Given the disappointing global geopolitical situation, BRICS remains a safe haven for the countries that participate in it. This is probably why we are witnessing three further countries making official applications to join and a total of about a dozen countries reported to be making more or less semi-official applications.
BRICS is seen as a grouping that could present an alternative means of building a new, safer world, that's not based on rules constructed in the interest of just some countries, but rather based on the centrality of the United Nations. In this context, one could in a way view BRICS serving as a new P5, because it gives an opportunity to countries like India, which are actually big and very important global players, but which are not permanent members of the UN Security Council, to play a more significant role in the global arena. Give the geopolitical situation today, it's very difficult to move things ahead, especially in relation to the reform of the UNSC; recognizing the constructive role of BRICS would lead the world to true multilateralism.
When we consider options of this sort, and consider also the surrounding geopolitical scene, we can see that BRICS is by far not as disappointing as some experts would like to present it.
This is also reinforced by other points about the BRICS grouping. The first is that, in contrast to what we have seen with many other global and regional institutions, BRICS has fostered the creation of a network of cooperation and engagement, not just at the official level. Not only within BRICS itself but also within BRICS plus (which brings in other, non BRICS countries) we have academic BRICS gatherings that have been held since 2008, providing expert briefing for the official gathering. We also have the Business BRICS, the Women’s Business Alliance, the Parliamentarian BRICS, and the Youth BRICS etc. So there is a whole set of networks that allow for interactions, not just at official level, that go beyond the opportunity for leaders to meet each other twice a year within BRICS and within the G20. In other words, BRICS creates the opportunity for a horizontal flow of ideas that helps the entity to lead us somewhere.
Another point is that the BRICS grouping is not against anybody, and this is the primary basic principle of its cooperation. That's why it doesn't matter how much outside experts have been arguing about the heterogeneity of the BRICS member-states, or about differences between them. The engagements within the BRICS forum are based on cooperation where there are common interests, regardless of whatever differences its members may have with the outside world or even between each other. This forms a very firm foundation for its continued functioning. In 2006, when BRICS ministers of Foreign Affairs (or, in the case of Brazil, the Defence Minister) met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, and since then, when they met in Yekaterinburg in 2009 and for the succeeding 15 years, those discussions didn't turn into a talk shop.
This is important. It has led to projects being realized with concrete results. The NDB is just one of the instances. But it is a very vivid example of the degree of cooperation — because, from the birth of the idea to the actual establishment of BRICS Bank, it took only two and a half years. This is extremely fast. We haven’t seen anything like this speed of action occurring in groupings of more politically coherent countries, such as the G7. So I think this is a success and it shows that BRICS are committed to producing actual results.
A similar point emerges when we consider scientific cooperation. Here too, there is a BRICS network — the STI architecture that was initially promoted by Brazil. The STI covers a number of areas which are specifically important for sustainable development, high tech, and innovation in each of our countries; and it is a source of ideas about concrete cooperative projects. Similarly, there is the economic partnership strategy.
While geographically BRICS countries are very distant from one another, there is still much in common. It is true that China is probably the only country with whom each of the other BRICS countries has a big share of trade turnover. But on the other hand, when one compares the trends of the data, and when one understands the dynamics driving those data, one can also see that the extent of cooperation has changed over the years, with a much stronger trading relationship amongst the BRICS member-states as a whole, not just with Chna, in comparison with the development of trading relationships between the BRICS member-states and the rest of the world.
It is against this background that we need to see Russia-China relations within BRICS.
I remember, within one of the academic forums, one of the Russian experts, after talking to the Chinese experts, describing Russia and China as the ‘mother and father’ of BRICS. And this effort to augment BRICS is just one of the ways in which these two countries have been seeking to inject new impetus into their association with one another. There is also the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which has become increasingly comprehensive. And there is RIC, which is now one of the means, together with BRICS, lending some extra multilateral weight to smoothing bilateral problems that arise.
Although it is sometimes asserted that China has been using BRICS as a way to hide ambitions to play a more geopolitically assertive role, it in fact looks to me at the moment as if China doesn't feel comfortable playing the role of hegemon in relation to the other BRICS members. The key about BRICS countries, some of them being stronger, some of them being smaller, is that it is safer and more comfortable for all of them to agree on given issues, and to proceed on the basis of a genuine consensus among its partners — because, once you stop listening to the other key players, once you just gather around yourself just a few satellite countries who follow your lead, you stop seeing the geopolitical reality, and that is very dangerous.
This is ultimately why I think BRICS is a very good recipe. Probably, in the future, it can become a point of attraction for more Western countries who agree that multilateralism, multiculturalism and mutual respect are key to the reform of the international system. This could and should be a point of attraction.