BRICS is an acronym that represents the conglomeration of five nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Combined, they account for almost 42 percent of the global population, 30 percent of world territory, and 23 percent of global GDP. Ever since 2009, the BRICS nations have been meeting at annual summits. In recent times, the question of the relevance of BRICS has been raised given the economic and political divergences taking place between these nations.
Last year, global ratings agency S&P argued that BRICS has become economically irrelevant due to diverging long-term economic growth of the nations. For instance, both China and India have been growing spectacularly over the past decade while countries like South Africa, Brazil, and Russia have put out disappointing results.
China and India combined will have a far larger role in global affairs in the future than the rest of the three nations. Given that both Asian countries are poised to be among the top three global superpowers over the coming decades, the economic necessity of BRICS becomes questionable. Apart from Russia, which has a good military sector at present, neither South Africa nor Brazil has anything unique or impactful to offer China and India.
“The diverging long-term economic trajectory of the five countries weakens the analytical value of viewing the BRICS as a coherent economic grouping… I myself have occasionally joked that perhaps I should have called the acronym ‘IC’ based on the clear disappointment of the Brazilian and Russian economies in the current decade since 2011, where both have clearly significantly under-performed compared with what the 2050 scenario path laid out,” Goldman Sachs’ analyst Jim O’Neill said, as reported by DW. It was O’Neill who created the acronym BRIC in 2001 that was later expanded by the addition of South Africa.
According to IMF predictions, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa will see negative growth this year and will only grow at less than 4 percent in 2021. In contrast, India and China are expected to register under 2 percent growth in 2020, and more than 7 percent growth for the next year.
The five nations also have political differences between them that can end up becoming extremely divisive. For instance, Brazil has denied Nicolas Maduro’s position as the President of Venezuela and has supported the opposition leader Juan Guaido’s claim of being the acting president. This is in line with the U.S. viewpoint.
In contrast, both Russia and China support Maduro and want his authoritarian regime in place. This has created a rift between Brazil and the Russia-China camp. Similarly, Brazil welcomed the resignation of Bolivian President Evo Morales in November last year due to concerns over the transparency of elections. However, Russia termed it a “coup.”
The relationship between India and China is also worsening. On one hand, China has tried to infiltrate India’s border. A recent skirmish at the northern Indo-China border led to casualties on both sides. China views India as an economic threat since India’s population, its youth, and rapidly increasing education levels make it possible that the country might soon become a replacement for China when it comes to manufacturing and other industries.
China has also been supporting India’s rival Pakistan while also seeding tensions between India and its long-standing friend Nepal. In return, India has been increasing its support for Taiwan and is exploring ways to strengthen its business relationship with Japan and South Korea. If India and China do end up adopting a hostile attitude toward each other, then BRICS will naturally become irrelevant.