will keep BRICS cooperation vibrant."

(The author, a postgraduate student of Chinese studies at Oxford University, is an English analyst on international relations. The views are his own.)

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