BRICS was carved out of a group formally initiated by Russia in 2002 – Russia-India-China (RIC) to address the challenges it faced after the break-up of Soviet Union.1 China and India’s dependence on Russian Military Industrial Complex (MIC) bailed out Russia from possible disaster in the early 1990s. Russia shares strategic defence relationship with both China and India. Russian MIC supplies approximately 70 per cent of India’s defence imports and is engaged in sharing hi-tech military technology with both India and China. For example, Russia and India are engaged in the joint production of the fifth generation combat aircraft PAK-FA/T-50 and Transfer of Technology for India’s nuclear submarine and aircraft carrier projects. Russia has agreed to export China SU-35 Super Flanker, S-400 Triumf Air Defence System (SA-21 Growler) and RD-93 jet engines.
The BRICS nations currently offer some of the most exciting investment opportunities in the world…
Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS), encompass more than a quarter of the world’s landmass and 40 per cent of its population. Within the past decade, BRICS has contributed more than a third of the world’s GDP growth. Since 2000, the BRICS has grown from comprising one sixth of the global economy to currently comprising almost a quarter, in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), and analysts, such as Goldman Sachs and McKinsey, expect these trends to become even more pronounced in the next decade. Indeed, the BRICS, as an aggregate economy, is predicted to overtake the US by 2018 and will account for a third of the global economy (in PPP terms) by 2020 and almost half of all GDP growth.
China alone has 1.3 billion consumers currently and is forecast by McKinsey to become the third-largest consumer market in the world by 2025. By 2025, the population of the BRICs with incomes above $15,000 is forecast to increase by 200 million people, which is equal to the combined population of Germany, France and the UK. In light of this, the BRICS nations currently offer some of the most exciting investment opportunities in the world.2
The seventh BRICS Summit was held at Ufa (Russia) in July 2015. The agreement on the establishment of the New Development Bank was signed by the BRICS countries in July 2014 and seen as rival to the existing US-led institutions, the IMF and World Bank. The countries are expected to discuss the IMF reform that should give a louder voice to developing countries in decision-making, and the possibility of creating an independent BRICS rating agency3. Another 40 such projects set for consideration by the five-member group with “infrastructure” being a major among them.
However, this Russian initiative since 2006 has a long way to go as the group lacks essential political, economic, financial, and strategic qualities to emerge as an agent of change within the global order shaped by the West.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the bi-polar world order initially gravitated towards a uni-polar world order led by the United States…
While BRICS is understood as a new development in the area of multi-lateral institutions, in terms of ideology it has precedence in early efforts made by India and China soon after becoming sovereigns in 1947 and 1949 respectively. An initiative made by five sponsoring countries (Burma, Ceylon, India, Indonesia and Pakistan) at the Bogor Conference in 1949 led to the Asian-African Conference at Bandung, Indonesia in 1955 where a collective effort was proposed to rise against colonialism4.
Apart from setting forth realistic concerns for securing traditional security concerns of newly independent countries in Asia and Africa (sovereignty, territorial integrity, equality and mutual respect, non-interference, non-aggression, and peaceful co-existence) the idea of cooperation in the fields of economy, culture and religion found significant attention5. Despite the enormous common challenges faced by multiple nations in Asia and Africa, the conference exhibited the tensions among its participants given the different political and economic system practiced in many countries6. This initiative failed to seek a common ground and create a formidable block during the Cold War due to multiple reasons, including territorial disputes among many developing countries. However, the desire among the developing countries to create a mutually benefiting international world order did not sine die.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the bi-polar world order initially gravitated towards a uni-polar world order led by the United States supported by its NATO allies. However, the shift included the consolidation of power at a multi-polar level and continues to do so with more intensity with economic slowdown in US and other Western economy. This new development was quickly factored into the foreign policy of many countries including China and India. President Jiang Zemin officially incorporated the concept of multi-polar world (duoji shijie) into Chinese foreign policy at the 14th Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1992 to support China’s stance that a fair, just and peaceful world is only possible through multi-polarity.
The financial crisis in 1997 and 2000 led to a rethink in creating economic shock absorbers other than the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB)…
China’s foreign policy since Jiang’s leadership acknowledged that a singular and unchecked superpower can be very dangerous as exemplified by the US invasion of Iraq without a UN sanction and the US/NATO actions in Kosovo.7 The multi-polar world order favored an international situation that Russia, India, and China and other developing nations sought in furthering their national development and interest. A major boost to this idea came with the ‘China – Russia Constructive Partnership Agreement’ of 1994 that was later renamed ‘China – Russia Strategic Agreement’ in 1996 which not only strengthened Chinese-Russian relations, but also their preference to multi-polarity as against the unipolar world order that had emerged after the collapse of the bipolar world order. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) was a manifestation of this preference for a multi-polar world order. India is an observing member at SCO and is contemplating a full membership in the near future.
BRICS was carved out of a group formally initiated by Russia in 2002 – Russia-India-China (RIC) to address the challenges it faced after the break-up of Soviet Union.8 China and India’s dependence on Russian Military Industrial Complex (MIC) bailed out Russia from possible disaster in the early 1990s. Russia shares strategic defence relationship with both China and India. Russian MIC supplies approximately 70 per cent of India’s defence imports and is engaged in sharing hi-tech military technology with both India and China. For example, Russia and India are engaged in the joint production of the fifth generation combat aircraft PAK-FA/T-50 and Transfer of Technology for India’s nuclear submarine and aircraft carrier projects. Russia has agreed to export to China SU-35 Super Flanker, S-400 Triumf Air Defence System (SA-21 Growler) and RD-93 jet engines.
Russia, India and China (RIC) have now moved towards Asia-Pacific and turning the global focus from a Western-centric order to a multi-polar order. In this regard, the establishment of BRICS Bank, officially termed New Development Bank (NDB) in July 2014, is likely to be an emerging alternative to the existing global financial system. Whether it is BRICS, SCO, G-20 or RIC, India, China and Russia have played major roles to engender a global debate not dominated by any particular ‘ism’. Russia also pledged to support India’s candidature for full membership of the SCO and UNSC.
China is currently the largest holder of foreign currency reserves on the planet, 54 per cent of its $3.2 trillion worth of foreign reserves are in US dollars…
China’s initiative in setting up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) with 57 founding member nations (37 from Asia and 20 from outside Asia) is another such move breaking away from Western-centric order9. Founder members will initially pay up to one-fifth of the AIIB’s $50 billion in authorised capital, which will eventually be raised to $100 billion. The gravitational pull of this idea has led to some western powers (Great Britain, Germany, France, and Italy) to join the AIIB while US, Japan, Canada stayed away perceiving extensive influence of China over investments made through the AIIB, lack of transparency and environmental concerns. According to Jin Liqun, Secretary-General of China’s interim Secretariat, which is establishing the AIIB, “Although China would have the biggest share in the bank, it would not dominate its operations.”10
BRI ‘C’ S – Centre of Gravity
The financial crisis in 1997 and 2000 led to a rethink in creating economic shock absorbers other than the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) which imposed restrictions on the Asian governments from increasing expenditure and imposing politico-economic reforms against the wishes of the governments.11 China improved its relations with Asian economies affected by these financial crises by remaining sensitive to import-export balance and refraining from interference.
A foreign policy based on the principle of non-interference was valued and sought to be institutionalised by creation of intra-regional free trade agreement. With this background, BRICS leaders set up a New Development Bank during the 6th BRICS summit in 2014 at Fortaleza in Brazil to mobilise resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects within BRICS and other developing countries. The BRICS Bank will supplement the existing efforts of multilateral and regional financial institutions for global growth and development. China is expected to press for it to be based in Shanghai and to operate in Yuan, the Chinese currency. The BRICS Development Bank will initially be capitalised at $50 billion, with $10 billion from each of the BRICS members. China is expected to form the centre of gravity within BRICS given various forecasts which predict that China will soon surpass the US as the top global economic power. Whether this will happen as early as 2016 as the IMF predicted using purchasing power parity as basis of analysis or by 2020 or 2030 according to the World Bank, the “guesstimates” agree that it will be earlier than previous assessments.12
The quality of economy based on key demographic indicators stands highest for Russia and China, and lowest for India and South Africa…
China is currently the largest holder of foreign currency reserves on the planet, 54 per cent of its $3.2 trillion worth of foreign reserves are in US dollars. Since the 2008 global financial crisis, China has accounted for more than 35 per cent of all global economic growth.13 For the first time since 2003, China surpassed the US as the world’s largest recipient of global Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the first half of 2012.14 China has extended $12.5 billion more in loans to Sub-Saharan Africa in the past decade than the World Bank; $67.2 billion was also lent to the world’s poorest region between 2001 and 2010 compared with the World Bank’s $54.7 billion.
Measurement of Inequality within BRICS
The quality of economy based on key demographic indicators stands highest for Russia and China, and lowest for India and South Africa. China exhibits a balanced demography adding strength to its voluminous economy. For example, though China and India have populations exceeding a billion, the unemployment rate in India is higher along with infant and maternal mortality rate. This eliminates the advantages India has over China in birth rates.
The demographic indicators are valuable measurement of the quality of the economy and potential prospects for future. In terms of GDP, China exceeds all other members of the BRICS grouping with $9,185 billion followed by Brazil ($2,246 billion), Russia ($2,096 billion), India ($1,726 billion) and South Africa ($382 billion). Expect for steel production, where South Africa produces 92,180 million tonnes compared to Russia (69 million tonnes), China (779 million tonnes), India (78 million tonnes), and Brazil (50 million tonnes) and per capita GDP at current prices where Russia leads with $14,604 followed by Brazil ($11,171), South Africa ($7,810), China ($6,768) and India ($1,418).
China leads in many indicators to a size five times of India. India happens to be the weak link among the five members of the BRICS group with leading indicators in population, density of population, birth rate and maternal mortality rate.15 India does have an advantage in the total number of people with the age group of 24-59 (513 million) in 2012 compared with Brazil (96.2 million), Russia (75.3), China (935 million), and South Africa (22.2 million) given Russia and China’s slowing birth rates at 10.2 per cent, however this demographic divided is not an indicator to be taken for granted.
China leads in many indicators to a size five times of India…
India further shares the highest percentage of primary industry among BRICS grouping members at 25.7 per cent of the GDP in 2000 and 20.5 per cent in 2013 compared with Russia at 4.0 per cent, Brazil at 5.7 per cent and China at 10 per cent in 2013. However, as a percentage share of secondary industry in GDP, China leads at 43.9 per cent followed by Russia at 35.7 per cent, Brazil at 25 per cent and India at 22.6 per cent. In the tertiary industry, Brazil leads at 69.3 per cent followed by South Africa (68.3 per cent), Russia (60.3 per cent), India (57.0 per cent), and China (46.1 per cent).
Except for Russia, all other BRICS members consume more energy that they produce. For example, while Russia’s total primary energy production is 2,740 mtoe, its consumption stands at 1,893 mtoe in 2013, whereas India produces 448 mtoe and consumes 1,129 mtoe. India and China import 18 per cent and 16 per cent of their energy requirements respectively and Russian imports remain low at 1.6 per cent.
All five members share weak exchange rates with respect to the US dollar, with the Indian Rupee being the weakest at 65.07 Rupees per USD…
Measuring BRICS Financial Health
Expect for Russia, all other countries in BRICS grouping hold deficit in general government expenditure. As a percentage of GDP, Russia had a surplus of 1.4 per cent in 2000 and -0.5 per cent in 2013. India had a deficit of -6.6 per cent and -3.0 per cent in 2012, and China had -2.5 per cent in 2000 and -1.9 per cent in 2013. South Africa’s share of income tax to revenue stood highest at 41.3 per cent in 2011, compared with China’s 22.4 per cent and Russia’s 10.4 per cent in 2013. China leads in export-import among the BRICS nations followed by Russia in exports and India in imports. China’s total export-import is approximately four times that of India and Russia approximately.
Value of exports of goods and commercial services (in million US$) stood at 2,248,317 for China followed by Russia (590,345), India (446,079), and Brazil (282,442). Ratio of exports of goods and commercial services to imports of goods and commercial services stood highest for Russia at 126.2 per cent followed by China 111.5 per cent and India 78.1 per cent. Ratio of exports of goods to imports of goods remains highest for Russia at 153.6 per cent followed by China at 118.5 per cent, Brazil at 108.7 per cent and India at 61.2 per cent.
In terms of inflows of FDI (million US$) China registered itself as the most reliable destination for investment with $117,586 million followed by Brazil with $64,045 million, India $28,807 million, and Russia at $26, 118 million. Outflows of FDI (million US$) for both Russia and China increased five-fold since 2006 in 2013, however for India it decreased by 50 per cent since 2006 in 2013 and Brazil by nine times.
All five members share weak exchange rates with respect to the US dollar, with the Indian Rupee being the weakest at 65.07 Rupees per USD followed by Russian Rouble at 64.63 and Chinese Yuan at 6.39. China exceeded approximately nine to ten times of that of other members within the group in total foreign exchange reserves with $3,821,315 million in 2013 followed by Russia ($473,110), Brazil ($373,147), India ($292,046) and South Africa ($50,735).
In terms of inflows of FDI (million US$) China registered itself as the most reliable destination for investment with $117,586 million…
In external debt as a percentage of GDP, South Africa led followed closely by Russia at 31.3 per cent and remained lowest for China at 8.9 per cent in 2012. International investment position (million US$) stood at $1,736,425 for China and $244,829 for India.
Intra-Trade Among BRICS
The intro-trade among BRICS grouping does not clear the threshold required for it be a significant player shaping global economic and political realities. Except for India and China, no two other members of BRICS have significant trade relations. Western European countries hold significant trade relations which cannot be wished away in near future, given the dependence of BRICS nations on EU nations for mechanical and electrical goods along with hi-tech goods.
Germany is Russia’s largest trade partner with its largest imports being meat and exports being energy. China is India’s largest trade partner and India is China’s second largest trade partner after Hong Kong. Brazil, China, India and South Africa have significant trade relations with Russia but not with each other. For example, the largest investor in Brazil is Netherlands followed by other European powers.
This factor remains a significant stumbling block in BRICS becoming a counter balance to the West-led economic world order and can be fixed with careful study of strengths in BRICS economy and finding ways to maximise intra-trade relations with each other. For example, in the recent crisis over Ukraine’s sovereignty has led to sanctions by EU on Russia and Russia now looks forward to import its requirement for meat from China. The strengths in India’s information technology, Russia’s science and technology, and China’s industrial capacity and finance must be channelised to increase BRICS intra-trade. India-Russia bilateral trade of about $7 billion has not only remained much below the potential, it has also remained highly skewed for a few items besides defence sector.16
Conclusion: Eradicating Inequality Among the Unequals
While it is early to align with President Putin’s remark that “BRICS has already become an influential factor in world policy and economy,”17 the present trend for the future is certainly poised in favour of BRICS to realise such a remark. Apart from working on economic and financial security related policies, BRICS stands to benefit from resolving inherent deficiencies within the grouping such as intra-trade, military relationships, science and technology sharing and common front at leading world institutions such as UN, IMF and WB.
The projection of BRICS as an alternative to the existing world order is based on its “potential” than “reality”…
From a policy perspective, the intra-trade relation between BRICS members must resemble that of Sino-Indian trade relations. China and India are each other’s largest trading partner. Russia must re-divert its import requirements from Western Europe to Asia and other BRICS members. A trend to maximise investment into BRICS economy must come from BRICS economy and a temptation to secure such funds from the West must be avoided. However, such shifts require structural changes and a definite long term planning and policy implementation.
Along with the need for economic and financial independence, a methodological approach towards a strengthened political alignment is crucial. While Sino-Russian relations and Sino-Indian relations have improved in the post-Cold War era, trouble spots do exist. A power struggle within BRICS is likely with inequality among BRICS members. Russia’s relation with India has not yet realised its full potential.18 Russia’s defence relations with China and Pakistan and India’s defence cooperation with US and NATO is a cause of concern.
The projection of BRICS as an alternative to the existing world order is based on its “potential” than “reality”. A comprehensive understanding of the existing world system built over centuries is unlikely to be overruled in an instant by coming together of BRICS members and will require a multi-front approach and not limited to banking, maritime and innovation centre. However, despite the limitations, the BRICS initiative is likely to emerge as a significant centre of international political power.
- Nidhi Raj Kapoor (2014), “Making a World of Difference: How BRICS Diaspora Give” The Resource Alliance, January 2014.
- BRICS summit in Russia to launch New Development Bank & currency pool – Putin” RT, 30 May, 2015. Available at http://rt.com/business/262813-brics-bank-summit-russia/
- Speech by Premier Chou En-lai, Chief Representative of the People’s Republic of China, at the Plenary Session of the Asian-African Conference, 19 April, 1955.
- Supplementary Speech by Premier Chou En-Lai at the Plenary Session of the Asian-African Conference, 19 April, 1955.
- Dorothy-Grace Guerrero (2013), “The Rise of China and BRICs: A multipolar world in the making?” Focus on the Global South, available at http://focusweb.org/content/rise-china-and-brics-multipolar-world-making.
- 57 Countries Named as AIIB Founding Members” Hong Kong Economic Journal (ejinsight), 15 April, 2015, Available at http://www.ejinsight.com/20150415-57-countries-named-as-aiib-founding-members/ [Accessed on 12 May, 2015].
- S.Rajasimman (2015), “Who Said the Cold War Is Over?” Indian Defence Review, Vol:30, No:3; July-October Issue [Forth Coming – Print Edition]
- In 1997 the then Indonesian President Suharto announced a 1998 budget plan calling for a substantial increase in expenditures, which was contrary to IMF conditionality. S.Rajasimman (2009) “China-ASEAN Relations: Emerging Asian Security Architecture” in Srikanth Kondapalli and Emi Mifune (Eds), China and its Neighbours (2010) Pentagon Press: New Delhi.
- Maddison, Angus, 2006, “Asia in the world economy, 1500‐2030”, Asian Pacific Economic Literature, 20(2): 1‐37. Arends, Brett, “IMF bombshell: Age of America nears end, Commentary: China’s economy will surpass the US in 2016”, Marketwatch, The Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2012, http://www.marketwatch.com/story/imf-bombshell-age-of-america-about-to-end-2011-04-25?link=MW_home_latest_news. Shirley, Andrew (Ed), The Wealth Report 2012: A Global Perspective on Prime Property and Wealth, Knight Frank Research, 2012 http://www.thewealthreport.net/.
- Beams, Nick, “China Slowdown Deepens Global Crisis”, World Socialist Website, August 16, 2012,http://wsws.org/articles/2012/aug2012/pers-a16.shtml
- Hannon, Paul and Reddy, Sudeep, “China Edges Out US as Top Foreign Investment Draw amid World Decline”, The Wall Street Journal, October 23, 2012.
- BRICS Joint Statistical Publication, 2014, InstItuto BrasIleIro de GeoGrafIa e estatístIca – IBGe Av. Franklin Roosevelt, 166 – Centro 20021-120 – Rio de Janeiro, RJ – Brasil. P. (Note: All statistical data used for analysis are based on this report)
- Press Trust of India (PTI) (2015), “PM Narendra Modi’s Russia, Central Asia visit to boost energy, trade ties” Economic Times, 05 July, 2015. Available at http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/foreign-trade/pm-narendra-modis-russia-central-asia-visit-to-boost-energy-trade-ties/articleshow/47945808.cms
- BRICS summit in Russia to launch New Development Bank & currency pool – Putin” RT, 30 May, 2015. Available at http://rt.com/business/262813-brics-bank-summit-russia/
- Maj Gen Alok Deb (2015), “Strengthening the Indo Russian Relationship” Indian Defence Review, 08 July, 2015. Available at http://www.indiandefencereview.com/news/strengthening-the-indo-russian-relationship/