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Into 2023: BRICS Will Continue to Shine
2023-04-14 20:30

At the First BRICS Sherpa and Sous-Sherpa Meeting on February 1, 2023, the BRICS chairship gavel was officially handed over to South Africa from China. With the African country taking over the chairship, “2023 looks set to be the BRICS bloc’s most impactful year within the global economic and geopolitical landscape”, as observed by some international commentators. 

Whether BRICS is a bloc and whether its impact in 2023 will surpass all the previous years still remain to be seen. What is more likely to be true is that two things may feature prominently on this year’s agenda.

First, expanding cooperation for common development. During China’s chairship last year, one of the highlights of BRICS meetings was the Global Development Initiative. This initiative for development, proposed by President Xi Jinping of China in September 2021 during the General Debate of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly, was brought up at BRICS-related meetings, sending to the world a strong message of putting development front and center on the international agenda. As pointed out by President Xi, the goal is that no country or individual should be left behind in pursuing development.

In 2022, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, BRICS countries came together to promote joint development through, for instance, the BRICS Initiative on Trade and Investment for Sustainable Development, the Digital Economy Partnership Framework, the space cooperation mechanism, and BRICS Vaccine R&D Center....and produced fruitful results.

The theme for South Africa’s 2023 BRICS chairship is: “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism”. It seems that South Africa, as this year’s chair, will build on China’s focus and success in promoting global development and continue to put development issue high on BRCIS agenda.

To achieve common development has always been the aim of BRICS cooperation. It is an area that enjoys the greatest potential and most substantive results. BRICS infrastructure projects have not only added impetus to economic growth, but also improved the local population’s livelihoods.

On the financial track, BRICS has established the New Development Bank and Contingent Reserve Arrangement, which provide funding for important infrastructure and sustainable development projects and a safety net for BRICS countries in times of difficulty. And the New Development Bank also welcomes new members from across the world, such as the UAE, Uruguay, Bangladesh and Egypt. All these are vivid testaments to BRICS’ commitment to development.

More importantly, having contributed more than 50 percent to global economic growth, BRICS cooperation has a direct catalytic effect on global development.

Entering 2023, BRICS countries are embracing a brighter economic prospect. It is fair to say that in the post-COVID era, developing countries and emerging markets, and indeed the entire world, look to BRICS cooperation as the locomotive for economic recovery and more vigorous development.

Second, expanding membership. The success of the BRICS mechanism has attracted many like-minded partners. So far, over 11 countries have expressed desire to join BRICS, including Iran, the UAE and Bahrain in Asia, and Egypt and Algeria in Africa, and Argentina in Latin America.

The BRICS expansion started long ago with South Africa being the first beneficiary to join in 2011 at the Sanya Summit hosted by China. The principles set forth in the Sanya Declaration that BRICS is open to increasing engagement and cooperation with non-BRICS countries, in particular emerging and developing countries, and to enhance the voice of emerging and developing countries in international affairs, actually set the philosophical cornerstone for the expansion.

The Beijing Declaration adopted at the 14th BRICS Summit paved the way for membership expansion. It voiced support for promoting discussions among BRICS members on the expansion process and stressed the need to establish clear guiding principles, standards, criteria and procedures for expansion. Membership expansion has become part of the core agenda of BRICS. But make no mistake, membership expansion is not about building a small bloc. Rather, it is for the purpose of creating a bigger living space for the global south.

As South African President Cyril Ramaphosa noted, BRICS is all about allowing the “voices of the marginalized to actually be heard”. While BRICS countries account for 25 percent of the global economy, 18 percent of global trade, and over 50 percent of global growth, the voting right of BRICS countries in both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund is only less than 15 percent. Such a situation puts emerging markets and developing countries on the periphery of the decision-making circle. Therefore, an inclusive, efficient and broadly representative global economic governance system, with greater representation and voice of emerging markets and developing countries, needs to be put in place immediately. The expansion of BRICS membership is a solid step toward that goal and is highly consistent with the theme of South Africa’s chairship this year.

Today, as multilateral mechanisms such as the APEC and G20 face greater challenges, an expanded BRICS could play a unique role in promoting global development cause and cooperation, especially among emerging markets and developing countries, advancing their interests, and contributing to the building of a global community of development.

BRICS 2023 means new opportunities for the global south, and gives a booster shot to the slowly recovering world ailed by various risks and challenges. And as the saying goes, “One arrow can easily be broken, but a bundle of ten cannot.” Working together, and with more friends coming aboard, BRICS will surely contribute its strength to common development and prosperity. Wish South Africa a successful BRICS chairship in 2023.

(The author Yi Fan is a Beijing-based observer of international affairs.)

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