The concept of "BRICS" was originally put forward by Jim O"Neill, the economist in Goldman Sachs. In his research paper, he suggested that the future of the world"s economy laid in the emerging market countries, and among them, the most promising ones were Brazil, Russia, India and China. O"Neill thus coined the acronym "BRICs" with the first letter of the names of the four countries, which is a homophone of the English word "bricks". BRICS was no more than an investment concept at the very beginning and it did not really catch too much international attention. In 2006, the foreign ministers of the four countries met before the UN General Assembly, and discussed about the possibility of cooperation. In 2009, the first BRICs Summit was held in Yekaterinburg, Russia, meaning that the pure investment idea was then converted into a multilateral cooperation mechanism. In 2011, South Africa was invited to join the third Summit, "BRICs" with a small letter "s" thus changed into "BRICS" with a capital letter "S". From 2009 to 2019, BRICS holds summits every year. The meeting of the national heads is the lead of the mechanism, with the support of the ministerial conferences followed. The BRICS countries cooperate in various aspects namely economics and trade, finance, industry and commerce, agriculture, education, science and technology, and national security. The 2019 BRICS Summit will be held in Brasilia, Brazil in the coming November.
There have been many skepticisms about or even criticisms against the BRICS mechanism. After all, the combination of these five countries seems quite awkward. The five member states are dispersed geographically. Their economies are in different development stages. Discrepancies in ideology are seen. There are even border or trade conflicts between some member states. Obviously, it is reasonable to doubt whether there is a logic that can support the coming together of the BRICS countries. However, the practice in the last decade proves that, the mechanism has not collapsed due to those differences. Instead, the cooperation between the BRICS countries has been turning in-depth and diversified over time. BRICS is a typical case of promoting South-South cooperation and North-South dialogue. Its internal mechanism and external interaction with other states or organizations gives inspiration to multilateral cooperation and the global order.
The internal cooperative mechanism of the BRICS brings reflections on the relationship between ideology, political system and international cooperation. According to traditional international relations doctrine, it is believed that alliance and cooperation are normally seen between states of similar ideology and political system. Discrepancies in ideology are seen between the BRICS countries, and their political systems are not the same. But the first decade of BRICS has seen cooperation in various aspects, convergence has been achieved, and relationship has been deepened. In the financial aspect, the BRICS countries established the New Development Bank (NDB), providing infrastructure financing for member states and other emerging market economies and developing countries. In the healthcare aspect, the health ministerial annual meeting has already been institutionalized, practical topics and issues are widely discussed in the annual meetings, and the BRICS countries" initiatives are taken into consideration seriously by the WHO as the representing voice of the developing countries in general. In the agricultural aspect, Brazil, as a large agricultural producer in the world, takes the lead in the agricultural cooperative development among the BRICS countries, and the other four members follow. These are all examples of the BRICS cooperation regardless the ideological and political differences. Conflicts exist and are inevitable. But the BRICS countries choose to make companion instead of alliance. Therefore, they restrain themselves from intervening other members" internal affairs, and try to find the "greatest common factor" among them. They walk together on a mutually beneficial and win-win path. This new pattern of international and multilateral relationship is worth to be further investigated.
The background of the BRICS cooperation mechanism was the 2007-2008 global financial crisis. The crisis showed the major problem of the existing global governance practice - the insufficient voice and representation of developing countries on the global stage. The BRICS mechanism is seen as an attempt by emerging developing economies to participate in global governance. For example, all the BRICS countries are members of the G20. The BRICS leaders have formed an unofficial practice of meeting up right before the G20 Summit, so as to achieve convergence in major issues. They try to stand on a common ground in the G20 Summit, and fight for rights of the developing countries against the developed countries. Taking the global financial governance as an example, the BRICS countries pushed the reforms of the IMF and the World bank. Though the result of the reforms were not so satisfactory, but it was at least the start of a change. The voice of the BRICS countries is also heard in the field of global security governance. All the five BRICS countries were members, either permanent or non-permanent, of the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) in 2011. They expressed their opinion on international security through their votes in the UNSC. All BRICS countries, except South Africa, questioned about the developed countries" proposition of "the Responsibility to Protect", and showed their opposition to military intervention in international affairs. It is true that the developed countries are still the hegemonies in global governance. However, the BRICS countries have successfully made the world realize the fact that, the voice of developing countries can no longer be ignored.
After the first decade, the BRICS cooperation has already had certain achievements. However, a deeper partnership and a long-term mechanism have to be built if the BRICS want to enhance their international influence. The NDB and the "BRICS+" model are two significant directions for the future development.
The NDB is the main carrier of the BRICS mechanism. It turns a forum into an institution. The NDB is funded by the five BRICS member states in an equal manner, and all five members have an equal voting right and there is no one-vote veto. The NDB does not impose harsh conditions while providing infrastructure financing to the member states and other emerging market economies and developing countries. Internally, the NDB is a platform for a better integration of the resources of the BRICS countries, enlarging the effect of investments. Externally, the NDB brings the member states and other developing countries closer, and enables mutual development. At the same time, the NDB may become a direct competitor of those present international financial institutions under the Bretton Woods system, thus, is possible to increase the voice of the BRICS in global governance.
The "BRICS +" model was introduced in the 2017 BRICS Summit held in Xiamen, China. It means that the BRICS countries should expand their "friends circle", and cooperate with other countries, especially developing countries. It is true that the international influence of the BRICS countries has already been significant, but under the haze of the trade war and the financial war, it may be a wise choice to turn the BRICS mechanism into an open platform to forge regional cooperation across continents, in which the BRICS countries have a leading role. The model is not only beneficial to the trade and economic development of the countries, it may also help to build a new world order, in which it is possible for the emerging developing countries to compete with the traditional developed ones.
Francisco Leandro, Associate Professor
Leong Sok Man, Yolanda, PhD Student
Institute for research on Portuguese-Speaking Countries, City University fo Macau