“Opportunities go together with crisis”: The BRICS year of China – Key Priorities and Opportunities
Global superpower and supporter of multilateralism, China, has announced what it has proposed for its priorities as it resumes the rotating BRICS Presidency for 2022.
In a BRICS dialogue held on 27 January 2022 and hosted by the SABTT, Minister in the Embassy of the Peoples’ Republic of China in South Africa, Mr. Li Zhigang announced that China has “put forward specific cooperation ideas and received positive response from all parties.” The proposed design and ideas for the year ahead, according to Minister Li, would be to “foster high quality BRICS partnership, usher in a new era for global development.” He elaborated that a high-quality partnership would be one that is “comprehensive, closer and inclusive and practical partnership”, that would deepen BRICS cooperation and building mutual trust, strengthen communications on major international and regional issues, and that would deliver on outcomes of previous summits, and to actively engage in dialogue and cooperation with other emerging markets and developing countries, as well as international organisations.
This proposed theme continues to build on the priority areas from all the previous BRICS Presidencies and Summits that have been held since its formation 16 years ago.
“There is a need for strong and healthy cooperation between the governments of the BRICS countries in the new era,” said Minister Zhigang is his opening address to a virtual audience of fellow BRICS leaders, scholars, academics, activists and other stakeholders.
“Over the past 16 years, the joint efforts of the five BRICS countries have witnessed increasing political trust, deepening practical cooperation and closer people-to-people exchanges. BRICS cooperation has resulted in several groundbreaking results that have contributed to world economic growth, changes in the global governance system as well as international peace and stability. BRICS has become a force to be reckoned with on the international stage,” said Minister Zhigang.
Having held the rotating BRICS Presidency during 2011 and 2017, China begins its third BRICS Presidency in this, the third decade of the 21st Century, at a time when the world has seen significant changes, notwithstanding changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of priority for China during its Presidency, as emerged during the dialogue, are the following five key areas.
First is to address the Covid-19 pandemic in solidarity – a global issue which has become a threat not only to lives but also livelihoods. As the world works together to confront Covid, BRICS countries have intensified cooperation in vaccines, health and traditional medicine and have supplied over one billion does of vaccines to other countries.
“Our five countries help each other and actively work together to maintain security and stability for our industrial and supply chains. China and South African cooperation for example has maintained smooth trade channels. South Africa has made significant progress in exporting high-quality agro-products to China; the bilateral trade for example has reached over 54 billion US dollars in 2021, up over 50% year on year since 2015 which represents a new high for the two countries,” remarked the Minister.
China used the dialogue platform to announce that it plans to host a high-level meeting on traditional medicine and enhancing early detection systems in the fight against the pandemic.
The China Council for BRICs Think Tank Cooperation was represented by Dr Shen Yi from Fudan University who echoed the Minister’s sentiments on strengthening cooperation in countering the threat posed by the pandemic. Dr Shen highlighted the need for vaccines to be declared as a public good.
“China already aids countries in need through the delivery of necessary materials and technologies to counter the threat raised by the pandemic. It is important for us to maintain a positive perspective and outlook for this year’s BRICs cooperation to make a valuable contribution to positive transformation of global governance in this world full of uncertainty and challenges,” said Dr Shen.
The second priority for China is to work jointly to promote economic recovery, especially for emerging and developing countries which still nervously look at the ongoing and unravelling global economic climate. Minister Li said BRICs countries are working actively and tirelessly to deliver the Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership 2025.
“The New Development Bank has provided a total of 10 billion US dollars to member states in emergency loans. Last year, the Bank welcomed four new members including Egypt which has provided a new strategy, alternative and trajectory to maintain its financial stability,” said Minster Li.
The virus has accelerated the development of new technologies in the world, thus, taking advantage of and maximising the opportunities brought about by the digital era is China’s third priority during its Presidency.
“Opportunities go together with crisis, and we now see the problem of the north-south divide in terms of technology development become more prominent. BRICS countries have actively accelerated use of its innovation framework to strengthen partnerships in green energy, internet technology and exchange of know how amongst scientists and technology experts,” said Minister Li.
The BRICS Partnership on New Industrial Revolution Innovation Centre was launched in Xiamen in December 2021, to generate new development and momentum in technology, science, innovation and digital transformation.
Fourth, China will prioritise increased cooperation in climate change which has intensified in recent years and has highlighted the need to respect accords such as the Paris Agreement, both in letter and in spirit. The five BRICS countries remain in full support of the full implementation of the agreement with “common but differentiated responsibilities” as stated by Minister Li.
China’s fifth priority is to uphold multilateralism and address the challenge of unilateralism and accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to foster more balanced and sustainable development especially in the emerging and developing markets.
“The Arab Spring witnessed 10 years have endured like a long winter – unilateralism and hegemony have continued with those seeking to go their own way with exclusive circles or groups in the international system. On the other hand, BRICS countries continue to speak with one voice on issues related to international peace and development to promote a more just and reasonable order,” said Minister Li.
Given its experience in poverty alleviation and improving food security, China has also committed to providing the necessary resources in the framework of the BRICS countries to fighting poverty and food insecurity and increase its contribution for sustainable development.
The BRICS Think Tank Council has carried out a significant amount of work in strengthening the dialogue amongst the BRICS countries and promoting BRICS research and it is hoped that as South Africa prepares to take over the BRICS Presidency in 2023, that it will continue to align its commitment for Africa’s development goals with that of the BRICS.
South Africa joined the BRICS in 2010 which brought BRICS to the African continent. BRICS cooperation has since become more global, more representative and an important platform for developing countries.
“South Africa is an important partner, participant, contributor and beneficiary as well – an important bridge and leader for BRICS cooperation with Africa. South Africa has hosted the BRICS Summit twice since it joined and has launched a series of initiatives such as the partnership between BRICS and Africa to achieve development, industrialisation as well efforts to seek inclusive growth and common prosperity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). As the only African member of BRICS, South Africa has long been committed to aligning the BRICS agenda with Africa’s development goals, and we believe South Africa will play a greater role in helping Africa achieve peace and development in this time of tumultuousness,” said Minister Li.
The initiatives have been commended by all sides. Since Covid-19 started, BRICS partners have provided large amounts of response supplies to South Africa, including sharing response experience with regards to prevention and control. The New Development Bank has provided in total two billion US dollars in loans to South Africa to fightCovid-19 and provide humanitarian assistance.
China’s proposed key areas have been met with support and positive responses by its fellow member states since it kickstarted its Presidency on the 1st of January 2022 and presented its proposals at the first Sherpas Meeting held on the 19th of January 2022. Minster Li noted that with the support of all BRICS members, China looks forward to building on the gains that have been made from previous years in opening a brighter future for BRICS’ common development.