BRICS: Go Big or Go Home

By Lindsay Walsh*

The acronym BRICS stands for the association of five emerging economies, including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Recently, a conference was held in Durban, South Africa, resulting in the countries’ agreement to create a development bank to help fund infrastructure plans. This has led much attention to be focused on the BRICS, causing many to wonder what the new plan means for the countries involved and the greater international community.

There has been much controversy as the new development bank would be in direct opposition to the World Bank. Surprise? Not really. The World Bank is seen as a symbol of all things Western. It is not earth shattering that countries, such as Russia and China, would be backing such a plan. The first concrete institution to be implemented by the forum, the BRIC’s own $50 billion “World Bank”, may promote the self-interests of the member states and show the Western world “who’s boss”. However, this would only work if the BRICS’ self-interests were clearly established or better yet, collective.

China is helping to increase South Africa’s development, but not without cost. South Africa has openly voiced its concern with China’s imperial ways. China’s investment in Africa has contributed to the migration of Chinese people to the already well-populated region. Additionally, Chinese companies have not always been accepted with open arms. Competition with China’s manufactured goods is a challenge and China’s construction projects, although high in quantity, do not always live up to the same level of quality.  Some view China’s role as the most dominant partner in the association as a blessing, while others view the self-interested state as the new “colonizer”. Whatever the view of China may be, the country does not seem to have any intention of backing down and is seeking to intensify its dominant role in the BRICS.

As economics has been the focus of the BRICS, coordination in the political arena has been seriously lacking. For example, the Syrian crisis is a controversial issue that the countries have failed to have a unified agreement upon. Although the BRICS have recently voiced their concern and called for access for humanitarian groups in Syria, they have yet to take specific action to improve the situation. Certain countries in the association, such as Russia, have a strong interest in supporting Syria’s President Assad, while other countries do not wish to make their political preferences as evident. Accordingly, in his article, “BRICS Leadership Will Be Tested by Syria”, the author, Salman Shaikh, writes: “This is a strategic opportunity for the BRICS to use their influence and play a more decisive, helpful role”. With varying interests and dominant states such as Russia and China, it is likely that the BRICS will continue to face many internal challenges. These internal struggles need to be addressed before they evolve into much larger problems and begin to hinder the BRICS’ progress.

Although the BRICS’ implementation of their own development bank is seemingly bold and surprising, it is not a threat to Western ideals nor is the alliance a rival to the G7.  The countries involved must begin to establish interests that do not only serve individual countries, and further examine the significance of political issues if they want to continue to succeed. Economic and political actions are interconnected, and coordination among the alliance in both of these arenas is crucial. Thus, it is best that Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa identify collective interests and attempt to mend rifts within the association before taking on large-scale initiatives, such as a new development bank.

*Lindsay Walsh is an M.A. candidate at the John C. Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations, located in South Orange, NJ. Her specializations include International Organizations and Africa.

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