When the 10th BRICS Summit, to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in late July is approaching, the world's attention is turning to this cooperation mechanism that consists of emerging markets and developing countries, with members from Asia, Africa, Europe and South America.
The BRICS mechanism came into being at a time when the world pattern was experiencing profound adjustments and changes. When former Chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management Jim O'Neil initiated the acronym of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) in 2001, it was only a commercial concept classifying the most potential and attractive emerging markets for multinationals according to their economic indicators, such as the population, resources, market potential and economic growth. With the rapid rise of overall strength of developing countries and the increase of South-South cooperation, it has now developed into a new platform for emerging markets and developing countries to strengthen multilateral consultation and cooperation.
Gateway to Africa
Though a latecomer in BRICS, South Africa, the only African country in the group, is playing an increasingly important role in connecting BRICS-Africa cooperation. As one of the biggest economies on the continent, South Africa is now serving as an important gateway for BRICS countries to strengthen cooperation with the whole continent. Its inclusion into BRICS means other BRICS countries' recognition of the continent's rising status in the global community and its development potential in the coming years.
Along with the expansion of BRICS' geographic coverage, South Africa's membership also reflects the group's vision which has gone beyond the original realm of economic cooperation to reach much wider realms, such as international politics and geostrategic structure. It has shown the trend of serving as a platform for comprehensive dialogue and cooperation for emerging and developing nations.
From the perspective of economic aggregation, South Africa's GDP accounts for nearly a quarter of Africa, but is much less compared with other BRICS members, about a quarter of Russia's, which ranked the lowest in the former BRIC group. Despite that, South Africa represents the gateway to Africa and can play an active role in furthering mutually beneficial and win-win relations between Asia and Africa.
In terms of the world political and economic structures, BRICS countries occupy important positions. Politically, China and Russia are two permanent members of the UN Security Council; Brazil, India and South Africa are important powers in South America, Asia and Africa. Economically, the GDP of the five countries combined is 20 percent of the world's total. Their combined territory area and population account for 30 percent and 43 percent of the whole world respectively. Given this, it is natural for the mechanism to go beyond being simply economic cooperation at the outset and to now have a broader vision.
Thanks to the close economic and trade cooperation between BRICS and African countries, Africa successfully emerged from international financial crisis and the impact of unrest in North Africa, and is now in the process of rapid recovery. African economies and BRICS countries are supporting each other through win-win cooperation to achieve sustainable development. In more than a decade, BRICS countries not only contributed 50 percent to the world's economic growth, but also promoted Africa's development through trade and investment, making great contributions to poverty reduction in Africa and world development.
More inspiring is the establishment of the New Development Bank, which came into operation on July 21, 2015, and the launch of its Africa Regional Center (ARC) in Johannesburg in August last year. This bank is committed to supporting infrastructure construction and green energy development. Sources indicate that it will grant loans of $1.5 billion to South Africa in the next 18 months.
The launch of the ARC reflects BRICS's determination of fulfilling its commitment to supporting African development. It is also a good attempt for developing countries to realize independent financial innovation. In the future, the ARC will, through its financial capital and backed by project development, greatly promote sustainable development in terms of African integration, industrialization and infrastructure construction.
FOCAC and Belt and Road connection
As the largest economy in BRICS, China is spearheading the BRICS-Africa cooperation. To better promote African development, China is synergizing BRICS with other cooperation platforms involving Africa, such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).
FOCAC was established in 2000 and has served as an important engine in promoting China-Africa cooperation in all fields since then. The FOCAC summits in Beijing in 2006 and in Johannesburg in 2015 pushed China-Africa economic cooperation to new heights. In order to encourage African industrialization, China also established the China-Africa Fund for Industrial Cooperation, with a startup capital of $10 billion and increased capital of $5 billion each to the China-Africa Development Fund and the Special Loan for the Development of African SMEs.
Another important program BRICS is expected to synergize with is the Belt and Road Initiative. Since China put forward the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, it has been injecting new impetus to other regional cooperation mechanisms in Africa. In fact, African countries are enthusiastic about participating in the Belt and Road construction. Shortly after the close of China's Sessions of the National People's Congress and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in March, the presidents of Cameroon, Namibia and Zimbabwe visited China and expressed their hope of aligning their own development strategies with the Belt and Road Initiative.
Promoted by the Belt and Road Initiative in recent years, improving interconnectivity of infrastructure and strengthening industrial capacity cooperation have become the key areas of the China-Africa relations. It is the new consensus of both China and African countries to promote industrial development and realize the African aspiration of poverty reduction through investing in infrastructure-related projects via the platform of the Belt and Road Initiative.
In recent years, China-Africa interconnectivity construction and industrial capacity cooperation have yielded important fruits, such as the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway, which came into operation in October in 2016, and the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway in May 2017. Industrial park construction along the rail routes has seen preliminary achievements.
The year of 2018 is an important year for both China and Africa. Following the 10th BRICS Summit that will be held in late July in South Africa, the FOCAC Beijing Summit will be held in China in September. Chinese and African leaders will gather in Beijing to discuss China-Africa cooperation in the new era. In this context, the BRICS mechanism is expected to synergize with the FOCAC and the Belt and Road Initiative to further promote African development.
(The author is a senior researcher of the Charhar Institute and a researcher of the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)