Information Bulletin of the BRICS Trade Union Forum
Issue 20.2021
2021.05.17 — 2021.05.23
International relations
Foreign policy in the context of BRICS
What's the Purpose of India's Military Base in Mauritius? (Какова цель индийской военной базы на Маврикии?) / Russia, May, 2021
Keywords: expert_opinion, political_issues

The Mauritian government confirmed in a press release on 18 May that India is fully financing a new three-kilometer-long runway on the island of North Agalega where New Delhi has had a military base since 2015. Observers reported these construction efforts a few months ago, speculating on India's strategic intentions. These include Australia's prestigious Lowy Institute, which wrote in March that "India regards the new base to be essential for facilitating both air and surface maritime patrols in the south-west Indian Ocean, and as an intelligence outpost." They additionally noted that "Agalega will also facilitate maritime patrols over the Mozambique Channel – now a popular passage for large commercial ships, particularly oil tankers."

That point is particularly important in light of the "Mozambique News Reports & Clippings" expert-level newsletter's 16 May publication. Editor Joseph Hanlon mostly focused on the possibility of France expanding its security presence in northern Mozambique in order to protect national champion Total's offshore energy investments there from growing insurgent threats. Of relevance, however, was his prediction that "It seems likely that Total and France will demand that the French navy take control of the Cabo Delgado coastal waters and the gas area to get the terror listing lifted quickly, and maintain control for some years to come. But it would be possible to carry out joint patrols with the Mozambican, South Africa and Indian navies."

Expanding Hard Power Footprint

Putting two and two together, namely India's existing patrols with France and South Africa in the Mozambique Channel as well as the ongoing expansion of its base in North Agalega island, there's a possibility that Hanlon's prediction might come true. India might indeed seriously consider participating in a multilateral maritime mission connected to France's prospective security plans in northern Mozambique. It should be remembered that the insurgency there, which American officials recently connected to ISIS, has been growing for the past few years. India might therefore have timed its base expansion plans to coincide with this possible mission. It could also just be a convenient coincidence too, which is admittedly possible.v

In any case, India's North Agalega base will certainly see some relevant military use in one way or another since it probably isn't solely for prestige. The Lowy Institute's report claimed that "this facility in Mauritius will provide an important staging point for India's new P8I fleet, which recently conducted its first joint patrol with France from nearby Réunion." Combined with the earlier cited observation about India's role in the Mozambique Channel, they assert that "The staging point will also allow the Indian Navy to observe shipping routes around Southern Africa, which now account for a significant portion of China's energy imports. The island will also presumably provide a useful location for communications and electronic intelligence facilities."

In other words, this facility is likely intended to function as a crucial node in India's activities throughout the southwestern corner of its eponymous ocean as well as facilitate intelligence collection activities across East Africa. Not only might it play a supportive role in any French military scenario in northern Mozambique, but it also has the purpose of monitoring China's naval activity in this broader region. In addition, the speculation about its role in India's regional intelligence efforts suggests that New Delhi might double down on its espionage activities in that part of Africa, once again presumably on account of a desire to keep tabs on China where Beijing's footprint is growing due to the expansion of its Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) projects.

Issues of Economic Competition

Along that line of thought, it should be mentioned that India had earlier debuted the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor (AAGC) in joint partnership with Japan in 2016. This vague series of mostly soft infrastructure projects was interpreted by many as an attempt to fill a development niche that China was regarded by some critical observers as being hitherto neglected. It never really got off the ground, though, and China has since expanded the scope of its BRI projects to address the perceived shortcomings that the Quad members, India and Japan, had sought to take advantage of to serve as their entry points into the African infrastructure race. Nevertheless, given the reported scaling back of some BRI projects, the AAGC might try to make a comeback.

That is not to say that it's guaranteed to succeed but just that it's possible that India might attempt to leverage its presumably bolstered regional intelligence capabilities via its newly expanded base in North Agalega island to that end. Such a strategy would be sensible enough, considering that its rivalry with China was growing in recent years in spite of February's synchronized disengagement along their contentious frontier. As India tends to seek multilateral solutions to its international challenges, it might very well aspire to synergize these efforts with France, the U.S., and perhaps even the UAE with whom the nation has recently grown much closer and which is a rising force in Africa—especially, in the Horn of Africa.

With this insight in mind, it can be said that India's base in North Agalega is meant to function as a springboard for more robust regional engagement in the coming years, both of hard and soft nature. The former refers to the country's desire to keep tabs on Chinese naval activity in the southwestern corner of the Indian Ocean as well as possibly participate in multilateral maritime operations there, be it an anti-piracy/terrorist operation or simply a disaster relief. The latter refers to India's allegedly bolstered regional intelligence collection efforts that could be leveraged for the purpose of gaining a competitive edge for the AAGC vis-a-vis BRI in some respects.

Seeking Solutions to Bilateral Issues

Besides, one should not forget that India's fellow BRICS member South Africa is located in relative proximity to New Delhi's Mauritian base. The country's current government is believed to be closer to the U.S. than under former President Zuma. India, too, has been moving closer to the U.S., especially through the Quad framework. It is therefore possible that India might seek to involve South Africa at least in the economic dimension of its prospective regional outreach strategy—not just for pragmatism's sake but also to deflect from criticism that its presumed intentions vis-a-vis China are against the multipolar spirit supposed to be embodied by BRICS.

There is also the chance, however remote it may seem at the moment, that India and China enter into a grand rapprochement with one another, which results in them synergizing their economic activities in East Africa. This would naturally be the best-case scenario that could lead to multilaterally beneficial outcomes for all regional stakeholders. India and China could jointly assist Africa's ascent across the 21st century, ideally through trilateral projects instead of competition between China's BRI and the Indo-Japanese AAGC. Of course, such competition might also result in positive outcomes for the region, but it might eventually shift from "friendly" to "unfriendly" in the future, with unpredictable consequences.

By all accounts, India's Mauritian military base on the island of North Agalega appears to be first and foremost premised on monitoring Chinese activity in the region. It is probably meant to facilitate more robust intelligence collection efforts as well, which could be leveraged to obtain competitive advantages for its AAGC projects in the region. The most likely scenario is that India teams up with its new American, Emirati and French partners to bolster its joint economic outreaches with Japan. South Africa might jump on board too, not only because it has a clear interest in doing so within its "sphere of influence" but also to deflect from potentially forthcoming criticism that India is advancing strategic interests of the West in East Africa.

Russia, China to continue efforts towards Middle East settlement, says Moscow (Россия и Китай продолжат усилия по ближневосточному урегулированию, заявили в Москве) / Russia, May, 2021
Keywords: political_issues, quotation

The Russian and Chinese diplomats hailed the ceasefire agreements reached between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip on the night of May 21

MOSCOW, May 21. /TASS/. Moscow and Beijing will continue to bolster their efforts towards the Palestinian-Israeli settlement, the Russian foreign ministry said on Friday after telephone talks between Russian president's special envoy for the Middle East and African countries and Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and Special Envoy of the Chinese Government on the Middle East Issue Zhai Jun.

"The sides reiterated Moscow's and Beijing's commitment to further efforts towards the Middle East settlement, including in the format of bilateral coordination and within the BRICS," the ministry said.

According to the ministry, the Russian and Chinese diplomats hailed the ceasefire agreements reached between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip on the night of May 21. "The sides expressed the hope that the ceasefire will be observed and will have a lasting character to create conditions for settling humanitarian problems and restoring damaged infrastructure. The diplomats stressed the importance of the launch of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiating process as soon as possible, geared to find solutions to all aspects of the final status in line with the United Nations Security Council resolutions," it said, adding that the call was held by prior arrangement.
The BRICS Bloc: A Pound-for-Pound Challenger to Western Dominance (Блок БРИКС: равноправный претендент на господство Запада?) / India, May, 2021
Keywords: expert_opinion, political_issues

This content was originally written for an undergraduate or Master's program. It is published as part of our mission to showcase peer-leading papers written by students during their studies. This work can be used for background reading and research, but should not be cited as an expert source or used in place of scholarly articles/books.

The BRICS bloc materialized from a desired transition towards multipolarity, often becoming the subject of debate on the future of international politics, as experts attempt to determine whether BRICS is the real deal or a global flash in the pan. First coined by Goldman Sachs economists Jim O'Neill and Roopa Purushothaman in 2001, and bolstered by the addition of South Africa in December 2010, the 'BRICS' union has showcased promising cooperation and institutionalization in the global political economy, stirring a sense of alarm among the Western world. Backed by their respective economic advancement and the rise of China as an emerging superpower in the economic, military, technological, and diplomatic domain, the BRICS of recent years looks set to expand on their current spheres of regional influence to global heights. Their association, consolidated by strong criticism of Western institutions, looks to recalibrate the American-led, post-Second World War liberal world order. The following analysis looks to examine the current potential of BRICS as a legitimate challenger to Western dominance of the international system. This comprises discussions on their initiatives, capabilities, and potential hurdles they need to collectively surpass to become a genuine contender to the West in the international system.

Conceiving BRICS

The BRICS association comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, making up a composition of emerging economic powers and political influencers. Collectively, these nations constitute 40% of the world's population, along with encompassing 20% of its gross domestic product (GDP) (Lieber, 2014). Following the acknowledgment of these rising powers in 2001, Goldman Sachs produced a subsequent paper on the potential of BRIC, highlighting how this band of emerging economies would surpass the G-7 nations in economic metrics by 2050 (Wansleban, 2013). Originally, the term 'BRIC' was meant to specifically denote their prospective economic capabilities and were highly regarded as the heirs to the global economy. 'BRICS' soon took the name we know of today following the incorporation of South Africa and would attempt to take critical steps in projecting itself as the diplomatic and political representative of the non-Western, Global South bloc.

A primary catalyst for the formal cooperation between the BRICS nations would the 2008 Financial Crisis, which was instigated by American mismanagement of its domestic financial system and prompted discussions on the fragility of a 'dollar hegemony' monetary system and the unbalanced world order. This was substantiated with the weariness of America's foreign policy and primacy, alongside their resort to violence to protect the American-led world order, having undergone prolonged war campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. With the United States pursuing a policy of unilateralism through the advent of the Bush Doctrine in 2003, BRICS and fellow developing nations would have felt particularly threatened by America's willingness to use force against states who impeded their interests. Even if BRICS themselves were not directly subject to these threats that the Bush Administration expressed, it has cultivated a sense of mistrust towards American policies and ideals, with nations like the BRICS desiring strategies to protect their developmental interests. This was exemplified with Brazil's concern regarding America's Plan Columbia in 2009, which wanted a guarantee that the military bases established for their Columbian operations were not for potential regional military interventions (Laïdi, 2012).

Following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, BRICS financial ministers convened a month later, determining that it was an opportunity to alter the disproportions in international economic governance and call for the revision of multilateral institutions. All of this culminated in the Russian-based pioneer BRICS summit held in June 2009, actualizing the 'BRICS' concept and establishing a foundation that challenges the current financial and economic system. As noted by Jash (2017), BRICS has its visionary roots in emphasizing in underlining economic issues from the perspective of the Global South, but the BRICS scheme has expanded to further discussions on pressing global issues such as security and peace. Arguably, the benchmark for BRICS being able to challenge the Western-dominated system is if BRICS can play a primary role in alleviating what Annan (2009) coined as "problem without passports", such as climate change and disarmament. With this in mind, the diversification of BRICS has opened up its potential as an alternative institutional framework in the international order and offers a mechanism for developing Global South nations to truly express their concerns.

Mounting a Challenge

Substantiating the consolidation of their union would be the creation of the New Development Bank (NDB), which provided an institutional basis for the relationship between BRICS nations. As per Schuman (2014), the primary objective of the NDB was to put forth institutions that would complement, and eventually supersede, the networks currently administered by America and Europe. Cooper & Farooq (2015) highlights how BRICS sought to boost infrastructure development, and this concept was translated into the announcement of the NDB at the 6th BRICS Summit in 2014. An initial fund of USD 50 billion was established, with each BRICS member state having an equal stake. Additionally, BRICS also arranged for the creation of a currency reserve agreement (BRICS CRA), amounting to USD 100 billion for use in any potential financial crisis. While the BRICS is positioned to stabilize faltering economies in the context of BRICS economic interests, the NDB has its intentions set on supporting developing nations in their growth, and in turn, latch itself on the newly-establish BRICS system. Crucially, the initiation of new financial institutions has been a major step in a BRICS attempt to challenging the Western world, posing an explicit challenge to its financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (Watson, Younis & Spratt, 2013).

With the conception of the New Development Bank, BRICS can make their mark on the international system by filling the gaps in global development and cultivating 'South-South' cooperation. As expressed by Khanna (2014), the infrastructural development of recent times has constantly surpassed the spending figures of military expenditure, highlighting the growing need and importance of development finance. In this regard, BRICS has presented an enticing alternative to developing nations through the provision of foreign direct investment, trade and development finance, cultivating a sense of self-reliance among the Global South, which is a critical step in the BRICS venture of restructuring the world order.

What makes the BRICS' New Development Bank feasibly enticing to potential beneficiaries and developing nations is how they differentiate themselves from the IMF and World Bank. As mentioned before, the member nations had an equal stake, which amounted to 1/5 of the NDB itself, showcasing an image of true collaboration and equal decision-making. Because of this, BRICS has shown its willingness to be more inclusive than the West-led financial institutions, where the hierarchy arguably caters primarily to the developed world first. Additionally, the NDB is known for practicing non-interference as an institution, unlike the Bretton Woods institutions, meaning they are not interested in the domestic functions of grantee nations, but rather the validity of what their grant funds would be used for (Abdenur & Folly, 2015). Sidiropoulos et al (2018) discusses how NDB-financed projects comply with the grantee's national frameworks and institutions when disseminating aid, as opposed to conventional multilateral development banks (MDBs) who attempt to impose their financial administration. For instance, the NDB is willing to extend loans in the grantee nation's local currency, whereas other established MDBs look to provide loans in US dollars, which poses a significant exchange rate risk for these developing nations. Furthermore, the NDB has taken steps to advance sustainable development and is deemed a priority area. By leading initiatives that are critical for furthering human progress, the NDB looks set to dominate a new market of the future, which is already displaying steady growth (Morozkina, 2015).

In addition to the development of their financial institutions, international crude oil trading and its predominant exclusivity on the US dollar have been threatened by the adoption of the Chinese yuan in future oil contracts. This highlights the determination of China and BRICS to dethrone the West in international finance and diminish their dependence on the dollar. China's establishment of the 'petro-yuan', Asia's pioneer crude oil benchmark, looks set to challenge oil commodity markets that are currently dominated by the West (Mathews & Selden, 2018). Through this 'petro-yuan', the Chinese introduction of the yuan into global oil contract negotiations, China and BRICS could potentially internationalize a currency that differs from the West and takes away a portion of our financial dependency on the dollar. Additionally, Salameh (2018) observes how the introduction of the 'petro-yuan' reduces the strain of U.S. sanctions on its fellow BRICS member, Russia, Russia has been making swift attempts to minimize its dependence on the petro-dollar and has turned to the yuan for its Chinese oil exports, following U.S. sanctions on Rosneft and other Russian oil groups (Cho & Kumon, 2018). Essentially, the petro-yuan provides an alternative route for significant oil exporters to circumvent the petro-dollar structure.

Through the NBD, BRICS has made strides in the international development sector of the Global South, demonstrating the initiative to use their wealth to progress the Global South and increase their influence in new avenues. The most prominent example of this would be the establishment of the Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an initiative that looks to amplify global connectivity. While scholars such as Johnston (2018) deem the BRI as a Chinese foreign policy that looks to establish the foundations of Chinese global primacy, the BRI also has the makings of a mechanism that would empower the Global South and cultivate increased intra-BRICS cooperation. Inspired by the ancient Silk Road that connected the Far East with Europe, the Middle East, and East Africa, the BRI aims to construct infrastructural and trade networks by leveraging BRICS's collective global trade routes, commerce hubs, and ports (Lu, Hafner & Knack, 2018). By initiating crucial collaborations within the Global South, BRICS looks set to alleviate the infrastructural and developmental gap in least-developed countries (LDCs) and displace the benefactor status that Western nations have cultivated ever since the end of WWII (Thakur, 2014). Furthermore, the facilitation of South-South cooperation attempts to create self-reliance and economic independence, which would draw consumers and beneficiaries away from the West and weaken their power base.

While China has structured its international development assistance (IDA) in the form of the Belt and Road Initiative, India has supplemented the BRICS IDA efforts through a series of grants, direct investments, and technical coordination (Chaturvedi & Mulakala, 2016). Being a regional powerhouse, India has concentrated its developmental aid within its sphere of influence, with Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives being its main recipients. Interestingly, BRICS seems to have recognized the Western world's developmental neglect for Africa and looks to direct their developmental efforts there. The Belt and Road Initiative has placed significant investments towards strategically-positioned African nations, and China has sought to gain access to Djibouti's port facilities through the funding of vast infrastructure projects such as the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway (Tovar, 2019). China also holds its annual Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), while India expanded on this with their India-Africa Forum Summit. As commented by (Abdenur, 2014), the establishment of key African relationships showcases a desire to delve into untapped and untended territory in a bid to close the gap between Western dominance. This was reflected by the action to bring South Africa into the 'BRIC' bloc, displaying their strong interests in Africa, and saw South Africa as the 'gateway' to Africa (Kahn, 2011).

Stumbling Blocks to Challenging the West

Primarily, a great deal of the BRICS bloc's obstacles lies internally due to the differences their member states possess, which outweighs their commonalities, evoking concerns of security and foreign policy cohesion. At the core of BRIC's inadequate foreign policy overlap, is political and ideological disunity, ranging from varying political and economic structures, to diverse cultural and religious practices. Arguably, this is not the case with the post-war liberal order, where Western economies and political systems are largely free and democratic, making foreign policy and values-sharing seamless. Politically, China and Russia are characterized by their authoritarian administrations, while South Africa, Brazil, and India are deemed as defective democracies, which partake in democratic elections but are hindered by limited transparency and weak stances on human rights (Stokke, 2018). Furthermore, while BRICS started from their united discontent in Western financial and economic global institutions, BRICS does not appear to have the makings of a unified economic bloc. China presents itself as a free-market socialist nation, identified by liberal economic trade practices fused with authoritarian state control over economic policies and resources. On the other end of the spectrum, Brazil, India, and South Africa have predominantly pursued liberal market policies, while Russia sits within the middle. Furthermore, it should be acknowledged that Brazil, South Africa, and Russia's economies are commodity-driven, meaning they are more vulnerable to instability within international commodity markets, as opposed to the industrialized nations of the G7 (Nuruzzaman, 2019). This makes BRIC potentially less economically resilient in the face of global downturns.

Despite strong economic growth that propelled them on the world stage, individual BRICS member states face increasing concerns over domestic social, political, and wealth inequality issues. As proposed by Cooper, Antkiewicz & Shaw (2007), this is due to the lack of social reform and friction with established democratic institutions, a by-product of authoritarian regimes and faulty democracies. South Africa is classified as an upper-middle-income nation but suffers from the effects of the Apartheid and income inequality. Case in point, the average unemployment rates for Black South Africans have hit 30%, as opposed to the 4%-8% rate of White South Africans (StatsSA, 2016). Furthermore, India's domestic struggle with extremist militant groups and religious conflict with bordering nations has hindered their development.

In Russia's case, ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, their massive reserves of resources and substantial territory have catalyzed its gradual progression towards market-oriented economic reforms. Although this has presented the nation with an educated and highly-trained workforce, the nation suffers from corruption, political infighting, and radical separatist movements (Luckhurst, 2013). Additionally, an excess of low-skilled Russian workers has led to 'industrial poverty', causing inadequate wages and high unemployment rates among its lower-class (Anikin & Tikhonova, 2017). From a global perspective, wealth inequality is an issue that plagues the entire world, even affecting advanced economies, but within a vacuum, these issues can hinder the BRICS motive to collectively solve international issues, opting to solve their own domestic needs first.

Another major difference, which could be a dividing point between BRICS member states, would be their varying relationships with Western colonialism and stance on Western foreign policy, which has shaped their national interests. To illustrate, take China's historic relationship with the British colonial powers of the 19th century. Their invasion of China during the First Opium War has molded China's wavering trust in the West. Despite that, Li (2012) claims that China idolizes Western modernity but abhors the institutions, political systems, and ideologies that shaped their development. As a result of their colonial history, India also bears ambivalent sentiments towards the West but differs from China as they are more compliant with the Western-led world order, presumedly as a strategy to progress their national interests.

Slavery and racial oppression have been the violent trait of South African and Brazilian colonial history, and this shared colonial past has led them to endure centuries-long underdevelopment (Breslin, 2013). This similar history and former transatlantic connections have encouraged Brazil to build relations with Lusophone African nations (Li & Marsh, 2016). On the other hand, Russia has historically functioned as a colonizer, having gone through periods of immense power and possessing immense military strength. Their determination to regain their previous great power status could put them at odds with the goals of BRICS. With this in mind, these distinct experiences with Western powers have also shaped their reactions to Western policies today. This was seen with Russia's annexation of Crimea, and the subsequent sanctions imposed. The BRICS' reactions to the Crimean Crisis were disjointed and vague, highlighting the effects of Western dominance on their foreign policy and their unwillingness to back another member nation's divergent policies (Stuenkel, 2015).

Regarding divergent policies and interests, a major stumbling block that could impede the future growth of BRICS would be the rocky geopolitical relationship between India and China. India has shown support of America's 'Asia Pivot' policy in containing China. In turn, China also encourages Pakistan's counterbalancing act to India's dominance in South Asia (Liu, 2016) and has rejected India's advances for permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council. Due to their regional power status, the two nations are viewed as rivals to predominance in the Asian continent, engaging in territorial disputes since 1962, despite conducting bilateral trade with one another. The unease over each other's potential dominance has inhibited BRICS cooperation and its development. With the aforementioned Belt and Road Initiative, India has opted to keep itself away from the project, making it clear that India has joined BRICS to further its economic interests, rather than challenge the West through cooperation.

Final Thoughts: Soft Power & Superseding Western Dominance

With the possibility of Western decline on the horizon, propagated by America's possible diminishing capability as a leader in the international system, BRICS stands a good chance at offering discontented, Global South nations an alternative to Western institutions and challenge their dominance in the future. However, there are still elements that BRICS needs to develop to defy the Western order. Yes, the BRICS initial mandate targeted initiatives in the financial and economic domain, but this caps their collective ceiling as a challenger to Western dominance. Despite its waning hard power and needing to rebuild its political capital following the Trump era, the United States is still the undisputed global cultural superpower and will continue to be due to the worldwide adoption of its cultural and societal norms. Democracy and ideals of freedom are predominately viewed favorably, providing the West with the edge in ideological superiority. Western media, music, movies, pop culture, and literature permeate everyday life, and it would be hard to see Mandarin overtaking English as the de-facto global language of choice.

The BRICS bloc lacks soft power. This is partially attributed to the authoritarian and untransparent administrations of its leading members, which limits their legitimacy on the world stage when compared to the West. However, this has been rapidly shifting due to policies and campaigns that aim to promote their cultural influence internationally. This is exemplified with the growing presence of Russia's state news agencies like Russia Today (RT) and the creation of Sputnik in 2014, a state-run news agency that produces Russian propaganda or dezinformatsiya in local languages to dominate the information war, as Hillary Clinton warns (Stuenkel, 2016). BRICS member nations have welcomed the prospect of hosting major sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympics, which are often showcases of a nation's modernity. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa has emerged as a global leader in healthcare provision, exemplified by its frontline role in vaccine development and advocating for equitable access (Sheldrick, 2021). Furthermore, South Africa has made gains in being at the forefront of upholding human rights ideals, and pushing BRICS nations for prioritized discussions on the issue, highlighting its prowess on issues that cultivate soft power (Amnesty International, 2018). In short, BRICS needs to be more than an economic alliance to stand a chance at challenging the Western-centric world order.

Supporting these initiatives would be an attempt to address their individual political disagreements establishment of a collective world vision, which would further BRICS' development from a financial institution substitute, to alternative world order. They should also continue to fill the gap in Western foreign policy, taking advantage of American decline in foreign aid and continue to expand their presence in the Global South. With that said, the collective power of BRICS and its member nations' regional influence could grow to challenge Western domination in the future and pave a path towards the democratization of the world order, but it would struggle to do so without further commitment and attuned cooperation between its member nations.


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Tovar, A. (2019) Chinese Infrastructure Investments in Africa: A Case Study of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway in Ethiopia and Djibouti and the Abuja-Kaduna Rail Line in Nigeria. Senior Theses. [Online] 25 (1). Available from: [Accessed: 11th June 2020]

Wansleban, L. (2013) Dreaming with BRICS: Innovating the Classificatory Regimes of International Finance. Journal of Cultural Economy. 6 (4). pp. 453-471.

Watson, N., Younis, M. & Spratt, S. (2013) What Next for the BRICS Bank? Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.

The Role of BRICS and Russia for a Multipolar World (Роль БРИКС и России в многополярном мире) / Russia, May, 2021
Keywords: expert_opinion, political_issues, ndb

Geopolitics and international relations have undergone several transformations throughout the 20th century. One of the most important of these is the two major world wars and the post-war cold re-organization of the world.

The re-order of the world-system in the post-war period involved the "Pax Americana "and the creation of a world order linked to the United States, parallel to the rise of the USSR to the status of military and ideological power, disputing with the US the condition of hegemonic power, in a bipolarity that has vanished with the disintegration of the socialist ideological bloc. While the United States consolidated as hegemon, they had to deal with the end of their systemic cycle of accumulation and their consequent decline trajectory.

The first two decades of the 21st century marked the resurgence of other powers, with the reappearance of Russia and China: Russia recovering part of its sphere of influence in its surroundings, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin; and China consolidating itself as a global economic power, both of which play an important role on the geopolitical board.´

These countries took advantage of the gaps generated by another structural crisis of world capitalism, materialized in the financial crisis of 2008, the consequences of which have influenced the relative decline of the United States ability to impose its majority will on the world system, as it has since the end of the 2nd World War.

Based on the decline of US influence in recent decades, the emergence of important actors at the beginning of the 21st century and the questioning of their unilateral postures, the emergence of the BRICS represented a common multipolar and multilateral world perspective for tackling global problems.

Despite the disbelief of the central core of capitalism (EUA - Europe), the BRICS gained geopolitical projection of great importance at the beginning of the 21st century. The countries that participates up this power bloc own 26% of the territory, 42% of the population and 14% of the world's GDP, as well as contributing more than 50% of the world's GDP increase between 2005 and 2010.

For many Western analysts, the BRICS had no possibility of organizing a common agenda that would involve a large-scale articulation on the international stage. Such a prediction has not come true.

China and Russia, the two currently most powerful BRICS countries, face competition from the United States for areas of influence. The aggressive rhetoric of Washington and the economic measures against Beijing demonstrated the great concern of the Donald Trump administration with the development of the country's economic and geopolitical in recent years. Despite the decline in its economic growth, Beijing has been increasing its economic influence in various parts of the world, either through the New Silk Road project or through its operations on the African continent, for example. In addition to its companies competing on an equal footing with Western companies (Huawei, for example), China has been taking advantage of the geopolitical and economic gaps created by the US in recent years to increase its influence.

On the other hand, Moscow has been suffering the impacts of a series of economic measures that seek to weaken its national project carried out by Vladimir Putin. This is with more emphasis since 2014, when Russia returned Crimea to its borders, faced with the possibility of a pro-Western government (NATO) in Ukraine and at the gates of its territory with clear objectives of creating "fragile spots" along its borders. Washington, for example, sees Moscow in recent years as a growing "threat" to American strategic interests. It's worth remembering that Russia has never adopted an offensive stance against any country, except when its geopolitical security may be affected as in the case of the totally unnecessary NATO approach.

Russia has showed no "expansionists" or "imperialists" perspectives. On the contrary, Russia has defended in international forums the basic principles of diplomacy, against any form of unilateral actions.

Western media reports a reversal of intent by placing Russia as a belligerent country with expansionist aspirations. The historical facts show just the opposite. The Obama, Trump and now Joe Biden administrations aimed to prevent in every way the consolidation of Russian role of global protagonists in the construction of an environment without hegemony in the international system (geopolitical primacy).

As China and Russia are the main actors of the BRICS, the weakening of both in the geopolitical and strategic aspect (the actions of Washington and partners go in this direction) would represent the very decline of the bloc and its objectives of building a new global governance in a multipolar and multilateral world.

The New Development Bank

The BRICS consolidation since its foundation has gained shape, its economic initiatives such as the New Development Bank (NBD), which point to a still increasing intra-bloc and extra-bloc concertation. The so-called BRICS Bank can still accelerate the institutionalization of the group, which until then functioned more as a forum for discussions than as a formalized institution.

The creation of the NDB was seen by some analysts as a timely reflection on the changes in world power, while others accentuated the fact that the bank is yet another illustrative element of China's global ambitions in terms of power projection. The creation of a possible competitor in offering financial resources on fairer bases than those offered by the IMF and/or World Bank would change the traditional monetary power centre set up since the end of WW II. As a consequence, the geopolitical center of power would be altered, accentuating the decline of the traditional core of capitalism. The consolidation of the NBD as a real alternative would be an important gain for the Sino-Russian geopolitical architecture of creating another geo-economic pole.

In a context in which the world's economy is suffering immense upheavals because of Covid-19, causing a large number of infections and deaths and forcing the most diverse regions of the world to make drastic isolations of their populations, global international cooperation takes on new importance, as the most affected countries, such as Brazil, need financial assistance to deal with the crisis, the NBD has reappeared with a prominent role in this context of the pandemic, which offered the most advantageous prospects of financial support to face the crisis, among the development banks that Brazil resorted to. In addition to the foreign ministers of the BRICS countries, members of the bank have held virtual meetings to develop financial solutions in the fight against Covid-19.

In the first moment, the NBD provided, in April 2020, a credit line of U$ 1 billion for each country of the block. A further disbursement of US$ 10 billion is planned to be divided between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The BRICS moves between the expectations of reaching half of world GDP in 2030, as assumed by the most optimistic perspectives before the pandemic and the estimated decline of 5% of the GDP of the countries in the bloc in 2020, as pointed out by the Analytical Center of the Government of Russia. Taking into account that the statistics of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund estimate about 5% of the fall of the World GDP for 2020, it can be assumed that the BRICS countries have not suffered great shock as a block, given the global scenario. China and India, in this sense, have good expectations of recovering their economy, compensating for the worse performance of Brazil, Russia and South Africa.

The Covid-19 pandemic is a further component in this geopolitical scenario in which the BRICS will have to demonstrate its ability to propose alternatives to the collapse of the world order, with a review of globalization, multilateralism, and the international trade regime.

Nowadays the BRICS is trying to establish itself as an alternative to the reordering of the world system. In this context of unforeseen circumstances, the BRICS has to deal with the demands for its affirmation as an institution and bloc of international power, as well as being subject to the systemic transformations engendered by the United States, which struggle to remain its hegemony.

In a scenario of uncertainties, the BRICS group, seeks to be an actor capable of proposing alternatives amid an order that collapses, facing the rearrangements of power in global geopolitics. The countries that make up the group, called emerging countries, will need to (re)emerge in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and its correlated crises, another disruptive element in this geopolitical framework. The economic recovery capacity of the BRICS countries in relation to the rest of the world can foreshadow the future of the bloc.

Russia supports China's peaceful rise (Россия поддерживает мирный подъем Китая) / China, May, 2021
Keywords: expert_opinion

As China observes the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China this year, let us analyze the country's development in the international context.

Indeed, many see China's economic and social development as a miracle. It is hard to imagine today that only four decades ago, before reform and opening-up were launched, China's per capita income was less than one-third of the average in Sub-Saharan Africa. With a trade-to-GDP ratio of less than 10 percent, China was an inward-looking country.

However, today China is the world's second-largest economy and likely to overtake the United States as the largest economy (in nominal terms) in a few years. Also, the country's share in global industrial production has reached one-fifth of the total from less than 2 percent just a couple of decades ago.

China also has set an example in eliminating poverty by lifting more than 700 million people out of absolute poverty and contributing to 70 percent of global poverty reduction.

An integrated approach to economic, social and political governance is one of the main reasons for China's success. It consists of gradual economic reform, including progressive introduction of market institutions, smart fiscal reforms, and financial sector and exchange rate reforms.

China gradually marketized its economy by transforming the government's role and functions, and strengthening the rule of law while steadily opening up the economy to the outside world and further integrating into the global labor market. These processes were accompanied by the establishment of special economic zones, culminating in China's entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001.

The other factors that have played important roles in this transformation include deep institutionalization, industrialization and urbanization, improvement in the economic structure, and intensified technological transfer. The rise of China on the global stage gave birth to a new pattern of industrial development marked by capital-intensive production with the support of high technology. Other peculiarities of the pattern are State-owned enterprises and partnerships with foreign investors, which in turn helped transform China into the "workshop of the world".

China has achieved unprecedented economic growth owing to such bold and innovative ideas.

While these factors allowed for spectacular socioeconomic development, China has introduced a number of international initiatives that have helped stabilize the global order and promoted innovation.

Equally importantly, adherence to multilateralism, upholding of a fair and equitable global governance system, and respect for international law by China and Russia are the key factors that have prevented the world from plunging into chaos, despite the attempts of some Western countries to undermine the world order.

China and Russia have consistently maintained that Cold War mentality and zero-sum games have no future in today's world, and cultural and political diversity are necessary for peaceful global development.

Both countries believe that ideological and political confrontation will lead us nowhere. This is the basic principle behind China promoting peaceful global development by helping build a community with a shared future for mankind, and Russia upholding the sanctity of international law and sovereign equality of states-which is in stark contrast to some Western powers' preference for "totalitarianism over international relations", as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, via video link, at the UN Security Council meeting earlier this month.

China's stance on international development issues is the same as that of Russia, and forms the basis of the strategic partnership and friendship between the two sides.

In his phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping last December, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia and China share common global interests and have the same views on many issues. Earlier, Putin had said his friendly relations with President Xi has further consolidated the partnership between the two countries.

In order to develop a fairer and more equitable world order, China and Russia have been promoting multilateral organizations such as BRICS, which has become a strong voice of the developing world. Beijing and Moscow also want all countries, regardless of their economic and military might, to be treated as equal partners in the pursuit of global prosperity.

Incidentally, the BRICS New Development Bank was the first global financial institution to offer help to countries to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and overcome its economic impact-and has already disbursed $7 billion among BRICS states to this effect.

Also, China's adherence to international law and multilateralism makes it an ideal partner of choice for other countries to improve global governance.

China and Russia, indeed all the five BRICS states, advocate economic openness, liberalization of global trade and investment, and support the World Trade Organization-centered multilateral trading system, while condemning all forms of protectionism. And to help build a more democratic world order, China and Russia advocate respect for sovereign equality, adherence to the UN Charter, and non-interference in the domestic affairs of other countries.

In fact, China has succeeded in building a worldwide network of partners because it emphasizes that no country pursue global dominance and instead make efforts to ensure that global development benefits all countries. It is on this principle that China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative, which is aimed at improving connectivity across countries and thereby boosting their economic development.

The Belt and Road Initiative, coupled with the Eurasian Economic Union, offers new impetus for global prosperity and sustainable development and could be seen as key elements of the Greater Eurasian Partnership proposed by Putin.

There is an urgent need therefore to establish a closer partnership among the people of China and Russia, Eurasia and the world, and use the centenary of the CPC and 20 years of Russia-China Treaty of Friendship, Neighborliness and Cooperation to seek ways to build a community with a shared future for mankind and offer new innovative ideas for the global public good.

The author is vice-president for International Relations of the Far Eastern Federal University, Scientific Supervisor of the BRICS Expert Council, and adviser to the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies.

Assistant Foreign Minister Deng Li Attends BRICS Deputy Ministers on the MENA Video Conference (Помощник министра иностранных дел Дэн Ли принял участие в видеоконференции заместителей министров стран БРИКС в странах Ближнего Востока и Северной Африки) / China, May, 2021
Keywords: top_level_meeting

On May 17 2021, Assistant Foreign Minister Deng Li attended the BRICS Deputy Ministers on the MENA Video Conference. Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs of India Sanjay Bhattacharyya, South African Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Candith Mashego-Dlamini, Brazilian Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Kenneth Félix Haczynski da Nóbrega, and Russian Foreign Minister's Special Envoy for Middle East Settlement Vladimir Safronkov attended the meeting. The participants exchanged in-depth views and reached extensive consensus on the Middle East peace process, as well as the situation in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, the East Mediterranean, the Gulf region and Yemen.
Investment and Finance
Investment and finance in BRICS
BRICS Chair 2021: Meetings held by the Reserve Bank of India in April 2021 (Председатель БРИКС 2021: встречи Резервного банка Индии в апреле 2021 года) / India, May, 2021
Keywords: top_level_meeting, chairmanship

With India assuming the BRICS Chair in 2021, the Reserve Bank of India is responsible for coordinating the activities of the BRICS Central Banks under the Economic and Financial Track. The Reserve Bank conducted the following meetings in April 2021. The details of the meetings are given below –

1) 1st Meeting of BRICS Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors
The Reserve Bank of India along with the Ministry of Finance conducted the meeting. Honorable Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman chaired the sessions pertaining to the Ministry of Finance stream while Governor Shaktikanta Das presided over central bank workstream. The meeting was attended by the Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors of BRICS countries. The following issues were discussed in the meeting: Global Economic Outlook and Responding to COVID-19 Crisis, New Development Bank, Social Infrastructure – Financing and Use of Digital Technologies, Cooperation on Customs related Issues, IMF Reforms, Fintech for SMEs and Financial Inclusion, BRICS Rapid Information Security Channel (BRISC), and BRICS Bond Fund (BBF).

2) BRICS Digital Financial Inclusion Report Group Meeting, April 20, 2021
Taking forward the discussions held in the March 18, 2021 meeting, the Group continued with its deliberations to forge a consensus on the structure, scope, and timeline of the proposed report on Digital Financial Inclusion in BRICS countries.

3) BRICS CRA Governing Council Meeting, April 30, 2021
The Reserve Bank of India, under India's BRICS Chair, organised the first BRICS CRA Governing Council Meeting and was chaired by Governor Shaktikanta Das. The Group worked towards forming a consensus on the procedural aspects of the CRA test run, and the proposed amendments to the CRA treaty, keeping in view the ongoing financial developments. The Group also deliberated on the proposal of undertaking a BRICS collaborative study on the topic "the dynamics of balance of payments (BoP) in BRICS during the COVID-19 period". The meeting was attended by Governors of respective member Central Banks and their representatives.
European Union, Trade in goods with BRICS (Европейский Союз, Торговля товарами с БРИКС) / France, May, 2021
Keywords: trade_relations, un

Link to the document "European Union, Trade in goods with BRICS":
Potential for cooperation in the dissemination of renewable energy and natural gas among BRICS countries (Возможности сотрудничества в распространении возобновляемой энергии и природного газа между странами БРИКС) / Brazil, May, 2021
Keywords: cooperation, research

The global energy system is structured around fossil fuels, leading to high emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2 ). Initiatives for decarbonisation and global warming mitigation have focused on restructuring countries' energy grids and necessarily include policies that support the dissemination of cleaner energy sources. These transformations vary greatly in nature and pace, given that the challenges imposed by energy transition and the strategies adopted by each country are distinct, according to their economic and institutional differences and energy mix. Each experience has specific goals, and the energy policy tools are diverse. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) have markedly different energy systems, socioeconomic structures and institutional frameworks, suggesting distinct energy transition trends for each country. Nonetheless, the group shares common goals around sustainable development, seeking opportunities for cooperation and complementarities in the energy field. This Policy Research Brief presents the main policies for the dissemination of renewable energy sources and natural gas in BRICS countries and analyses initiatives and opportunities for energy cooperation.
Aeldra and Blue Ridge Bank partner to serve underserved segment in BRICS-Plus countries (Партнерство Aeldra и Blue Ridge Bank для обслуживания недостаточно обслуживаемого сегмента в странах БРИКС-Плюс) / India, May, 2021
Keywords: economic_challenges

Blue Ridge Bank, the national bank subsidiary of Blue Ridge Bankshares has announced partnering with Silicon Valley-based financial technology company Aeldra Financial, to launch a mobile neobank called Aeldra.

The neobank bank will target customers in BRICS-Plus countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, and others) who have cross-border banking needs in the United States.

"Aeldra meets a significant need in today's banking environment. We are proud to partner with Sukeert and his team as we work together to provide unprecedented financial access to an underserved segment in the BRICS-Plus countries," said Brian K. Plum, President and Chief Executive Officer of Blue Ridge Bank.

Aeldra is a financial services company and banking services are provided by Blue Ridge Bank, member FDIC. It offers interest-bearing accounts with debit cards and mortgage loans, all of which are backed by Blue Ridge Bank's traditional financial infrastructure. Aeldra plans on offering a line of credit products, such as credit cards, in the near future.

"The U.S. continues to attract the best and brightest from across the world. They deserve seamless access to U.S. financial services. However, the simple act of opening a bank account without an SSN is challenging, as is getting approved for a credit card or loan. Our special partnership with Blue Ridge Bank aims to close the accessibility gap. Brian and Brett are among the most forward-thinking leaders in banking and we are delighted to partner with them," said Sukeert Shanker, Founder and CEO of Aeldra.

"Sukeert previously built two leading digital banks and we're excited to help him try to three-peat with Aeldra. Aeldra is at the forefront of accelerating demand for mobile first, global banking services. We look forward to working with them to serve a historically underserved community with their specialized financial needs," said Brett Taxin, Executive Vice President at Blue Ridge Bank.

Political Events
Political events in the public life of BRICS
Statement by Ms Candith Mashego-Dlamini, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, on the occasion of the Budget Vote Speech of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, 20 May 2021 (Заявление г-жи Кандит Машего-Дламини, заместителя министра международных отношений и сотрудничества, по случаю выступления с бюджетным голосованием Департамента международных отношений и сотрудничества, 20 мая 2021 г.) / South Africa, May, 2021
Keywords: speech
South Africa

Thank you, House Chair
Minister Pandor
Chair of the Portfolio Committee, Honourable Mahambehlala
Honourable Members
Ladies and gentlemen
Honourable House Chair

During this financial year, DIRCO will focus on the following objectives, in line with the Government's Medium Term Strategic Framework for 2019 – 2024:

  1. increase Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into South Africa and Africa
  2. improve South African access to foreign markets
  3. contribute to increased tourism arrivals to South Africa
  4. improve investor confidence.
In our five-year strategic plan, we have said that we are striving towards:

  1. a united and politically cohesive continent that works towards shared prosperity and sustainable development
  2. enhanced regional integration with increased and balanced trade within SADC and on the continent by supporting the creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area
  3. promotion of peace, security and stability on the continent
  4. using South Africa's membership and engagements in various international forums to advance the African Agenda.
We are pursuing these objectives in a global environment that continues to grapple with the effects of COVID-19. We are making use of innovative ways, such as digital diplomacy, to achieve our objectives within a global environment that continues to grapple with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We have taken serious note of the audit opinions presented by the Office of the Auditor-General on DIRCO, and we are attending to the matters raised. For example, we are working on a property management strategy to move away from rentals to developing properties on state-owned land for our missions abroad and the residences of our diplomats.

The department is working on a strategy, which focusses on developing, renovating and refurbishing the state-owned properties housing our missions abroad.

Honourable House Chair,

In his first speech to the United Nations as President of a free and democratic South Africa, delivered in October 1994, President Nelson Mandela said: "South Africa will help to create for themselves and all humanity a common world of peace and prosperity". This is a mission we continue to pursue, especially on our continent.

In our own neighbourhood, we continue to focus not only on the situation in Mozambique, as Minister Pandor has said, but we also remain seized with the political and security situation in the Kingdom of Lesotho. We cannot over-emphasise the importance of a stable, secure and prosperous Lesotho. It is in our mutual interest as South Africans and Basotho that our neighbourhood is safe and secure.

You will recall that His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his capacity as SADC Facilitator to the Kingdom of Lesotho, appointed a Facilitation Team led by retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, assisted by three Deputy Ministers, to support him in his facilitation in the Kingdom of Lesotho as per the decision of the SADC Double Troika Summit, held in Luanda, Republic of Angola, in April 2018.

The 40th Ordinary SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government, held virtually on 17 August 2020, decided that the role of the SADC Facilitator, His Excellency President Cyril Ramaphosa, should continue.

The summit also recognised the important role played by the SADC Facilitation Team to the Kingdom of Lesotho, leading to the inauguration of the National Reforms Authority on 6 February 2020, which will manage, coordinate and lead the national reform process from 1 October 2020 until 30 September 2021, with a possible extension until 30 April 2022, if circumstances require.

The latest visit by the SADC Facilitation Team to Maseru in the Kingdom of Lesotho, took place from 11 to 13 March 2021. The objective of the visit to Maseru was to receive a status update on the implementation of the reform process since the last visit in November 2020. The current mandate of the SADC Facilitation Team to the Kingdom of Lesotho is valid until the next SADC Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government in August 2021, where the facilitator is required to report on the status of this processes.

Honourable House Chair,

In July, the Republic of South Sudan will mark 10 years of its existence. South Africa enjoys cordial bilateral relations with South Sudan and the two countries have a long-standing historical relationship that pre-dates South Sudan's independence from the Republic of Sudan in July 2011. An agreement establishing official bilateral relations was signed in September 2012.

In 2019, South Africa committed to provide humanitarian assistance to the Republic of South Sudan through the African Renaissance Fund (ARF) in the form of food aid and medical supplies. These initiatives were intended to address socio-economic challenges facing vulnerable communities, including the refugees and internally displaced persons, comprising mainly of women and children who were negatively affected by the conflict in South Sudan. The last intervention we made was to send a consignment of food items donated by the South African Government to the people of South Sudan. This humanitarian aid package formed part of a series of other interventions by South Africa towards alleviating the humanitarian challenges facing the people of South Sudan.

At the request of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Honourable David Mabuza, Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, in his capacity as the Presidential Special Envoy to the Republic of South Sudan, was invited to facilitate a series of meetings between the parties to the Revitalised-Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) to resolve the impasse. His mediation efforts significantly contributed towards an amicable political settlement among the signatories to the R-ARCSS.

On 22 February 2020, the parties to the R-ARCSS reached an agreement, which paved the way for the establishment of a Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU). On 22 February 2021, the country marked the first anniversary of the RTGoNU.

Honourable House Chair,

The Middle East region is very important economically. Our trade with the Middle East for 2020 amounted to R122 billion. There has been export growth in a number of key areas, particularly in agriculture products such as live animals, citrus, nuts and vegetables. We are also exporting precious metals, iron, steel, aircraft and machinery to a number of countries in this region.

Honourable House Chair,

South Africa is intensifying its economic diplomacy efforts, and we are looking at some of the economies that continue to grow despite the difficulties associated with COVID-19. Some of these are found in Asia.

South Africa's bilateral trade with India amounted to R108.7 billion in 2020. There are more than 130 Indian companies present in South Africa. Our strategic partnership has important dimensions beyond the bilateral facets, and also relates to multilateral institutions, of which both countries are members. These institutions include the G20, BRICS and IBSA.

Honourable House Chair,

I wish to conclude by appraising Parliament on the important work that DIRCO does to provide assistance to South Africans in distress abroad. Following the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year, we set up a Consular Incident Command Centre (CICC) in order to facilitate assistance to South African citizens who found themselves stranded abroad due to unforeseen circumstances and the ongoing COVID19 pandemic and the other instance was during the insurgence attack in Mozambique.

During the 2020/21 financial year, the total number of consular cases attended to were approximately 700. In dealing with South African citizens in distress abroad, it became evident that the concept of Consular Services was misunderstood by the South African society and many of our citizens are unfamiliar with the nature of assistance they can expect when stranded, destitute and distressed abroad hence the ongoing need to encompass consular awareness campaigns, especially for citizens travelling abroad.

The department has created an application for South Africans to register themselves during a major disaster, be it natural or manmade, so that an accurate data base of South African citizens globally can be maintained. This database will assist to expedite the process and time to render consular assistance to our citizens abroad. The training phase of this application will commence during the course of the current financial year.

These are some of the measures to ensure that we remain of service to South African citizens wherever they find themselves in the world.

Finally, let me say that South Africa is committed to remain an influential actor and partner on the international stage, while effectively contributing to the delivery of the country's domestic priorities and advancement of the African Agenda.

I thank you.

Budget Speech by Dr Naledi Pandor, MP, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation on 20 May 2021 (Выступление по бюджету д-ра Наледи Пандор, депутата, министра международных отношений и сотрудничества 20 мая 2021 г.) / South Africa, May, 2021
Keywords: speech, economic_challenges
South Africa

Topic: Building back better, to advance the legacy of Charlotte Maxeke

Members of the Executive
Honourable Members
Guests joining us today

We return to Parliament for this Budget Vote debate following an unexpectedly tumultuous financial year. While we have made every effort to act on the priorities we signalled in 2019, much of our work had to be adjusted to focus on supporting government in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Adjustments also had to be made due to significant budget cuts.

2020/2021 was our African Union Chairship year and we had plans to advance our policy agenda of a better Africa and a better world.

The key focus for 2020 was the priority of silencing the guns in Africa and advancing the economic participation of women. We were also committed to ensuring implementation of all the steps necessary to give effect to the African Free Trade Area Agreement and further implementation of the APRM.

Our budget for 2020/21 was R6 850 179 000 in April 2020; it was reduced to R6 314 968 000. The DIRCO budget for 2021/22 was announced as R7 038 531 000 in the 2021 budget speech and was finally reduced to R6 452 372 000 for the current financial year.

The funding pressures we continue to experience have caused severe cutbacks in key areas. Low levels of economic growth and declining investment in South Africa and Africa are a severe constraint on our international ambitions.

South Africa is fortunate to have a dedicated body of DIRCO men and women who work very hard to ensure that we do achieve our objectives and who tolerate significant sacrifices to ensure we succeed. We have done even more to focus missions overseas on economic diplomacy as we must secure more growth and jobs in South Africa.

Chair, we observed the positive character of DIRCO officials in the COVID-19 crisis. Our Consular Services branch ensured the successful repatriation of thousands of South Africans stranded overseas. The department's efforts benefitted from support of Portfolio Committee members and from the general public. I wish to thank all who played a role in the repatriation efforts.

With respect to our AU Chairship, President Ramaphosa gave sterling leadership to the Bureau, the AU Commission and our continent. The AU Chair ensured a coordinated African response to the pandemic, developed an Africa Strategy and secured the support of African leaders through an open consultative approach. Agreement that Africa should use its own resources to support the African Centres of Disease Control as the scientific adviser on our pandemic response was a critical factor in Africa addressing the pandemic's effects. Furthermore, the decision of the Chair to create an African Medicines platform as a web-based platform for equal access to health equipment, treatment and diagnostics was innovative and impactful.

The role of Chair went beyond the health response and also focussed on the economic impact of the COVID virus. The economic envoys appointed by the AU Chair and the Commission engaged financial institutions and government leaders to secure debt relief and debt standstill for indebted African countries so they focus on the pandemic and have liquidity for focussed socio-economic recovery. We have not yet secured new funding sources to provide investment for growth on the continent. We continue to engage multilateral financial institutions to provide such new funding and not more debt loans. While focussing on our COVID-19 response, much was done to continue our engagements with the globe, including support to the President's annual investment conference. The objective of securing recovery funding is still being pursued by President Ramaphosa and other leaders. The Financing Africa Summit in Paris focussed on the urgent need for the IMF to finalise the matter of Special Drawing Rights and the issue of vaccine production as well as the call for the WTO temporary waiver of TRIPS.

I am pleased to indicate that even in the worst effects of the pandemic, the one feature that was prominently confirmed was the vital importance of multilateralism in global collaboration. Faith was restored in multilateral institutions that had been confronting negativity for several years. COVID-19 revived and affirmed global cooperation. The multilateral and other regional bodies enjoyed a long denied prominence and leadership. This reality has assisted our long-held belief that multilateral institutions matter and are a more inclusive and equitable global option for managing global affairs. We have continued to engage in the UN and to uphold the rights of the people of Palestine to statehood, those of Western Sahara to self-determination and the need for the UN and the AU to assist Africa to finally achieve continent-wide peace and focus on development.

Our 2019/20 Annual Report and that of 2020/21 show the progress we have made in meeting our goals and objectives. They show that while our strength is diminished by inadequate resources, we continue to punch above our weight in international cooperation. We will seek even greater impact in 2021/22. We will do more to support Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt to negotiate an agreement on the GERD. We will also work closely with South Sudan and Libya to promote and support post-conflict reconstruction and finally much more will be done to achieve the gender agenda mandated by the AU adoption of 2020 – 2030 as the Decade of the Financial Inclusion of Women in Africa.

The impact of COVID-19 resonates strongly with the legacy we have inherited from Mama Charlotte Maxeke. She was a woman who believed that it is possible to build back better. In the unquenchable spirit of this great woman of Africa, it is imperative that we focus this year on building back better.

The negative impact of COVID-19 has clear directives for our future agenda. We will continue to promote the mainstreaming of gender perspectives in all our contributions in the UN and AU. Working closely with the AU special envoy on gender and the commission for peace and security, we will consult women leaders in post-conflict areas and work with them to ensure their full contribution to reconstruction and development in their countries.

We are pleased to be serving in the UN Peacebuilding Commission for 2021 – 2022 as this will help us contribute towards the maintenance of international peace and security just as we did during our term in the UN Security Council. Peace and security are extremely fragile or absent in many parts of the globe. The recent vicious attacks by Israel on Palestinian people and the forced removal of Palestinians from their homes are clear evidence of the absence of peace and security for millions worldwide. Sadly, we all watched as Palestine suffered more and more brutally. Greater effort must be exerted to achieve peace in the Middle East. Powerful nations must accept that we all depend on each other and even the most powerful will not achieve peace and security through unilateral actions and neglect of the poor, the oppressed and marginalised. We call on the UN and the Gulf Council to be more resolute in pursuing freedom for the people of Palestine.

Charlotte Maxeke was a bold agent of change. We must be as bold and determined in seeking concrete practical reform of the UN Security Council. I am pleased that early steps toward text-based negotiations are in motion in the UN. There is significant resistance to changing the status quo and we must continue to insist that change is urgently necessary. We need a representative and 21st century relevant UNSC responsive to today's challenges. There were 51 member states in 1945; we have grown to 193, yet the most important mechanism of the UN remains untransformed.

Building back better also means we should utilise our global cooperation to secure Africa's ability to effectively respond to complex challenges such as a global pandemic. We must increase our research and innovation capacity and be more ready to rely on our ingenuity, our products and our institutions in future. Charlotte Maxeke and all our great heroes and heroines believed in our innate abilities; let us use them to free ourselves from post-colonial dependency.

Honourable members, Africa lies at the heart of our international agenda. We firmly believe we should ensure Pan-African ability to determine our affairs and shape Africa's future. We have begun a process of reviewing our Africa strategy in an effort to respond to the new realities on the continent through a new approach and consistent with Agenda 2063.

We have comparative advantages that can support and promote increased African success. We intend to build strategic partnerships and political alliances in a far more rigorous manner. We will strengthen bilateral relations and cooperation and build strategic partnerships with clear goals and objectives. We plan to begin in southern Africa, and to ensure that SADC plans are reinforced and concretely implemented.

Mama Maxeke did not limit her world to South Africa and as with our dialogue series icon, she was a remarkable internationalist. This is one of the reasons why we are robustly strengthening our trade cooperation and people exchange with Southeast Asia. We are thrilled that our portfolio committee recognised the exciting opportunities in the ASEAN formation and supported our entry into the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation of the ASEAN.

In August, South Africa will assume Chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Peace and Security. The organ has been deliberating on the extremist attacks in Mozambique and ministers of the organ have developed proposals for support to Mozambique that we hope will soon be adopted by the heads of state.

2020 was our second year as a non-permanent member of the UNSC. The feedback we received indicates that that the role of South Africa in the Security Council was deeply appreciated due to South Africa's principled position on issues on the council's agenda. This relatively independent position, together with a compelling commitment to peaceful resolution of disputes and a fair and balanced approach in engaging with member states, allowed South Africa to play a bridge-building role in a divided Security Council. During our tenure, we continued to advance UN and AU cooperation on peace and security matters, especially with reference to Libya, the Sahel region, and the transitional process in South Sudan. We note with hope the positive progress in Libya and further actions on the comprehensive Agreement in South Sudan. DIRCO will remain closely attentive to support for post-conflict reconstruction in South Sudan and we are in constant contact with the government there. We also welcome the efforts by various organisations in South Africa to assist Sudan in the transition and constitution-making processes.

President Ramaphosa also worked closely with G20 countries, with our BRICS partners and the EU to continue supporting South Africa and Africa in implementing our international agenda. We also directed efforts at addressing inadequacies in our department. We have adopted an audit action plan, which is intended to support DIRCO in achieving improved audit outcomes. There is a lot of work to do before a full clean audit is achieved, but we are making progress. Our skills need enhancement in the finance division and we must make changes as indicated in various portfolio committee reports. Action has also been taken following reports on the New York land project. We have confirmed that we will act when public resources are not used according to policy and regulatory requirements.

The budget cuts I referred to earlier resulted in changes in our operations. This and the continued economic impact of COVID-19 have led us to review South Africa's diplomatic footprint globally. In an effort to reduce costs while ensuring a presence throughout the world, we are in the process of closing 10 of our 122 missions during the course of 2021. The missions in closest geographic proximity will provide diplomatic and consular services to countries that no longer host our missions. We plan to utilise improved information technology services to ensure efficient consular support to our citizens in these countries. We also intend to appoint honorary consuls to ensure we continue to have a presence and that we uphold established relations. I have been most grateful for the understanding shown by my colleagues in all these regrettable actions.

In addition to reducing our mission footprint, we have made concrete progress towards finalising our organisational structure. We plan to have a department structure that does not cause us to exceed our budget allocation while also ensuring we attract and retain talent within DIRCO. Our senior management team has worked tirelessly to develop a blueprint that we believe will soon be ready for submission to Treasury and the DPSA. The continuing decline in our Compensation of Employees budget has been a challenge for DIRCO and I am hopeful we will resolve this particular challenge. I do believe improved allocations need to be considered for international work, but I am fully appreciative of the constraints to growth that we all need to overcome together.

It is due to the need to support the economic ambitions of our government that we have directed increased attention the promotion of economic diplomacy through all our missions. We are also working hard to secure increased trade opportunities with our major trading partners. China is one of our most significant trading partners. Honourable Chair would be aware that our two-way trade with Asia and the Middle East region grew from R45 billion in 1990 to a staggeringR984 billion in 2020. COVID-19 caused a contraction of 1,6% in our trade with Asia and the Middle East but, importantly, even in this time our trade with China continued to expand. In 2019, two-way trade with China stood at R413 billion and grew to R437 billion in 2020. The agriculture sector has led this growth. This has resulted in more jobs, more small and medium sized business growth, more small commercial farmers and enhanced trade exchange. Most pleasing is that trade is beginning to be a surplus gain for our exporters with an increasing number of countries in the region.

Added to this welcome progress are the improved trade figures for South Africa in the ASEAN region. In 2020, two-way trade between South Africa and East Asia amounted to R119 billion. I have asked our missions in that region to help identify increased opportunities in the massive halal market and in citrus and other commodities. The statistics on current trade indicate significant growth in the ASEAN – a fast-growing region with a GDP of over US$3.1 trillion and a market of over 650 million people.

This evidence of progress links well with our progress in BRICS, especially in the work of the New Development Bank. Charlotte Maxeke was a team player who sought to benefit all in her circle. She did not shy away from a challenge as shown by the support to her choir when stranded in the USA. Similarly, we have been steadfast advocates of a vibrant active collaborative BRICS. We are hopeful of expanded bank membership this year and fully appreciate the US$2 billion we secured from the NDB to assist us in our response to COVID-19. We also secured a billion dollars for our non-toll road infrastructure programme in 2020.

Our trilateral IBSA Forum with India and Brazil has been a glowing example of a new blueprint for South-South cooperation. Since its inception in 2005, the IBSA Fund for poverty and hunger alleviation supported over 30 development projects in 22 countries of the global South to the value of US$32 million. In 2020, the fund approved new development projects in several African countries, including Senegal, the DRC, Benin, Uganda, Sudan, Mail, Niger and eSwatini.

Our focus in international relations includes our promotion of the values and ethos of our Constitution through advocating for human dignity, democracy and equality. We continue to stand in full solidarity with the people of Palestine and will work even harder to persuade the African Union and the United Nations to robustly pursue freedom for the people of Palestine. The cruel bombings and killings of the innocent we witnessed in the past two weeks are a sad testimony of the cruel impunity the world has granted to Israel. The international community must stop this impunity. South Africa should support the International Criminal Court in the planned investigation of the abuse of human rights by the Israeli Government. We hope sanctions and other measures to show the world's offence at this brutality will soon be evident.

The people of Cuba also continue to be victims of an unwarranted blockade that should be finally ended by the new US Administration. We will continue to support Cuba and work closely with that solid friend of South Africa.

A better Africa continues to be the key foreign policy focus of South Africa. Working closely with Trade, Industry and Competition, we will support implementation of the AfCFTA. We must do everything possible to ensure successful implementation of the free trade area. For many African countries, the AfCFTA means more productive capacity, economic infrastructure and new trade opportunities. We must ensure evidence-based planning as we implement projects for increased African trade.

DIRCO has supported countries that held elections in 2020, providing expertise via the IEC or relevant non-government partners. The support to the Central African Republic supported an election that many judged as free and fair.

While pursuing our Africa Agenda vigorously, we will also build on the excellent trade relations with the United States of America, the European Union member states and the United Kingdom. These are also significant trading partners for South Africa and we plan to grow the trade, people and cultural links through our embassies. Several ambassadors have drawn my attention to the inadequacy of our cultural diplomacy. I am told Black Coffee could fill Wembley Stadium and profile South Africa, but when he performs overseas there is an insufficient association to his South African identity. We have immense talent in a range of fields and could mount international cultural events with a diversity of talents worldwide. This is an area of diplomacy I would like to focus on more as we begin to free funds from other areas of activity. I also hope we can work closely with Arts and Culture on this aspect of our work.

Finally, honourable members, I wish to assure you that we are working hard to build back better as Charlotte Maxeke expected us to. We must provide skills opportunities to young people, enhance our innovation and digital capabilities so we rank with the best and ensure we continue the work to build a South Africa, Africa and world that will be of service to humanity and responsive to the most progressive human development goals.

Investing in science vital for SA's future, development (Инвестиции в науку, жизненно важную для будущего и развития ЮАР) / South Africa, May, 2021
Keywords: social_issues, covid-19
South Africa

The devastation brought about by COVID-19 and the manner in which South Africa responded to the pandemic has shown how important it is to invest in science to safeguard the nation's future.

This is according to Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, who tabled the Science and Innovation budget Vote on Tuesday.

"One of the lessons is that investing in science is vital for South Africa's future and its development.

"Our science and innovation investments made in the past decades led to us building expertise, infrastructure and research capacity needed in our response to when diseases strike.

"This was demonstrated when our national system of innovation (NSI) leveraged our response to the COVID 19 pandemic," he said.

As the pandemic swept across the world and left death and economic devastation in its wake, South Africa pulled all its resources together to respond to the outbreak through science-driven solutions.

"Collectively, we were able to respond to COVID-19 in a joint effort that would have made Charlotte Maxeke, whose 150th anniversary we celebrate this year, proud.

"These investments and the talent brought into our national system of innovation, led our country to produce premier science that is not only assisting us locally, but also contributing to the global body of knowledge on COVID-19," Nzimande said.

South Africa's infrastructure, in response to COVID 19, include the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) which saw local scientists lead investigations into the evolutionary characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 and detected a new variant, dubbed 501Y.V2.

There is also the Centre for Proteomic and Genomic Research (CPGR) and the South African Biodiversity Institute whose research and development portfolio includes pathogen genomics, and the skills needed in the areas of vaccines, biochemistry, microbiology and genetics, among others.

South Africa has established an indigenous knowledge-based research team that is investigating seven mono-herbal and two multi-herbal medicine formulations with potential relevance to COVID-19.

"We are also collaborating with the North-West University (NWU) to raise public awareness on the Protection, Promotion, Development and Management of Indigenous Knowledge Act."

Nzimande also said other interventions made include:

- Data modelling, through the CSIR-CMORE situational awareness platform for COVID-19. This provides close to real-time data on the coronavirus outbreak per province, district, local municipality and ward;

- The SA Population Research Infrastructure Network (SAPRIN) random sample of household's research to document the knowledge, behaviour and outcomes of these households in relation to non-pharmaceutical COVID- 19 measures;

- The Human Sciences Research Council surveys to measure the public response to COVID-19 and the effects of lockdown;

- The South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) National Ventilator Project; and

- The deployment of hydrogen fuel cell systems in hospitals and medical facilities.

"These infrastructure networks and investments were instrumental in allowing our government to respond quickly and effectively in managing the coronavirus outbreak.

"They also demonstrated our world class competence in identifying variants and keeping science at the foundation of government decisions."

Cabinet has approved the department's strategy to drive a multipronged national vaccine production and development strategy to secure the nation's long-term pandemic preparedness.

"In this regard, [the department] is working closely with Biovac, in which the State has 47% shareholding, to increase the scope of public participation, and leveraging capital investment by domestic private and international vaccine players, to build South Africa's vaccine production resilience.

"We hope to build strong partnerships with China, Russia and other BRICS partners, as well as European and North American partners. We are particularly pleased at the commitment of expatriates, most notably, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a former graduate of Wits University, to invest in our nation's future pandemic security." –

World of Work
BRICS countries underline importance of enhancing collaboration among astronomers (Страны БРИКС подчеркивают важность расширения сотрудничества между астрономами) / India, May, 2021
Keywords: cooperation, space

Delegates from BRICS nations highlighted the importance of enhancing collaboration among astronomers from the countries at the seventh meeting of the BRICS Astronomy Working Group Meeting.

Under the Science, Technology, and Innovation track of the BRICS 2021 calendar, India hosted the seventh meeting of BRICS Astronomy Working Group (BAWG) meeting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, as well as astronomers from these countries in online mode from 19 to 20th May 2021.

From the Indian side, the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, and Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India coordinated the meeting. It witnessed participation of all five BRICS countries with more than 50 participants, including researchers, academicians, and government officials.

The delegates deliberated on strategic and operational matters and recommended the networking of existing Telescopes in BRICS countries and create regional Data Network. They agreed to develop flagship project in this area. The members of the working group also indicated future directions of research in this area such as building network of intelligent telescope and data network, study of transient astronomical phenomena in universe, big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning application to process the voluminous data generated now a days due to enhance multi-wavelength telescope observatory.

The BAWG which provides a platform for BRICS member countries to collaborate in the field of astronomy recommended that the focal points in each country should present the scientific results of the work being carried out in each country. This will help seek funding support to realize the flagship project whenever funding opportunity announced by BRICS funding agencies. BAWG noted the importance of enhancing collaboration among astronomers from the BRICS countries.

Shri S. K. Varshney, Scientist G & Head international Cooperation presented India (DST) perspectives and lead scientific researchers from each BRICS country presented their country report highlighting research activities and research infrastructure they have created.

The key scientific institutions which participated from BRICS countries included Tata Institute of Fundamental Research Mumbai, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore, National Center for Radio Astrophysics Pune, Delhi University from India; National Laboratory on Astrophysics; Brazilian Center for Research in Physics, National Institute for Space Research from Brazil; the Institute of astronomy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia; National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China; the African Astronomical Society, South Africa.

India has assumed the BRICS Presidency from January 2021, about 100 events, including Ministerial level meetings, Senior Official meetings, and sectorial meetings/conferences, will be organized as part of BRICS 2021 Calendar.
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