As we were winding up the August/September print issue of New African, an event of great global, as well as African, import was taking place in Johannesburg. It was the 10th summit of the BRICS states (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). By Anver Versi
This summit of essentially developing nations comes at one of those momentous periods in human history when the global balance of power and economic domination could tip over and shift decisively.
Historically, there have been several dominant civilisations, from Mesopotamia to the Persian Empire, from India and China to Rome and Constantinople, from the Islamic civilisation to Western Christian hegemony, which was characterised by an active colonisation of most of the world.
After the end of World War ll, the US and the Soviet Union emerged as the undisputed leaders of the world. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US, at the head of the Western European nations, remained the sole global superpower – unmatched in military, economic and cultural strength and reach.
This period also saw the break-up of the former global colonial empires of Britain and France, principally, but also to a minor extent, those of Portugal and Spain, unleashing a host of independent sovereign states onto the global stage.
While the dominant West sought to entrench its economic and military suzerainty, the former colonies embarked on a process of economic and political reforms – some more successfully than others.
Some 30-40 years ago, new economic forces began to emerge, mainly in East Asia and to some extent, Latin America. Globalisation and a quantum leap in technology shrank the
world and ushered in an era of unprecedented growth in world trade.
Initially the Tiger economies, and China, served as the ‘world’s factory floor’, applying surplus Western capital to their vast pools of cheap labour to produce goods for the affluent West.
About a decade ago, there was a decided shift in the economic power balance as China emerged as the second-largest economy after the US and it is projected that in another 20 years, Asia will be the world’s dominant economic power.
The West had two choices – either ride with the winds of change and benefit from the new prosperity emanating from the East, or confront it. The West chose the former option – until the election of Donald Trump, who has effectively declared a trade war with China and by extension, with many of the Tigers, as well as Africa.
The EU, which collectively has a GDP very similar to that of the US, disagreed and promptly invited the wrath of Trump, who announced a regime of punitive tariffs on their exports. (He has climbed down since, but the details are still vague.)
Meanwhile, 10 years ago, four of the developing world’s most industrialised countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China, formed a club to advance their interests as a group. South Africa was invited to join later, expanding the club to BRICS.
The BRICS set up their own development bank as many felt that the World Bank, controlled by the West, was stifling their development.
A defiant stance
The 10th BRICS summit in Johannesburg therefore has implications that go far beyond similar summits in the past. Reading between the lines, their stance is one of defiance to the US and a demand to be considered equal, not junior partners in global hegemony.
Addressing the summit, China’s President Xi Jinping said: “A trade war should be rejected because there will be no winner.
“Unilateralism and protectionism are mounting, dealing a severe blow to multilateralism and the multilateral trading regime,” he said, without mentioning the US by name.
“We are facing a choice between cooperation and confrontation, between opening up and closed-door policy and between mutual benefit and a beggar-thy-neighbour approach.
“The international community has again reached a new crossroads.”
Indeed. Unless Trump climbs down from his high horse and accepts that the US can longer impose its will on the rest of the world, it will find itself isolated. Trump will be forced to realise that in the new reality, it needs the world more than the world needs it.
Over the past two decades, most African countries have steadily moved their chips towards the East, whilst showing courtesy to the West. They have chosen the ‘win-win’ strategy over the ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ one. From all indications, they are holding a winning combination of cards. NA