Tatiana Bokova, Intern of the Russian National Committee on BRICS Research – special for InfoBRICS
In September 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the Belt and Road Initiative. Initially, it focused on connectivity and land integration of the western part of China with Central Asia and Europe. Over the years, it has added maritime routes that include Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, Africa, and as of 2018, they already included it in Latin America with its projection towards the Arctic Ocean. More than 20 countries have already signed a Memorandum of Understanding to take part in this initiative and foreign direct investment from China in several regions has already surpassed $90 billion.
As the initiator of the Belt and Road Initiative, China also acts as a member of the BRICS, which will help achieve the goals of seeking, shaping and promoting a new model of international cooperation and development by strengthening existing regional bilateral and multilateral mechanisms with Chinese participation by building infrastructure, expanding trade and cultural exchanges. The peculiarity of the initiative is the openness to participation of all interested countries from all regions of the world, and the broad geographical focus. However, the highest priority regions for cooperation at present are Asia, Europe and Africa.
Although the initiative and BRICS are not directly linked and not all participating countries have signed the Memorandum of Understanding, this article will discuss the interaction of the member nations under the Belt and Road Initiative, common strivings, tendencies, and areas for cooperation.
BRICS and the Belt and Road Initiative are platforms for joint development through consultation, construction and sharing, which complement each other, achieve mutual benefits and win-win results, coordinate development and common progress. BRICS is an important mechanism for cooperation and global governance, in which China actively takes part and plays an important role. It focused on promoting the reform of the international order in a direction that benefits developing countries.
The Belt and Road Initiative launched by China aims to join efforts with other economies of the world to realize the "five links" (political communication, site linkage, seamless trade, financial integration and person-to-person connections) and create a community with a common future for humanity through extensive consultation, co-building and exchange. As the BRICS mechanism and the Belt and Road Initiative converge in ideas, principles and goals, both see developing countries, especially emerging economies, as major objects of cooperation. There are some similarities between them that can be used for comparison and mutual promotion.
The BRICS countries and those involved in the initiative seek convergence of national strategic policies and priority areas and continue to move towards the goal of creating large trade, investment markets and major infrastructure connectivity. In addition, the BRICS mechanism's spirit of openness, inclusiveness and cooperation is quite in line with the Belt and Road principle of joint consultation, building and sharing. On the other hand, the Belt and Road has also provided a broader platform for BRICS cooperation, as the participating countries can build stronger ties with their surrounding states and other neighbors in the region, and significantly increase the level of regional integration in the five areas mentioned earlier. Effective cooperation among the BRICS members can join forces and contribute to implementing the Belt and Road Initiative.
Infrastructure is undoubtedly an important area of cooperation. For example, some BRICS countries lack manufacturing technology and infrastructure. China, Russia and India have land borders, but the infrastructure in the border areas is poorly developed, which affects the connectivity and cooperation between the states. Consequently, both BRICS and the Belt and Road can jointly focus on building infrastructure in underdeveloped regions in order to facilitate convenient and smooth economic and trade cooperation.
Second, group of five and initiative strive for constant and shared development. Poverty has always been a long-standing problem for developing countries. In the process of BRICS cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative, poverty reduction and eradication are very important goals. Since the reform and opening-up policy, China has contributed to the reduction of global poverty. In the process of poverty alleviation, China has always cultivated and strengthened local competitive and distinctive industries, strengthened the industrial base and relied on industrial development.
Thus, BRICS countries and countries along the Belt and Road can learn from China's experience in implementing innovation strategies and promoting "mass entrepreneurship and innovation" and actively build an entrepreneurial innovation ecosystem with dynamic innovation actors. It is relevant because, first, innovation stimulates industrial transformation and modernization, increases innovative investment and innovative cooperation in emerging areas, and contributes to improving the quality and efficiency of enterprises. Second, entrepreneurship can promote employment, alleviate unemployment in different countries and enable people to generate income and wealth. Governments in all countries should attach importance to the important role of small and medium-sized enterprises in boosting employment and economic growth.
Exploring further the coordinated development of the Belt and Road Initiative and the BRICS cooperation mechanism, we see that this is also important for building a fairer and smarter new order of international cooperation. For example, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New BRICS Development Bank are global monetary and credit institutions, while the Belt and Road is a global economic and trade mechanism. It can be assumed that the mutual support of these banks and the Silk Road Fund can allow developing countries to integrate and cooperate in order to independently and effectively promote global governance reform, including increasing employment opportunities, accelerating industrialization and achieving sustainable economic development.
Having broadly defined the ideas, goals, concepts and spirit pursued by BRICS and the Belt and Road Initiative, we can move on to a discussion of the BRICS countries' relationship to the project. The BRICS mechanism can effectively promote the construction and development of the Belt and Road. Thus, the attitude of the BRICS countries is crucial. Not only the further development of the BRICS mechanism, but also the effectiveness of cooperation among the BRICS members will depend on whether the participating economies support this strategy. Initially, not all states accepted the idea of the Belt and Road, but now they express a positive attitude to the initiative and are ready to contribute to its development and promotion. For example, besides China, Russia, Brazil and South Africa, also play such a role as hubs and offshoots in Eurasia, South America and Africa that are difficult for other countries to replace. India, with its great economic development potential, is also a leading force in promoting the Belt and Road.
Russia is an important partner in the Belt and Road, with which the "Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China on Cooperation in Linking the Construction of the Eurasian Economic Union and the Silk Road Economic Belt" was signed in 2015. However, in the first half of 2022, China's funding and investments in Russia, under China's global development and cooperation project "One Belt, One Road" decreased. This is primarily because of the February events in Ukraine and the threat of sanctions from Western countries. Although there has been a drop in investment, Chinese experts argue that this is only temporary and that the trade and economic sector is still growing.
As for Brazil, the joint promotion of Sino-Brazilian cooperation since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Brazil has always maintained a good dynamic, including economic and infrastructure relations. However, although Brazil has not signed the Memorandum of Understanding on the Belt and Road initiative or related documents, its position regarding participation in it is positive and opportunities for Sino-Brazilian infrastructure cooperation are only expanding.
Despite this, many domestic and foreign experts do not see any connection between BRICS and the Belt and Road Initiative, as it is China's national initiative, while BRICS mostly focuses on the initiatives of the association itself. Moreover, there is a point here that the positions of BRICS members have not always been and remain the same, so when discussing the ways and means of BRICS participation in this initiative, it cannot be seen as a single entity.
The BRICS mechanism and the Belt and Road Initiative can be seen as a new model of international cooperation created by developing countries based on their own needs for further progress. In the turbulent international environment and lack of own capacities, China needs Russia and other BRICS countries, and Russia and all other BRICS members also need China. Whether through BRICS or the Belt and Road, China, Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa will continue to improve their global competitiveness and enhance mutual strategic trust and cooperation. In the long term, this will inevitably bring more opportunities for development and cooperation to the entire international community.