BRICS 2023: Outcomes, Opportunities and Expectations in a Changing World Order

September 01 , 2023


On September 1st  2023, the Center for China and Globalization (CCG) hosted the CCG Dialogue, “BRICS 2023: Outcomes, Opportunities and Expectations in a Changing  World Order”. Experts from the BRICS founding member countries, including BRICS South Africa Sherpa Ambassador Prof. Anil Sooklal , were invited to discuss key outcomes, potential opportunities and growing expectations as the bloc grows in impact and outreach. The event highlighted BRICS’ emerging role amidst geopolitical shifts, and rising expectation as the 15th annual BRICS Summit

in Johannesburg South Africa (22-24 August 2023) concluded. Notably, member countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – issued the XV BRICS Summit Johannesburg II Declaration, “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Multilateralism”, and introduced six new members – Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates.
The event was moderated by CCG Fellow Zoon Ahmed. CCG President Dr. Wang Huiyao delivered welcoming remarks, and invited BRICS South Africa Sherpa Ambassador Prof. Anil Sooklal to deliver keynote remarks followed by a panel discussion with scholars and experts from the region. The participants covered a broad range of themes including an assessment of BRICS’ contributions to globalization and inclusive collaboration; the bloc’s effectiveness in promoting economic, technological, and cultural collaborations between and beyond member countries; and growing expectations amidst expansion and a rising Global South.In her opening remarks and context setting, Zoon Ahmed of CCG underlined BRICS’ expanding importance as it assumes an increasingly proactive role in global economic governance amidst a changing world order. She also raised focal questions emanating from the bloc’s expanding influence, including specific efforts to strengthen multilateralism, address global challenges, and bridging the gap between discourse and practical action. Other themes encompassed BRICS’ potential practical contributions to geopolitical stability and conflict resolution; progress in fostering cultural and people-to-people exchanges; and expected benefits and implications of expansion.

CCG President Dr. Wang Huiyao opened his welcoming remarks by congratulating South Africa and Amb. Sooklal for successful chairmanship and hosting a historic BRICS Summit, as he highlighted BRICS’ growing relevance in fostering effective and inclusive global economic governance. “Today compared to 20 years ago the BRICS countries’ combined economic impact has exceeded that of the G7 nations, contributing 26 percent of global GDP and 42 percent of the world’s population”, he added, underscoring the shifting global dynamics. Dr. Wang expressed confidence in BRICS’ future role and stressed , “BRICS, as it connects member different continents, countries and cultures; demonstrates that even more inclusive globalization plays a positive role. And that openness and cooperation are the way forward.” Dr. Wang also cited the establishment of “China-BRICS Science and Innovation Incubation Park for the New Era” and “BRICS Framework on Industrial Cooperation for Sustainable Development, to implement the SDG2030 Agenda”, as illustrations of BRICS’ support for open trade, respecting the UN Charter, and dedication towards people-centric cooperation for a better and sustainable shared future. He concluded by reaffirming CCG’s deep commitment to promoting globalization, deepening engagement and fostering inclusive dialogue, and wished the participants a fruitful discussion.

Ambassador-at-Large BRICS and Asia (South Africa) Prof. Anil Sooklal commenced his keynote address by asserting that despite being held in a highly charged geopolitical context, the BRICS 2023 Summit garnered extraordinary attention, and represents a crucial voice for the Global South. Tracing BRICS’ origins back to its inception in 2009, he emphasized the bloc’s steadfast commitment to upholding multilateralism, international law, and the pressing need for reforming the global multilateral architecture. He underscored that beyond fostering cooperation among member countries, BRICS is a testament to an enduring vision for a more inclusive and equitable global order.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic came into sharp focus as Amb. Sooklal detailed how it exposed the deepening divide between the Global North and South, and how countries in the South stepped forward with support, sharing experiences, vaccines, and essential medical equipment. He further emphasized BRICS’ stance on financial independence through local currencies and the creation of a new financial architecture that could better serve the needs of the Global South. Noteworthy progress made towards greater financial autonomy, he added, includes the New Development Bank’s issuance of rand-denominated bonds.

In the realm of technology, Sooklal voiced concern about unilateral sanctions being imposed around China in the technology sector. He portrayed this as a containment strategy by certain countries and highlighted BRICS’ commitment to technology independence and collaboration. The partnership for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, established in Changsha, and joint research projects exemplify BRICS’ pursuit of technological self-sufficiency. Moreover, Amb. Sooklal noted BRICS’ economic strength, asserting how BRICS markets, boasting the fastest-growing middle class, holding immense potential for global economic rejuvenation.

Lastly, Amb. Sooklal stressed on BRICS as a powerful driver of change, symbolizing the ascension of the Global South and advocating for an inclusive and equitable global order. Importantly, he emphasized that BRICS’ intentions were not adversarial towards the West but were geared toward collaboration with all stakeholders in the quest to create a more just and harmonious global community.

The panel discussion invited Professor and Director of the Latin America Studies Center at Shanghai University Jiang Shixue (China), author and socio-economic activist Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni (India), Senior Fellow at Pangoal Institute and host of CGTN Dialogue Mr. Xu Qinduo (China), Deputy Director at ANO technologies Mr. Andrey Filippov (Russia), and Founder and CEO of the Edtech company XianZai Ms. Taís Bahia (Brazil).

Prof. Jiang Shixue underscored the evolving nature and challenges of BRICS cooperation, emphasizing the importance of collective action and effective multilateralism while cautioning against overreliance on expanding membership as a panacea. He emphasized two key definitions of BRICS: one as the alliance of five emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and the other as a form of multilateral organization; and stressed that true BRICS cooperation involves collective action among all member countries, differentiating it from bilateral relationships. Regarding economic cooperation, Prof. Jiang noted that the bloc has made strides in trade and investment, particularly with the establishment of the New Development Bank. However, he cautioned that with more members, achieving consensus on economic policies within BRICS would become increasingly challenging, potentially leading to more bilateral than multilateral efforts.

Addressing the notion of a common currency for BRICS, Professor Jiang expressed skepticism, suggesting that while a payment system for bilateral trade might be feasible, it could prove complicated for multilateral trade among all BRICS members. Regarding political cooperation, he highlighted the need for BRICS to find its voice in global affairs and cautioned against becoming an anti-Western group. He encouraged meaningful people-to-people exchanges but emphasized that more significant efforts were necessary for mutual understanding. A larger BRICS with more members could become a more potent force for the Global South, he concluded.

Sudheendra Kulkarni began by expressing his hope for Pakistan’s inclusion in BRICS, emphasizing the importance of regional cooperation. He praised South Africa for its role in hosting a successful summit and stressed that BRICS had evolved into the most representative and democratic voice in the changing global order, and stressed that while BRICS is not an anti-Western organization, Western domination is waning, and there is a need to advocate for positive change and cooperation. The heart of the BRICS declaration, according to Kulkarni, focused on inclusive multilateralism and globalization, as the group expressed concern over unilateral coercive measures and called for reforms in the UN system, including the UN Security Council, to better reflect the current global landscape.

Kulkarni also highlighted BRICS’ commitment to promoting the use of local currencies, reducing reliance on the US dollar. He noted the “mutually accelerated growth” concept, emphasizing the aim of ensuring that no country or individual is left behind. Additionally, he endorsed the principle of “African solutions by Africa” and suggested extending this idea to Asia, emphasizing solidarity among Asian nations to address regional issues without external interference. Kulkarni concluded by envisioning a future where BRICS continues to expand and evolve while fostering cooperation with other multilateral organizations. He emphasized the need for a more democratic world order and unity among nations, regardless of their geographical location, in pursuit of a shared destiny.

Xu Qinduo emphasized that while the specific actions BRICS countries will take in the future are not yet clear, the potential for cooperation and growth within the group is significant, and BRICS could become a powerful platform for representing the interests of developing nations on the global stage. He highlighted two contrasting views regarding the significance of this expansion: one suggesting it may lack concrete achievements, while the other sees it as a potential catalyst for reshaping the global order. He noted that the interest of more than 40 developing nations in joining BRICS signifies a changing world, as developing countries prioritize economic growth and cooperation. Joining BRICS provides opportunities for cooperation with major economies like China and India, which can lead to increased trade and investment, he added.

The move towards using local currencies and reducing reliance on the US dollar was emphasized, along with the potential for regional currencies to play a more significant role in intra-BRICS trade. Qinduo discussed the challenges faced by developing countries due to unilateral sanctions and the abuse of the US dollar, making them increasingly eager to seek protection and alternatives. In terms of concrete actions, he mentioned the growth in bilateral trade, especially between China and Africa, as well as the potential for improved connectivity, including more direct flights between BRICS countries. He stressed that these developments could lead to more opportunities for countries to collaborate, develop their economies, and amplify their voices on the global stage.

Andrey Filippov, an expert in digital technologies and the digital economy, offered insights into the role of BRICS as a pivotal platform for the advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. He stressed that while AI is a transferable technology, the critical factor lies in the data sets used, with each country having its unique data collection and contextual nuances. Filippov pointed out that Western and non-Western AI experiments yield fundamentally different outcomes, making multilateral cooperation, facilitated by BRICS, essential for understanding and harmonizing these differences. He emphasized the pressing need for the establishment of ethical standards in AI and underscored the significance of a common language to articulate ethical concerns. Bridging the digital skills gap is vital, particularly in global South countries, to ensure that AI technologies can be effectively utilized, even for basic applications like image and voice recognition. Filippov also highlighted the potential of AI in addressing critical global challenges, such as climate change and healthcare.

He shed light on the transformative role of smart cities in the digital age, highlighting that collaboration at the municipal level is crucial. Mayors, he noted, possess substantial influence in driving technological innovation and economic growth, making city-level cooperation within BRICS nations a valuable avenue. Filippov advocated for the creation of digital platforms for cooperation within BRICS, emphasizing data sharing as a means to facilitate progress. He also mentioned blockchain technology as a potential solution for currency-related issues. Finally, he expressed Russia’s willingness to contribute its expertise in areas like quantum technologies and cybersecurity to bolster cooperation within BRICS.

Taís Bahia linked her research on public policy and education to the challenge of leadership, particularly within the context of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aligning with BRICS commitments. She stressed the need for effective leadership in providing coordinated responses to global crises, connecting this leadership gap to the realm of education. Specifically, she focused on SDGs 4 (Quality Education) and 5 (Gender Equality) within the BRICS framework. Bahia explained that BRICS has been fostering comprehensive and strategic cooperation rooted in mutual trust and respect, extending beyond economic interests to encompass cultural aspects. She highlighted the Chinese concept of “guanxi,” which emphasizes trust and social and political organization through interpersonal connections, as a driving force behind this cooperation, contributing not just to economic but also social development.

Bahia provided examples of BRICS cooperation in promoting gender equality, citing the BRICS Women’s Development Report, and highlighted initiatives in Brazil involving Chinese companies and other BRICS institutions in social programs aimed at disadvantaged communities. She stressed the importance of public and private stakeholders across BRICS nations continuing to collaborate, exchange information, and engage in dialogue to strengthen these relations, ultimately reducing economic barriers. Lastly, Bahia emphasized the need for international cooperation and knowledge sharing, and urged the need for discussions and initiatives that prioritize the development of future leaders, especially regarding issues related to multilateralism and gender equality, within the context of human development and fundamental rights.

The panel was followed by an interactive session with the audience. Abhishek G Bhayya of CGTN highlighted concerns about BRICS’ cohesiveness compared to the G7 and questioned the organization’s effectiveness in translating rhetoric into concrete actions. He pointed out that despite the pre-summit discussions about a common BRICS currency, this topic wasn’t addressed at the actual summit. Rafael Zerbetto’s of CICG emphasized the historical context of BRICS and its role in challenging the existing world order. He highlighted BRICS as a platform for developing countries to seek alternatives to the inequitable global system, noting that it is not aimed at targeting the West but represents a collective effort to pursue national and collective interests.

Concluding the discussion, CCG Fellow Zoon Ahmed emphasized the importance of focusing on positive collaboration within BRICS, and the need to avoid framing the bloc as simply anti-G-7 or centered around grievances. She also shed light on the evolving sentiment among developing countries, that are better poised to contribute to each other’s development and in collectively shaping global affairs. Summarizing the speakers interventions, she stressed the inevitability of change and the need for all countries, including those in the global north, to be part of this evolving global landscape.