1. BRICS: Johannesburg Declaration
BSSB.BE postwesternworld.com 01.08.2018
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* «Western observers overlook something all the BRICS countries have in common: we are all unique.”
It’s time to bid farewell to the Brics”, the Financial Times‘s Philipp Stevens declared in 2011. A year later, his colleague Martin Wolf, one of the world’s leading foreign affairs columnists, went further, arguing.
The BRICS are not a group. (…) These countries have basically nothing in common whatsoever, except that they are called BRICS and they are quite important. But in all other respects, their interests and values, political systems, and objectives are substantially diverse. So there’s no reason whatsoever to expect them to agree on anything substantive in the world (…).
Indeed, from a Western perspective, the BRICS grouping looked just too different from the G7 to make sense or offer anything meaningful to its member countries. Over the past decade, critics from Brussels, London and Washington never tired to question the BRICS grouping’s usefulness — after all, they pointed out, Brazil, India and South Africa were vibrant democracies, while China and Russia were authoritarian regimes.
Some were commodity importers, some exported them. There was even an unresolved border conflict between two of its largest members. And so on. (When I discussed the topic with a Russian senior diplomat at a meeting in Moscow, he half-jokingly replied “Western observers overlook something all the BRICS countries have in common: we are all unique.»)
Yet as the leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa met for a historic tenth time last week, The Economist, which had long insisted in the grouping’s irrelevance, conceded that the BRICS were “surprisingly good at keeping its promises”. The newspaper had even made the effort to read the 10th BRICS Summit Johannesburg Declaration, finding “102 paragraphs containing an as yet uncounted number of pledges.
- They cover everything from settling trade disputes and securing Syria to making more movies together.” Slowly, Western observers are beginning to study the grouping in earnest. Over the past two years, two books have been published on BRICS with leading Western university presses. They provide excellent analyses on what the grouping means for global order [reviews are forthcoming on this blog].
- However, neither one of them – The BRICS and Collective Financial Statecraftby Roberts, Armijo, and Katada, and Rising Powers and Foreign Policy Revisionism Understanding BRICS Identity and Behavior Through Time, by Thies and Nieman – assess the grouping’s efforts to strengthen intra-BRICS ties, be it by discussing ways to reduce non-tariff barriers to facilitate trade or by organizing yearly summits for each member country’s national security advisor.
Yet it is precisely that what matters most to policy makers in Brasília, New Delhi and Beijing: ties among member countries have undergone a silent transformation since the group’s inception, providing numerous advantages that attract little attention elsewhere — see a more detailed analysis on specific areas of cooperation below.
- The grouping, however has been relevant on the foreign policy front, too. For Russia, the BRICS grouping proved to be a diplomatic life raft since it suffered diplomatic isolation after the annexation of Crimea.
- At the time, a joint statementcriticizing Australia for suggesting to exclude Russia from the G20 made it clear that the West would not succeed in bringing the entire international community into line in its attempt to isolate Russia.
- For South Africa, it provided a massive status boost on the international stage, providing it unprecedented access to the other countries’ policy elites. The meeting in Johannesburg was like a gift from heaven for South Africa’s new President Ramaphosa, allowing him to look presidential ahead of a potentially tricky election next year. In addition, hosting numerous leaders from around the world in South Africa — not only from the BRICS countries, but also from countries like Turkey and Argentina — allowed Zuma’s successor to lay out his strategy on how to get South Africa back on track.
- It is no coincidence that it is in South Africa that BRICS membership is most firmly part of the public debate, with frequent op-ed in major newspapers arguing for or against it (including, among others, a wonderfully provocative piecein the Mail and Guardian by Patrick Bond, a Marxist scholar).
For India, BRICS provides an additional opportunity to discuss important geopolitical concerns with Russia and China, as well as share its particular concerns about terrorism to a wider audience that would otherwise know little about it. In the Johannesburg Declaration, the term “terrorism” appears thirteen times.
For China, the grouping is crucial to forge strategic ties with key partners in each region of the world. More importantly, seen from Beijing, BRICS is a key building bloc of a much larger project to adapt global order to a more Asia-centric world. Brazil, too, is a beneficiary of the BRICS, even though its public debate, still painfully Western-centric both on the left and the right, is still lagging behind in discussing its role in the grouping.
Traditionally unaware of Asian affairs in general and the opportunities a more Asia-centric world offers, Brazil’s participation in the BRICS grouping — which now involves more than seventy yearly meetings in areas ranging from national security and public health to education and innovation — is has helped it broaden a debate about a much-needed strategic reorientation towards Asia, involving not only the government, but the private sector, the media, academia, and society as a whole.
There are five key issues in the 10th BRICS Summit Johannesburg Declaration that deserve special mention:
1) The BRICS seek to project stability and predictability in a rules-based order threatened by US President Trump
- As expected, the grouping sought to contrast recent US policies vis-à-vis global rules and norms and project the grouping as a guardian of order, embracing globalization and recognizing the need to take action against climate change. The BRICS declare in paragraph 8,
We recommit our support for multilateralism and the central role of the United Nations in international affairs and uphold fair, just and equitable international order based on the purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, respect for international law, promoting democracy and the rule of law in international relations, and to address common traditional and non-traditional security challenges.
- In paragraph 21, the grouping calls “upon all countries to fully implement the Paris Agreement adopted under the principles of the UNFCCC (…).”
- In paragraph 63, the leaders say they “underscore the importance of an open world economy, enabling all countries and peoples to share the benefits of globalisation, which should be inclusive and support sustainable development and prosperity of all countries.
We call on all WTO members to abide by WTO rules and honour their commitments in the multilateral trading system.” Of course, this is not entirely genuine. BRICS countries have misgivings about Chinese trade practices, and they have been voiced in Johannesburg behind closed doors. But rhetoric about rules and norms matter, as committing to them frames the debate in a way that the cost of deviation increases.
Particularly for China, this is strategically useful. Donald Trump’s unpredictable foreign policy, most recently visible in the realms of nuclear proliferation and trade, dramatically reduce the extent of global scrutiny China faces these days, be it for its mercantilistic trade policies or domestic challenges. Quite remarkably, Xi Jinping has so far won the battle of narratives against Trump, and the Chinese leader is by many regarded as a global stabilizer and defender of global rules and norms, while Trump is seen as a source of risk.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: postwesternworld.com