Facing a series of unique challenges to globalization and free trade, leaders of the five BRICS countries will meet this coming week to shape a consensus on the best way forward.
Leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the five BRICS economies widely touted for their individual and combined potential for growth, are expected to coordinate their approach to de-globalization, unilateralism and protectionism while moving toward continued economic growth.
Chinese President Xi Jinping will attend the 10th BRICS Summit, from July 25 to 27, in Johannesburg, South Africa, following a multi-nation tour through the Middle East and Africa.
Xi plans to outline China’s stance on safeguarding globalization and open economies while strengthening cooperation among BRICS economies, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.
“China has now entered a new era under the leadership of President Xi, during which China remains committed to people-centered development. It fully implements a vision of innovation, coordination, environmental sustainability and openness and it forges ahead toward the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation with firm determination,” said Wang Xiaohui, executive deputy head of the Publicity Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and director of the State Film Administration.
Wang spoke on July 17 during the third edition of Vision China, a series of talks organized by China Daily in Johannesburg ahead of the BRICS Summit.
Zhou Shuchun, publisher and editor-in-chief of China Daily, said that the country’s national English newspaper will continue to tell real stories of China in the new era in a comprehensive and multifaceted way and play a role in bridging China and the world.
“China in the new era will present new opportunities for world development and bring new and more opportunities for BRICS cooperation as well,” he said.
This was the first time that China Daily has held the Vision China event abroad.
The event is a new venue for international communication with world-class experts from political, economic and academic fields invited to tell China’s story, discuss global issues and spread the country’s voice.
Guest speakers, Zhao Zhongxiu, vice-president of China Council for BRICS Think Tank Cooperation and also vice-president of the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing; Martyn Davies, managing director of emerging markets and Africa at Deloitte; and Andrew Moody, senior correspondent of China Daily’s overseas editions, shared their thoughts about BRICS and Globalization with about 300 attendees, as well as online viewers.
This year marks a decade since the inception of the BRICS grouping. As a collective, the five emerging economies have achieved much.
“In the past decade, combined GDP of the bloc has grown 179 percent, trade increased 94 percent while urban population expanded 28 percent, contributing significantly to stabilizing the global economy and returning it to growth. The development of the BRICS countries has delivered tangible benefits to more than 3 billion people,” Xi told the BRICS business forum last year.
Its continuing mission to do just that is reflected in the theme of this year’s summit — BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution — and turns the focus onto its African member.
The group started as BRIC, before South Africa was inducted in 2010.
Davies of Deloitte said he believes the most strategic play for BRICS is China’s engagement with Africa, and Africa’s engagement with China.
“The engagement between the two sides truly is a partnership for mutual benefits,” Davies said. “The challenges are how to scale the collaboration and the alignment of interests at the global level to counter the negative trend of protectionism and de-globalization, trends that undoubtedly will significantly impact the South African economy.”
In a separate interview, Johan Burger, director of the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, acknowledged a development gap between South Africa and other members but thinks the continent as a whole has great untapped potential for the rest.
“Africa has about a population of about 1.2 billion now and an estimated 4 billion by 2100,” said Burger.
Burger thinks the BRICS summit is a perfect opportunity for members to discuss key topics that could help close the developmental gap between African countries and the rest of the world.
“Since larger economies like China are moving up the value chain, Africa can be the new factory of the world. But, before it can do that, it needs to expand the population’s skills in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics),” said Burger.
“Education to upgrade African labor skills and help countries add value to their exports is crucial. That way, African nations can also bring something new to the table beyond pure exports,” said Burger.
Education will be one of the focal points at the summit. Earlier, during the BRICS Education Ministers Meeting in Cape Town, India put the spotlight on the key theme of Digitization in Education.
Satyapal Singh, India’s Minister of State for Human Resource Development responsible for Higher Education, showcased how the Digital India initiative has increased access to education through the digitization of education.
Singh emphasized the Indian government’s support for collaborations between BRICS nations in the areas of research, innovation, technical and vocational education and training, with special emphasis on the promotion of workplace-based learning for improved student learning outcomes and employability.
The BRICS Summit will serve as a forum for the members to put their heads together in light of growing trade disputes, particularly those coming out of the United States.
“It is possible that we could see more discussion of ways in which the BRICS member states could reduce their reliance on institutions dominated by the US, including international payment and financial systems dominated by the US,” Duncan Innes-Ker, regional director of Asia and Australasia for the Economist Intelligence Unit told China Daily Asia Weekly.
Zhang Jun, assistant minister of foreign affairs, confirmed ahead of the summit that the five emerging economies would indeed use the event to coordinate policies and align decision making more closely in response to the US’ unilateral trade policies.
“The countries will boost macro-political coordination to respond to challenges, such as unilateral actions and protectionism, and risks associated with policy changes in some developed Western countries,” said Zhang.
Observers believe there is sufficient clout among the BRICS nations and room to make great strategic strides.
“The BRICS nations are all politically powerful within their own spheres of influence. As the power of the US on the international stage wanes, there is room for the BRICS nations to play a greater role in driving change in the world,” said Innes-Ker.
The members are all on the same page on the issue of world trade.
“We all firmly support multilateralism and the multilateral trade regime,” said Zhang. “We all oppose unilateralism and trade protectionism.”
It also helps that trade between China and the African continent is robust.
“China is Africa’s main trading partner. This position was achieved during the years of Chinese economic boom, when strong development of the manufacturing and constructions sectors were driving China’s GDP growth to double digits. This was also made possible because of Africa’s exports of raw materials, such as oil and minerals, to China,” said Otávio Veras, a research associate of the NTU-SBF Centre for African Studies at Nanyang Technological University.
“China also adopts a non-confrontational approach on issues such as human rights and in dealing with non-democratic regimes. This opens a much broader range of countries and governments that Chinese businesses can deal with as compared to companies from the European Union, for example,” Veras added.
Burger said the BRICS Summit could see China emerge as a leader.
”In the event of a trade war, Africa would suffer from the backlash. Stronger trade flow between BRICS countries might help offset that,” said Burger.
“As a significant contributor of infrastructure that could enhance trade, China could be a proponent of free trade in the world.”
On the subject of infrastructure, Veras sees a lot of projects by Chinese companies in African countries.
“China is the biggest economy in the BRICS. As such, it wields the greatest financial clout and can afford to pay for projects that it wants to prioritize,” said Innes-Kerr.
BRICS may also present an opportunity for China to win new supporters for the Belt and Road Initiative. “China could win new supporters and participants for the Belt and Road,” said Burger.
Thesele John Maseribane, minister of communication, science and technology of Lesotho; Andriamandavy VII Riana, minister of communication and relations with the institutions of Madagascar; and Riaan le Roux, chief operating officer of South Africa’s Department of Trade and Investment, also addressed the Vision China event.
This article was first published in China Daily Asia Weekly on 23 July 2018, and was written by David Ho and Alfred Romann in Hong Kong and Fu Jing and Cao Desheng in Johannesburg, South Africa. Republished with permission.