University of Toronto
BRICS flags
BRICS Information Centre

China's BRICS Leadership at Johannesburg

Ian Stansbury, BRICS Research Group
August 5, 2018

On July 25 to 27, 2018, the 10th annual BRICS summit was held in Johannesburg, South Africa, chaired by President Cyril Ramaphosa. The theme of this year's summit, "BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution," outlined the shared goal of BRICS leaders to work toward broader cooperation in economically rooted areas of focus such as development, trade and macroeconomics.

China, the BRICS economic powerhouse, is no stranger to international collaboration in economic sectors, demonstrated by massive investments into African states and their progress on its Belt and Road Initiative in the past several years. China came to this year's summit with clear goals on increasing economic cooperation, both bilaterally and multilaterally with BRICS states. The largest trading partner of every other BRICS state, China holds the leverage to make or break the BRICS as a whole. However, now more than ever, China has several reasons to form tighter bonds with Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa, as the world continues to shift once again into a state of East versus West.

The escalating trade war between China and the United States, which is the economic powerhouse of the G7, reveals two starkly contrasted strategies for achieving global influence. The United States in the West continues to wreak economic havoc on its allies in the European Union, the North American Free Trade Agreement and G7 itself, with its "America first" mindset. China in the East continues to do the opposite, strengthening multilateral ties both within the BRICS bloc and within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

The current trends in both economic and political influence show a fading West and a rising East, with some analysts such as Jim O'Neill, former chief economist of Goldman Sachs, predicting that the combined gross domestic product of the BRICS could potentially overtake that of the G7 bloc by 2035.

With this in mind, Chinese president Xi Jinping's declaration of the start of the "second Golden Decade of BRICS cooperation" during his opening statement at the BRICS Business Forum on July 25, 2018, is no understatement. Through the implementation of "win-win cooperation," in contrast to this year's conflict-ridden G7 summit held in Charlevoix, Canada, China and the BRICS bloc as a whole seek to step into the shoes of a leading global mechanism in a quickly transforming world order. Xi made it clear in his remarks that the only successful way for the BRICS to continue progressing forward is through openness and cooperation, rather than the infighting seen recently in the G7.

Arguably, the BRICS has never been about swift changes or the pursuit of short-term individual interests, but rather has proven the effectiveness of steady, long-term growth and change. In this sense, the BRICS members, particularly China, have come to realize that growth at the detriment of other economic allies will undoubtedly fail over the long term. Only through strong multilateral ties, based on win-win cooperation in which allies do not turn their backs on each other through difficult times, can a truly strong international mechanism lead their countries, and the world, to a better future. China, through international mechanisms such as the BRICS and the SCO, now truly holds the potential, ability and mindset to lead the world into the future.

[back to top]

Ian Stansbury
Ian Stansbury is the China country specialist for the BRICS Research Group, a compliance director for the G7 Research Group and a lead analyst for the G20 Research Group. He recently graduated from University of Toronto with an undergraduate degree in political science, and is pursuing further education in Beijing, China. Ian is interested in international relations and Chinese politics and culture, as well as China's current and future role on the international stage. He was a member of the field team for the BRICS summit in Johannesburg in 2018.

[back to top]