Since 1 January 2018, South Africa has held the BRICS presidency, during which over 15 ministerial and 60 official meetings and forums have been planned. The central event of the presidency is the 10th Anniversary Summit, which was held on 25-27 July 2018 in Johannesburg under the motto ‘BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4th Industrial Revolution’.
This year, all eyes and ears were turned to the BRICS Summit, given that it was held against the backdrop of crises in other international organisations. The G7 summit in Canada almost ended in scandal because of the introduction of mutual trade restrictions between the members of the organisation. The recent NATO summit in Brussels also couldn’t avoid conflicts and high-profile statements by the leaders of the EU and the United States, which even led to discussion in the media that Donald Trump was considering a US withdrawal from the Alliance.
The main topics of the Summit were not based on intrigue and were determined in advance. The South African presidency intended to concentrate on the tasks of institutionalising, consolidating, and enhancing the effectiveness of the existing mechanisms of the bloc, to strive towards the creation of an inclusive society and global partnerships that will bring prosperity to all of humankind.
The influence of BRICS in the international arena is based on the growing economic power of its member states, their importance as one of the main driving forces for the development of the global economy, large populations, and the availability of rich natural resources in the countries. During the Summit great attention was paid to the economic and political development of the members against the background of the digital industrial revolution. The main innovative aspect of the Summit was the proposal to increase five-way cooperation to use the advantages of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’, aiming to overcome digital and technological gaps between developed and developing countries.
However, BRICS is not only about economics. An important priority in its work is strengthening security and stability in the world. The BRICS member states proceed from the premise that stability should be strong, and security should be indivisible, based on firm guarantees. The countries pay great attention to the tasks of joint counteraction to global challenges and threats. In this regard, South Africa identified the creation of a working group on peacekeeping as one of the priorities of its BRICS presidency in 2018.
During the Summit, the involved parties discussed specific problematic issues. In particular, when discussing the situation around the status of Jerusalem, BRICS leaders stated that the conflicts elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa should not be used to delay resolution of other long-standing conflicts. The sides also reiterated their position on North Korea, stating the need to complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula by peaceful, diplomatic, and political means. Moreover, member states expressed their serious concern about the outer space arms race and announced the need to launch multilateral negotiations on an international convention for the suppression of acts of chemical and biological terrorism, including at the Conference on Disarmament. In addition, all the leaders reaffirm their commitment for a political resolution to the Syrian conflict.
It should be noted that this year’s agenda of the Summit ranged well beyond the limits of relations only between the BRICS members and was devoted to the topic of economic cooperation with African countries. The Summit program envisaged an ‘outreach’ format of meetings with the participation of nine African countries and the chairman of the African Union Commission. The ‘BRICS plus’ concept was also introduced, which would involve the participation of heads of state from five developing countries (Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Turkey, and Jamaica).
One interesting aspect of the Summit were negotiations between Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who was also invited. The Russian leader stated that bilateral relations of the countries are is a stage of recovery. Erdoğan expressed a similar opinion, underlining the rapid development of bilateral relations in all areas, including military, trade, culture, and tourism. In addition to the meeting with Erdoğan, Putin held bilateral talks with the leaders of Argentina, South Africa, Zambia, Angola, and China.
As a result, the member states adopted the Johannesburg Declaration, in which all the parties summed up the BRICS joint activities over the past decade. They also reaffirmed their commitment to “the principles of mutual respect, sovereign equality, democracy, inclusiveness and strengthened collaboration”. The leaders agreed on upholding the principles of multilateralism; strengthening and expanding BRICS cooperation in the areas of international peace and security; to restore the world economy; and reform financial and economic global governance institutions in the area of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Within the framework of the Summit, a Memorandums of Understanding on environmental issues, cooperation, a regional aviation partnership, as well as a Memorandum of Understanding on ‘Collaborative Research on Distributed Ledger and Blockchain Technology in the Context of the Development of the Digital Economy’ were signed.
It seemed that the BRICS Summit participants were trying to take advantage of the need to address existing crises and to develop an alternative platform for discussing world problems. The summit in Johannesburg demonstrated that such an opportunity exists.
BRICS is an inter-state association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, whose political influence is determined by the fact that the member states are an influential part of leading international structures and regional associations such as the UN, G20, Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77, CIS, SCO, APEC, Mercosur, etc.