The BRICS entity – made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - is neither a pressure group nor a negotiation organization. Its summits are convened to seek common ground on areas of importance for these major economies.
Important elements in the on-going establishment of BRICS include the initiation and promotion of strategies, the setting of principles and regulations, development of institutional arrangements, and the innovation and success of its efforts. Its summits, follow-up arrangements and standing bodies will be decisive in its success.
Its institutional framework has been developed since 2006 with summits, senior representative meetings on security issues, foreign minister meetings, and BRICS think tank conferences. Although institutionalized from the start, its foundations are yet to be consolidated and its great potential for development and innovation is yet to be realized.
Further consolidation of the organization will come from regular meetings between heads of state, prime ministers and foreign ministers and through strategic dialogue on all issues.
The ideal of a united approach, however, may not be immediately achieved, given the different objectives of the member states. Russia thinks highly of the political and strategic role of the organization to counter the American effect, promoting a multipolar world order and enhancing its global status. It is the same with India and Brazil. India hopes that it can enjoy equal status with China and Russia, an aim conducive to its efforts to become a recognized global power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC). Brazil treats the BRICS mechanism as an alliance that could make it a major developing country and also a permanent member of the UNSC. South Africa holds similar ideas. It is safe to say that the prospects of a united BRICS approach rely not only on members’ economic cooperation but also their strategic coordination in political and security fields.
The developing BRICS entity could draw lessons from three models: the G8, the OECD and a combination of the two.
The G8 is not an international organization, nor is it a legal entity. It is a club of industrialized countries without a permanent secretariat. G8 heads of state, their government leaders and ministers hold regular meetings to discuss issues of mutual or global concern. They also make political or financial commitments in joint communiqués. Since 1996, the group has been gradually expanded to include five developing countries. Thus they also hold separate sets of meetings known as the G8+5, where topics range from the global economy to international politics and security.
The OECD is an inter-governmental economic organization consisting of countries dedicated to the market economy principal. The convention establishing the OECD was signed in 1960 and its secretariat is organized in directorates covering statistics, economics, the environment, development co-operation, trade and agriculture, financial and enterprise affairs and so on. Decision-making power is vested in the OECD Council whose permanent representatives meet regularly. Members meet at ministerial level once a year to set priorities for OECD work. Representatives also meet in special committees to advance ideas and review progress in specific policy areas, such as economics, trade, science, employment, education and financial markets. The OECD’s way of working starts with data collection and analysis, after which committees discuss the relevant policy, the Council makes decisions, and then governments implement recommendations.
The combination model could prioritize economic cooperation with due consideration given to political and security implications. On one hand, though none of the BRICS countries is an OECD member state, they must focus on economic cooperation and development. It is therefore necessary for them to 1earn from the OECD and set up economic cooperation mechanisms consisting of a secretariat, various committees, work groups and expert teams. On the other hand, BRICS countries should work better with each other in light of their common political leanings. They should learn from the G8 to include new member states, include more agenda issues in due course and pay more attention to forging partnerships.
Some Chinese experts oppose the idea of including more countries in the loosely formed BRICS group which still exhibits differences in economic structures, political systems and foreign relations philosophies. With additional members, the group would have to deal with an even greater range of strategic and philosophical differences.
When China’s President Hu Jintao spoke in Brasilia on Cooperation and Openness for Mutual Benefit and Win-Win Progress, he said: ”Our four countries differ in political systems, development models, religious beliefs and cultural tradition, but we have become good friends and partners. This shows that countries with different social systems can be inclusive toward each other and countries with different development models can engage in cooperation. It also shows that different civilizations can learn from each other and different cultures can have exchanges. Our endeavor is to follow the trend towards peace and development and answer the call of our time for cooperation and mutual benefit.”
In summary, we have every reason to be optimistic about the collaboration of the BRICS group to promote the new ideas embodied in its formation.
Guan Guihai is a member of the School of International Studies of Peking University Research Center for Contemporary Russia.