Both G7 and BRICS lack the dominance to resurrect grand rivalries of Cold War power politics
- Back-to-back recent summits – one involving the US and its friends in the rich West, another featuring China and other emerging powers – have stoked talk of bloc-based confrontation
- In reality, a united front is an illusion for groupings like the EU, while emerging powers seeking a bigger say in the international system don’t wish to confront the US
Xi was joined virtually by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Facing a barrage of Western sanctions following his invasion of Ukraine, Putin welcomed the high-profile event as an opportunity to rally support from fellow emerging powers.
On the surface, the BRICS and G7 groupings seem to represent rival power blocs amid the intensifying Sino-US cold war. On closer examination, however, it’s clear that many emerging powers simply seek a bigger say in the international system rather than confrontation with Washington.
Meanwhile, many in the West are divided on how best to deal with newly risen powers, especially China, given the absence of direct geopolitical conflict and the depth of bilateral economic relations.
The global geopolitical landscape has undergone a fundamental change in the past two decades. On one hand, a number of populous, fast-growing nations have chipped away at Western dominance of the international system. Emerging powers have almost doubled their share of global gross domestic product, thanks to the doubling of average growth rates (from 3.6 per cent to 7.2 per cent) in recent decades.
In 2001, Jim O’Neill, then chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, published an influential report, “Building Better Global Economic BRICs”, which examined how the rise of Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) was transforming the 21st-century global system.
During the BRICS summit last month, Xi invited more than a dozen like-minded nations to BRICS-related initiatives and pledged to back the multibillion-dollar South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund as part of broader efforts to institutionalise cooperation among the emerging powers.
While welcoming the emergence of new powers such as Brazil and India, the West is pushing back against Russia and China.
There are, however, three reasons to be sceptical about the emergence of Cold-War-style rival power blocs. First, the case of India is the most potent evidence of how national interest trumps intra-bloc solidarity.
Second, the West itself is divided over dealing with rival powers. Though the European Union has been relatively successful in mobilising punitive measures against Russia, notwithstanding resistance from Moscow-friendly member states, it has struggled to come up with a common position on China.
Among the BRICS nations, only China is a true rival to the West. Brazil and South Africa have been grappling with economic decline, while India has broadly welcomed warm strategic ties with the West. As for Russia, it has been relegated to the league of rogue states.
In short, none of these blocs are as dominant or consequential as they project themselves to be. Down the road, cooperation among both status quo and emerging powers is indispensable to addressing global challenges such as climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic and infrastructure development.
Richard Heydarian is a Manila-based academic and author of “Asia’s New Battlefield: US, China and the Struggle for Western Pacific” and the forthcoming “Duterte’s Rise”