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The Xiamen Summit: A Broad, Concrete and Normative Success

Alissa Wang, BRICS Research Group
September 5, 2017

On 3-5 September 2017, BRICS leaders met in Xiamen, China for their ninth stand-alone annual leader's summit. They issued the Xiamen Declaration in addition to other key documents, including the BRICS action agenda on economic and trade cooperation, the BRICS action plan for innovation cooperation (2017-2020), the Strategic framework of BRICS customs cooperation, and the memorandum of understanding between the BRICS Business Council and the New Development Bank on Strategic Cooperation. The Xiamen Declaration itself was detailed and comprehensive, featuring the four main themes of practical economic cooperation, global economic governance, international peace and security, and people-to-people exchanges. The leaders made solid progress on the traditional BRICS economic agenda on macroeconomic cooperation, trade and investment facilitation, voice and vote reform in IFIs, anti-corruption, innovation, development, and the digital economy. Among this broad overall success, several concrete and normative achievements stand out on trade, climate change, peace and security, and terrorism, and human rights.

First, BRICS countries issued a strong and clear statement in support of an open and interconnected world economy.  In stark contrast to the weak statement against protectionism and "unfair trade practices" at the recent G20 Hamburg Summit, the BRICS presented a united voice "against inward looking policies and tendencies," continued to "firmly oppose protectionism" and recommitted to existing pledges for both standstill and rollback of protectionist measures.

Second, carrying forward the united BRICS spirit from their sideline summit at the Hamburg Summit, the leaders reiterated their support for the Paris Agreement on climate change. They called on all countries to fully implement the agreement. They also introduced specific, concrete actions for green and sustainable development and a low carbon economy. For example, they agreed to "take concrete actions to advance result-oriented cooperation in such areas a prevention of air and water pollution, waste management and biodiversity conservation."

Third, BRICS leaders issued an extensive and comprehensive statement on international peace and security. In terms of breadth, the BRICS covered an unusually wide array of regional security issues in Syria, Israel-Palestine, Iraq, Yemen, the Gulf, Iran, the DRC, South Sudan, Somalia, Central African Republic, Western Sahara region, the DPRK and Afghanistan.

Within this discussion of international peace and security, achievements on terrorism stand out. The BRICS for the first time listed the names of specific terrorist organizations: the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al-Qaida and its affiliates including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Fourth, and most notable, is the strong and positive language used by BRICS leaders about the fundamental international norm of human rights, which underlies all solutions to international peace and security issues. The BRICS for the first time offered their own definition of human rights, taking into account the perspective of developing countries. They stated, "we agree to continue to treat all human rights, including the right to development, in a fair and equal manner, on the same footing and with the same emphasis. We will strengthen cooperation on issues of common interests both within BRICS and in multilateral fora including the United Nations Human Rights Council, taking into account the necessity to promote, protect and fulfill human rights in a non-selective, non-politicized and constructive manner, and without double standards." This statement reflects both the BRICS willingness to work with developed Western nations in upholding this fundamental international norm, while also proactively voicing their critique of the political nature and hypocrisy associated with the norm in the recent past. This signifies the potential in a more constructive and proactive BRICS' role in upholding international norms in a more just and equal manner for all.

The Xiamen Summit, in addition to making concrete progress on traditional economic and development issues, was more importantly a normative success. The final declaration made clear the BRICS's position on a broad range of international issues, in the economic sphere and beyond. The leaders were assertive in offering a unique BRICS perspective on international issues and norms. Outstanding achievements came in upholding free and open trade, enthusiastically promoting climate change, standing firmly against terrorism, and most importantly, voicing strong support for a more just and equal application of the international norm of human rights. The summit thus foreshadows a more significant and expansive leadership role that BRICS countries will potentially play in the global economy and in global governance more broadly.

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Alissa Wang
Alissa Wang is the chair of summit studies for the BRICS Research Group, and a research assistant at the G7 and G8 Research Group, the G20 Research Group, and the Global Health Diplomacy Program, based at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Trinity College at the University of Toronto. She studied international relations, global health and political science as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, and is currently pursuing a JD/PhD at the Faculty of Law and Department of Political Science. She is an editor for the reports produced by the G20 Research Group summit studies team, an analyst for the G7 Research Group summit studies team, and works on compliance research. Alissa is interested in Chinese history and politics as well as China's role in global governance. She was a member of the field team at the G7 Elmau Summit in Germany in 2015, the G7 Ise Shima Summit in Japan in 2016, the G20 Hangzhou Summit in China in 2016 and the G20 Hamburg Summit in Germany in 2017.

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