China and the BRICs

English: The BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, Ch...
English: The BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Português: As Potências regionais. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BRICS: In Search of Unity? | Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.

Hutong West
Dealing with plumbers
1228 hrs.

While the Fourth BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) summit was nearly three months ago, the meta-message that is emerging from the aftermath is that these countries do not yet form anything resembling a bloc of interests.

Ruchita Beri’s short piece (linked above) is guardedly optimistic about the grouping, but if you read between the lines you can almost feel the divergence of interests that is pulling this grouping apart. Beri, a senior researcher at India’s Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, gently suggests that China is part of the problem.

While the BRICS grouping does provide an opportunity for each member to play an important role on the global stage, one of the challenges that it faces is cohesiveness. Take the issue of the BRICS development bank. While it is indeed a laudable initiative, the challenge lies in aligning the differing interests of the member countries. Moreover, other members of the grouping are wary of China’s domination over the bank given that China holds very large foreign exchange reserves ($ 3 trillion).

All of this serves to underscore the real elephant in the room, which is the fact that while some of the BRICS might trust each other, most are having a hard time trusting China. As it considers its soft power challenges, China also needs to see that being a trustworthy player in the global system would do a lot toward making it influential (rather than disruptive) in such international groupings, and in turn toward making those groupings influential.

Chris

Trust is indeed a critical gap for China, and the MFA doesn’t do itself any favors by engaging in RMB diplomacy throughout the developing world, while crying foul whenever a U.S. diplomat sneezes. Despite its 5000 years of history, China needs to swallow its massive pride and build rapport anew with many individual countries (BRICS is a good place to start). China remains important due to its size and economic clout, but leadership requires more than deep pockets or lots of people, and until the Chinese government learns how to build trust with other countries, global leadership will remain a pipe dream.

Felipe Albertao

(Disclaimer: I am a Brazilian who lived in China)

This is a very interesting point of view and it highlights the cultural differences (perhaps even prejudices) among BRIC countries. However, I believe that China is well aware of this mutual distrust. Just take one recent example, that China proposed a free-trade zone between the South America Trade Zone (Mercosul) and China last month:

http://translate.google.com/translate?sl=pt&tl=en&js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&u=http%3A%2F%2Fepocanegocios.globo.com%2FInformacao%2FVisao%2Fnoticia%2F2012%2F06%2Fchina-propoe-ao-mercosul-estudar-criacao-de-uma-zona-de-livre-comercio.html&act=url
(in portuguese via Google Translate)

Note that China chose to present this proposal directly to Brazil, as opposed to the BRIC. They could have done this announcement at a BRIC-related forum, and it seems to me that the fact that they addressed Brazil directly was to deliberately separate B-C interests from the rest of the BRIC.

Also note that “BRIC” is a concept invented by an English economist — That is, someone from “outside in”. Although the term “BRIC” might have some meaning to the “developed” countries (i. e.: the rise of some developing economies), the BRIC countries themselves don’t perceive each other as part of a bloc per se: The cultural, historical and political gaps between the BRIC countries are huge, and I don’t think anything relevant will ever be decided by this “bloc”.

Also I want to point out that Brazil culturally does not share this distrust against China. To the contrary, the typical Chinese stereotype in Brazil is actually very positive (Brazilians see Chinese as “zen”, culturally rich and intelligent). I also think that China is aware of this difference, and that’s why they are targeting Brazil for “soft power” relationships.