Information Bulletin of the BRICS Trade Union Forum
Issue 51.2021
2021.12.20 — 2021.12.26
International relations
Foreign policy in the context of BRICS
How Russia and Four Other BRICS Countries Are Dealing with COVID-19 (Как Россия и четыре другие страны БРИКС борются с COVID-19) / South African Republic, December, 2021
Keywords: covid-19, expert_opinion
South African Republic

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

On December 4, Russian President Vladimir Putin held a telephone conversation with the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. According to the official Kremlin transcript, which hardly gives detailed information, "the presidents agreed to join efforts in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, in particular in view of the newly identified Omicron strain, and further discussed interaction within BRICS and trade and economic cooperation".

The conversation took place against the backdrop of the current entry restrictions on travellers from southern African countries, due to the spread of a new COVID-19 variant (new B.1.1.529 variant) to the United States, Europe and Asia. A few African countries have also imposed similar restrictions on entry into their territories. The southern African countries include Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini.

Russia and South Africa, which later joined in 2011, are both members of the BRICS, and since the outbreak of the coronavirus in December 2020, have discussed some aspects as well as the prospects for collaborative work in fighting the disease.

Russia and South Africa previously proposed localizing production of Russian vaccines, but the key setback was that the vaccines were yet to be approved by the World Health Organization. As a result, there were neither concrete practical results nor effective collaboration between the two countries.

In contrast, China has made huge contributions to South Africa and many other African countries. It has further, at the November Ministerial Conference (FOCAC), authoritatively pledged supply of one billion vaccines to Africa.

Within BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—the coronavirus has indeed affected them. China, with the highest 1.5 billion population, has at least, managed to keep Covid-19 under control. Russia with a population of about 145 million is itself struggling to control the spread of the virus. On the other hand, South Africa with a population of some 60 million, has the largest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa, but the lowest among the BRICS countries.

Among the five BRICS countries, China and India lead in the pursuit of economic spheres of influence worldwide. Chinese President Xi Jinping, delivering a speech via video link at the opening of the World Health Assembly, pledged US$2 billion to to combat COVID-19.

Local Russian media such as Izvestia has reported that the BRICS expressed commitment and preparedness to help South Africa to study the new Omicron coronavirus variant and fight it during the BRICS International Forum held early December.

President of BRICS International Forum, Purnima Anand, told Izvestia that Russia, India, China, and Brazil are now discussing ways to deliver aid to South Africa.

BRICS members are ready to support South Africa on all matters regarding the new variant, be it research or medical supplies, she told the newspaper, noting that it is important to stop Omicron before it is too late. In particular, India has put together a shipment of medical equipment and its Covishield vaccine for South Africa if these are needed.

Further, Virologist Alexey Agranovsky told Izvestia that it could take three months to a year to determine how dangerous Omicron is. "We do not yet know whether Omicron can supplant the Delta strain, although theoretically this scenario cannot be ruled out. Omicron has not been studied enough to suggest that it is more easily tolerated than other variants. With 10 or 100 case histories tracked, there's sketchy information, so it is impossible to talk about anything seriously," he emphasized.

Over these years, the BRICS has wanted to expand cooperation in the fight against infections and engage in the joint production and use of vaccines. Cooperation on countering infectious diseases has long been a priority for BRICS. For instance, the final declaration of the 2015 BRICS summit in Ufa, Russia, contains instructions by the leaders to work on managing the risk of Covid-19 outbreaks.

In fact, the joint declaration stated: "We commend the efforts made by the BRICS countries to contribute to enhanced international cooperation to support the efforts of countries to achieve their health goals, including the implementation of universal and equitable access to health services, and ensure affordable, good-quality service delivery while taking into account different national circumstances, policies, priorities and capabilities."

During the discussions at the heads of state level and ministerial levels, the countries only agreed to continue providing mutual support in activities to prevent and treat the novel coronavirus infection COVID-19, as well as to create favourable conditions for the supply of deliveries of medications and diagnostic materials, immune-biological preparations, and medical equipment.

There were also talks on efforts to strengthen international institutions, joint efforts to combat new challenges and threats, including the COVID-19 pandemic, and cooperation between the five states at multilateral fora. In the context of the current epidemiological situation, the BRICS has often expressed solidarity and hope to improve the healthcare systems.

India currently holds the 13th BRICS Chairmanship, which ends in December, and has to pass on to China for the 14th BRICS directorship starting January 2022. The five BRICS countries together represent over 3.1 billion people, or about 40 per cent of the world population. By and large, the coronavirus pandemic has taken a huge toll in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS).

Kester Kenn Klomegah - a researcher specialising in Russia-Africa policy, which spans nearly two decades. Most of his well-resourced articles are reprinted in several reputable foreign media.

The Growing Russia-China Relationship (Растущие российско-китайские отношения) / USA, December, 2021
Keywords: expert_opinion

By Ted Snider

Under the pressure of US sanctions, threats, aggression and an imposed Second Cold War, the Russia-China relationship is growing closer and closer.

Personal Relationship

On December 15, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for a virtual summit. XI welcomed his "old friend," and Putin greeted his "dear friend."

Their greetings to each other were neither scripted nor posturing for the West. In June 2018, Putin told an interviewer that "President XI Jinping is probably the only world leader I have celebrated one of my birthdays with." He added that XI"is a very reliable partner." For his part, XI has called Putin "my best, most intimate friend."

But the growing relationship is not just a friendship between the leaders of the people of the two countries. It is also a growing friendship between the people of the two countries. Relations between Russia and China were not always good. In 2016, before the intense US pressure started pushing the two countries together, only 34% of Russians viewed China favorably; in 2019, 84% saw China as "more a partner than a rival".

International Relationship

Russia and China have also partnered as the leaders of an important new set of international organizations, like the BRICS nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Both of these organizations are intended to balance US hegemony and exceptionalism in international politics. Both of these organizations are huge, each representing nearly half the world, and both are led by Russia and China as the principal partners. Both also include India. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization represents a quarter of the world's economy and four of its nuclear powers.

In their virtual summit, Putin and XI discussed the possibility of a three way summit with India, a member of both BRICS and the SCO: a message the US must surely be listening to as it forces nations to choose sides in the new Cold War.

Bilateral Relationship

But most important is the increasingly tight bilateral relationship between Russia and China.

The modern Russia-China relationship was first contracted with the he Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation, in which the two nations commit not to enter into "any alliance or be party to any bloc . . . which compromises the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the other. . .. " Dmitri Trenin, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center explains the relationship as one in which, though Russia and China "do not have to follow each other," they "will never go against each other."

But Putin said in his June 2018 interview that that treaty "is only the foundation we have built our current relationship on." He said that, building on that foundation, the structure is "growing taller and stronger."

It grew much stronger on June 5, 2019, when according to Alexander Lukin of HSE University in Moscow, Russia and China signed a joint statement announcing a "comprehensive and strategic interaction." Russia is "officially developing," Lukin says, "a 'strategic partnership' with Beijing, making China not only a friend, but practically an ally."

The wording is important. Russia and China both want a world that transcends blocs, and they are reluctant to enter into formal alliances or blocs. They are more than friends and practically allies. Striving for an ambiguous formulation that doesn't commit to being a bloc or an alliance while implying something more than a bloc or an alliance, in his June 2018 interview, Putin described Russia's relationship with China as "a relationship that probably cannot be compared with anything in the world."

Echoing and strengthening that rhetorical ambiguity, in their virtual summit, Chinese President XI Jinping described a relationship that is growing ever closer when he said "this relationship even exceeds an alliance in its closeness and effectiveness."

In a personal correspondence, Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who prepared daily intelligence briefs for several presidents and was Chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch, told me that the XI's formulation would have been chosen very carefully. The calculated ambiguity was meant to convey both that it is not an alliance – so that China doesn't get drawn into Ukraine, and Russia doesn't get drawn into Taiwan – and that is so close it exceeds an alliance. It is a formulation deliberately broadcast during the summit as a warning to the US if it persists in forcing the world into a second cold war. Unlike the first cold war, this time the US will face two superpowers.

McGovern told me that a key part of what is behind this message is Putin's earnestness about getting a legally binding assurance that NATO will stop expanding east toward Ukraine and Russia's borders. But, he said, what is even more important to Putin is NATO's plan to put anti-ballistic missiles within range of Russia.

On December 2, 2021, Putin clearly demanded "reliable and long-term security guarantees [that] would exclude any further NATO moves eastward and the deployment of weapons systems that threaten us in close vicinity to Russian territory." On December 15, the day of his summit with XI, Putin sent the US a proposal on mutual security guarantees and a request for immediate negotiations. Putin informed XI of the security guarantee proposal during their virtual summit.

It was in response to that information that, during the summit, XI said "We firmly support each other on issues concerning each other's core interests" and proposed that Russia and China cooperate to "more effectively safeguard the security interests of both parties."

McGovern says that XI was very clear in stressing that he appreciates and admires Putin's emphasis over the years on the need to respect China's core interests and his strongly resisting US attempts to drive a wedge between China and Russia. XI stressed the close relationship and emphasized that since Putin had admirably and loyally stressed the close and mutually beneficial relationship, he was not going to leave Russia alone in its demand to get security guarantees from the US. The message was clear: they supported us; we will support them. And the issue was clearly NATO.

The choice of words and the public message to Biden were very clear. If you are going to persist in forcing a second cold war, it will be a different cold war. This time it won't be a cold war with Russia or China: it will be a cold war with Russia and China.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.

BRICS+2.0: Integration Reloaded (БРИКС + 2.0: интеграция перезагружена) / Russia, December, 2021
Keywords: brics+, expert_opinion

The regional BRICS+ format is the only feasible platform for economic integration alliances to be finally launched among the BRICS countries after an extended period of limited economic advances in the sphere of common economic integration, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Yaroslav Lissovolik.

The coming of China's chairmanship in the BRICS grouping in 2022 is likely to provide a fresh impulse to the BRICS+ initiative that was launched during the Xiamen summit in 2017. A lot has changed in the course of this 5-year period and, if anything, these developments have reinforced the need for BRICS countries to reach out to the Global South economies and to advance their vision of a more balanced global governance. The various modalities of the BRICS+ framework discussed in the preceding years increasingly point to the relevance of a regional approach that prioritizes greater cooperation between regional integration arrangements where BRICS economies are members as well as their respective regional development institutions.

What happened in the span of the 5 years between China's chairmanship in BRICS in 2017 and 2022? It appears that a lot of the developments in the BRICS universe were associated with the advancement of regional initiatives:

  • The launching of the RCEP project led by China and the ASEAN economies

  • The launching of the African Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA)

  • BRICS+ summit in South Africa, with invitees being representatives of regional blocs from the Global South

  • The signing of a memorandum on understanding between the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and MERCOSUR (in 2018) as well as between the EAEU and ASEAN (2018)

  • The creation of regional centers of the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) in South Africa, Brazil and Russia.

  • Approval of the expansion in the membership of the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) to include Bangladesh and Uruguay — the regional partners of India and Brazil respectively

There is also the Covid pandemic that has rendered the global economy more fragmented and regionalized. Another important development of the past several years is the emergence of regional/trans-regional blocs such as the QUAD and AUKUS. The QUAD in particular aims to expand its purview from military cooperation to economic policy matters within the format of an enlarged QUAD+. In the structural sphere a key trend of the past several years is the emergence of the "platform economy", with corporate platforms becoming the leading engines of growth and innovation. Similar trends are also observed at the regional level, with mega-regional integration arrangements serving as platforms for the aggregation of the multitudes of bilateral and regional FTAs.

All these developments point to the expediency of further advancing the BRICS+ platform on the basis of cooperation among regional integration arrangements and their development institutions where BRICS countries are members. Such a platform could have the BEAMS concept as its core — namely cooperation among the key regional integration initiatives of BRICS economies such as BIMSTEC, EAEU, ASEAN-China FTA, Mercosur and SADC/SACU. This circle of cooperation could be complemented by platforms between regional development banks/regional financing arrangements and NDB/BRICS CRA respectively.

One of the ways to upgrade/modernize this BRICS+ concept into a "BRICS+ 2.0" would be to take on board some of the recent proposals from the World Economic Forum (WEF) concerning the modalities of economic alliances in the modern world. The proposed governance structure (as reflected in the World Economic Forum report entitled "Globalization 4.0 Shaping a New Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution") was characterized by greater flexibility at various levels of governance to pursue plurilateral agreements in specific sectors without the need to ensure complete support for new liberalization initiatives from all countries. In the context of the BRICS+ circle such a framework may leave open the possibility for bilateral and plurilateral agreements to complement the core network of regional alliances formed by BRICS countries and their respective regional neighbours.

Ultimately, the value of the BRICS+ paradigm is not in extending the BRICS countries' reach or ambition — it is about a qualitative change in the pattern of economic development in the Global South. Rather than competing one by one to edge closer to the model of advanced Western economies, the BRICS+ paradigm focusses BRICS countries efforts towards cooperating in building ties with their regional partners and building a common platform for the integration of developing nations into the global economy.

Compared to the original BRICS format, BRICS+ has the advantage of stronger "gravitational ties" at the level of regions that are more massive (and hence exert a stronger gravitational pull in line with the indications of the economic "gravity model" à la Tinbergen) than the respective five BRICS economies. Another important advantage of the BRICS+ framework is greater scope for connectivity projects, which is something that is currently pursued via the creation of BRICS NDB regional centres and the expansion of BRICS NDB membership to include BRICS regional neighbours such as Bangladesh and Uruguay. There is far less scope for such connectivity to be pursued in the more narrow and geographically more separated BRICS space.

The BRICS+ also increases the optionality and the scope of alliances that may be pursued by BRICS countries across the Global South economic space. Moreover, BRICS+ may be the only viable and harmonized format for BRICS to advance common initiatives in the sphere of economic integration, since the majority of BRICS economies now conduct their trade policy only in the framework of their respective regional integration arrangements. This is the case in particular with Brazil (MERCOSUR), Russia (EAEU), South Africa (SADC/SACU). To put this more bluntly, the regional BRICS+ format is the only feasible platform for economic integration alliances to be finally launched among the BRICS countries after an extended period of limited economic advances in the sphere of common economic integration. It may be time then for BRICS to effect a transition to a consistent regional format that could open the possibilities for a new phase of alliances across the wide economic terrain of the Global South.

Investment and Finance
Investment and finance in BRICS
Is financial institutions' stability of BRICS block responsive to uncertain dimensions? (Отвечает ли стабильность финансовых институтов блока БРИКС неопределенным параметрам?) / Pakistan, December, 2021
Keywords: research

The aim of this seminal paper is the empirical analysis of geopolitical risk, economic policy uncertainty, financial stress, and infectious diseases' impact on financial institutions' stability at the country level. The quantitative research approach followed by regression analysis is employed using monthly time series data between January 2000 and January 2021. Separate models are performed for individual countries with and without control variables. The outcomes of this work suggest that geopolitical risk, economic policy uncertainty, financial stress, and infectious diseases hold adverse effects on the financial institutions' stability. There is evidence of declining financial institutions' stability with the rising level of predicting dimensions. The research is limited to the BRICS block but has paramount significance for literature enrichment and policymakers. The findings can assist decision-makers to plan for uncertain events disrupting the financial system. More rigorous research techniques can be levered to endorse the consistency of the evidence. The dimensions adopted in this study address the ongoing paradigm of research. The financial institutions' stability at the country level is a value addition of this work with the selection of persistent and novel predictors of financial systems like financial stress and infectious diseases.
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