Published: 21:38, August 24, 2023 | Updated: 11:41, August 25, 2023
BRICS and the continuing rise of the Global South
By Lau Siu-kai

The 15th meeting of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) leaders has drawn to a successful conclusion in Johannesburg, South Africa, having aroused great attention from countries around the world, including, for the first time, Western nations.

This meeting and its subsequent developments mark the continuing rise of the Global South, and is bound to have a wide-ranging impact on the world situation and international relations. It also reflects the decline of the Western camp’s global dominance.

Following this meeting, the number of BRICS countries will increase, and more and more developing countries will be keen to join this platform, which facilitates communication and cooperation among countries in the Global South.

BRICS countries will also become more representative of the Global South, giving developing countries greater capability to bargain with and counter the West. The fields of cooperation between BRICS countries will also expand. In addition to trade, infrastructure, transportation, and communications, their collaboration in finance, technology, culture, environmental protection, interpersonal relations, security, and global governance will also keep strengthening.

As BRIC countries increase, their share of the world’s population and gross world product will also surpass the West’s. More importantly, BRICS countries have a predominant position in the supply of energy and strategic materials, significantly impacting Western countries’ economic development and national security.

READ MORE: Xi calls for speedy BRICS expansion

Of course, because of the significant differences in their political, economic, social, and cultural situations, as well as their varying GDP, their different ties with the Western countries, and their various values and beliefs, they cannot form a united and solid political and economic bloc.

The US and Western countries were globalization’s most prominent advocates, promoters, and driving forces in the past. However, today, the elites in the West are increasingly resistant to globalization and even believe it is unsuitable for their countries

However, BRICS countries can still reshape the world situation and international relations through multifield cooperation, especially in promoting the reform of the US-led global order and building a new global order that is equal, reasonable, reciprocal, inclusive, and superior.

An essential commonality of BRICS countries is that historically, they have all been exploited by Western imperialism, colonialism, racism, and capitalism. After World War II, most of the former colonies of Western countries became independent.

Still, Western countries have promoted various complex international organizations and agreements, trade and financial rules, cultural infiltration, political bullying, and an unfair international order to continue to exploit and suppress them in a neocolonialist manner. This has seriously hindered the development of many countries in the Global South. Naturally, BRICS countries are highly dissatisfied with the current so-called “liberal international order” dominated by the US and the West and do not think it is legitimate and acceptable.

Anthea Roberts and Nicolas Lamp, in Six Faces of Globalization, argue that “the longest-standing narrative (of globalization) from outside the West, the neocolonial narrative, maintains that Western countries fashioned the rules of economic globalization to suit the interests of their citizens and the transnational capitalist class at the expense of developing countries. According to this narrative, the developed countries have used international law and international institutions to perpetuate the quasi-colonial domination of developing countries in the spheres of international trade, investment, and finance”.

Tim Murithi, from the United Nations Institute for Training and Research, asserts that the current global order, dominated by a few powerful countries that define peace and security as imposing their will on others, is now at an inflection point. More and more African countries and elsewhere in the Global South are refusing to align with the West or the East, declining to defend the so-called liberal order and are seeking to upend it as Russia and China have.

The American diplomat, academic and author Philip Zelikow maintains that “the existing world order, which aspired to build a global commonwealth, had already failed.” He suggests that “practical problem-solving is the best, most unifying organizing principle for the fourth world order system. It’s convenient to perceive the world as apportioned into democracies and autocracies but also self-regarding and divisive. People are likelier to come together around problems that command wide interest and embrace corrective actions that require wide participation”.

The similar historical backgrounds of BRICS countries, their common situation today, and their non-affiliation with the West have prompted them to strengthen cooperation in revamping the international order dominated by the US. The influence of the increasing number of BRICS countries in international organizations such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the G20 will enable them to overcome resistance to reform these bodies in the direction of fairness, win-win and “anti-hegemonism” on the part of the US and Western countries.

In the short term, it is difficult to expect the US and Western countries to gladly agree to reform the international organizations and international rules they dominate. However, BRICS countries can still build a system among themselves that is different from the international order crafted and dominated by the US.

With the increase in the number of BRICS countries, this international order dominated by the countries of the Global South will ultimately become the primary international order in the world. The size of the international order dominated by the US and the West will continue to shrink. Some of its member states will strive to join this new international order led by the Global South out of self-interest. Consequently, this new international order can continue to expand and gradually replace the international order dominated by the US and the West.

Today, most observers agree that protectionism, unilateralism, populism, trade wars, technological wars, financial wars, geopolitical tensions, major power rivalry between China and the US, and various forms of decoupling are rising. Globalization has ebbed, and deglobalization, anti-globalization, and regionalization are surging.

In a sense, regionalization is also a species of globalization, but only in a specific region. The number of regional economic cooperation agreements worldwide is increasing and has spread across five continents. However, they are still a symbol of the economic divisions of the world today and are not auspicious for global development and the well-being of humankind.

The US and Western countries were globalization’s most prominent advocates, promoters, and driving forces in the past. However, today, the elites in the West are increasingly resistant to globalization and even believe it is unsuitable for their countries.

On the other hand, China and many countries in the Global South still think that globalization is in the interest of all human beings. In the years ahead, China and BRICS countries will build more organizations, mechanisms, and platforms to promote re-globalization. The re-globalization led by the Global South will not replicate the hegemony and injustice of the globalization of the US and the West but will be a highly fair, reasonable, reciprocal, and inclusive globalization. As the largest developing country, China will be the vanguard in promoting re-globalization.

Although the main purpose of President Xi Jinping’s speech at the 15th BRICS Summit was to describe the ambitions and work of the five BRICS countries, it also clearly laid out the purpose and direction of re-globalization.

He emphasized: “BRICS countries are important in shaping the international pattern. We independently choose the development path, jointly defend the right to development, and move towards modernization together, which represents the direction of human society and will profoundly affect the development process of the world. Looking back on history, we have always adhered to the BRICS spirit of openness, inclusiveness, and win-win cooperation; we will continue to promote BRICS cooperation to a new level and help develop the five countries. We will always uphold international fairness and justice, justice on major international and regional issues, and elevate the status of emerging markets and developing countries regarding discourse power and influence. BRICS countries have always been advocates and practitioners of independent foreign policy. On major international issues, they insist on proceeding from the right and wrong of things, speaking fair words, fairly doing business, and not trade principles. We do not yield to external pressure and do not become vassals of other countries. … The BRICS cooperation is critical to inheriting the past and ushering in the future. We must grasp the general trend, lead the direction, stick to the original intention of self-improvement through unity, strengthen cooperation in various fields, promote high-quality partnerships, promote the reform of global governance in a more just and reasonable direction, and inject more certainty, stability, and positive energy into the world.”

With its substantial political, military, ideological, and media advantages, the West enjoys considerable ability to formulate the global public agenda. The US and the West hope other countries will recognize and support the issues they care about and consider important. However, with the passage of time and the rise of the Global South, developing countries will assert their autonomy. They will not casually follow the public agenda the US and the West formulate. Today, the US and the West regard democracy versus autocracy, the Russia-Ukraine war, containing China, and NATO’s Asianization as critical issues, but countries in the Global South do not think so. Many countries in the Global South believe those issues pertain to the hegemony and interests of the West, but they are not the major concerns of developing countries. Countries in the Global South are gripped by issues of development, poverty, food, energy, health, climate change, and peace, and they even believe that unfair and unreasonable policies and institutions of the Western countries have exacerbated and amplified those issues. Therefore, they refuse to join the US and the West in imposing sanctions on Russia. Instead, they demand that the US and the West negotiate with Russia as soon as possible to restore European peace and order. Similarly, they do not regard China as threatening world peace and international order. Instead, they encourage China to play a more significant role in international affairs, end the global hegemony of the US and the West, and play a leading role in constructing a new international order. As the number of BRICS countries increases, the concerns of countries in the Global South will increasingly become essential issues on an authentic “global public agenda”. To compete with China for the goodwill of countries in the Global South, we can expect the West to pay more attention to the concerns of developing countries, thus allowing the emergence of a veritable global public agenda.

READ MORE: Xi: BRICS expansion historic, new start for cooperation

All in all, the continuous expansion of the number of BRICS countries, the constant addition of new cooperation fields, and the steady rise of the global influence and discourse power of BRICS countries not only mark the further advancement of the Global South but also presage the complete reshaping of the world situation and international relations in the future.

The author is professor emeritus of Sociology, the Chinese University of Hong Kong andConsultant, Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.