South Africa has joined Brazil, Russia, India and China to form BRICS, an informal group of emerging economies. There have already been two BRIC summits, and now the leaders of the five nations have gathered for the first BRICS summit on Hainan Island in southern China.
Just as NATO had been expanding eastward until recently, now BRIC is expanding southward. All the members of the club approved the entry of South Africa on the New Year's eve, giving the country something extra to celebrate. It has become an official member since March.
It is rumored that other countries would like to join the club, but some of its members, primarily China, do not want uncontrolled expansion. Mexico and Egypt under Hosni Mubarak were likely candidates for membership. It would be logical for them to join. All members of the club represent a region. Brazil represents South America; Egypt would bring in the Middle East, etc.
The presence of South African President Jacob Zuma at the summit will tamp down on talk about Russia being the weakest link in the group, which started two years ago. This was an overt albeit not a very bold attempt to dismantle BRIC. Similar attempts are constantly made against the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Certain forces have attempted to exploit its weakest link to engineer a split.
Russia was hardest hit by the crisis; it was beset with problems and apparently could not compare with China or India. We'd be better off trying to be Europeans, but with appropriate level of modesty.
South Africa has a GDP of $286 billion, which is four times less than Russia. It also has more problems than Russia. Nor is everything roses in Brazil, India and China. But South Africa is the economic engine of the whole of Africa, with a population of a billion people. This is what makes it important. Moreover, South Africa's entry was almost made inevitable by the India-Brazil-South Africa triangle, which is now likely to disappear. Its members had one and the same idea - the role of our countries is growing and we must learn how to harness this growth.
A group of potential powers
The growing prestige of BRICS has less to do with the nations' current economic and military performance as with the quality of their growth and their clear trajectory toward leading roles in global politics. Here's an example: The GDP of China, the world's second largest economy, is 10% of the global total, but it is responsible for 20% to 30% of the world economic growth. If it weren't for the Chinese economy, the United States and all of China's neighbors, including Russia, would be doing much worse. The same applies to other BRICS members - they are the catalysts.
To sum up, BRICS is a club of future world leaders. And that is how it is perceived around the world.
It may be premature to call the G8 a thing of the past, but China and Brazil announced a year and a half ago that they didn't have the time for the dubious honor of being "permanent guests" at its meetings. Their diplomats are making it clear that they accept the financial G20 but not the G8.
Differences within BRICS
These days you hear lots of comparisons between the clubs of the former leaders of the world (the United States, the European Union and others) and their successors. A certain system is taking shape. The West likes unanimity, while the East and the South favor agreement. In this context BRICS is a phenomenon. Let's see the tentative program of the summit that Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Wu Hailong set forth for the media last week. He mostly spoke about the club's common interest in improving its position in the world economy. The summit will focus on global development, the global financial system and cooperation between the club's five members.
This cooperation deserves special mention. It is characterized by rapidly expanding Chinese-Indian trade and the increasing popularity of all Chinese things in India despite the protestations from certain elite quarters and territorial disputes. Sino-Russian trade is also going up. Moreover, even distant Brazil is becoming increasingly closer to its partners. In the last decade alone, trade within BRICS grew by 28% to reach $230 billion. The mechanisms of quadrilateral (now pentalateral) meetings below the top level have started to function in the fields of security, finances, agriculture, healthcare and innovations. But their main focus is the economy.
However, global development is far more than just economics and trade. Politics is its essential element. Judging by reports from Beijing, Chinese leader Hu Jintao is planning to speak about the most pressing issues in the world, such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and about attempts to enforce democracy...
His speech will be followed by a communique registering those of his ideas that all members can agree on. This probably wasn't easy (a document to this effect was agreed upon last week). The club's members are very different. China's influence is growing and it has just become the world's second largest economy. However, the principle of consensus is paramount. We will soon see what the five leaders of the future world can agree on.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.