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Quiet revolution

Astrid Prange / jrbMay 6, 2014

As the Ukraine crisis heightens, the so-called BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - are becoming less willing to accept US world supremacy.

BRICS heads of state (photo: dpa Bildfunk)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The goal of the emerging countries is clear - to change the global order with the United States as the hegemonic power. "The BRICS countries are a group of nations unsatisfied with the international order," said Peter Birle, head of research at the Ibero-American Institute (IAI) in Berlin. "The importance of BRICS could rise if Russia remains permanently excluded from the G8," he added.

According to Birle, thefive emerging countries seek to permanently upend the power constellations established in 1945 and relativize the US position. "All these countries view themselves as emerging powers with a great future ahead of them," he said at the 15th Stuttgarter Schlossgespräch, an annual conference involving a panel of international social science, culture and politicis expert. This year's talks focused on the relationship between Brazil and Europe.

Flexing muscle

In particular, Brazil is looking to growing cooperation among the five emerging countries. Directly after the World Cup soccer tournament and three months ahead of the presidential elections in October, the country will host the next meeting of BRICS countries in Fortaleza on July 15 and 16. The key issue on the agenda is the establishment of a joint development bank with capital stock of US$100 billion (72 billion euros).

The Brazilian Foreign Ministry welcomes the idea. "The development bank is a sign of the economic power of the BRICS countries and their willingness to advance financial cooperation with each other," said a senior diplomat, who collaborated on the founding text for the development bank at the previous BRICS summit in Durban in March 2013.

Vladimir Putin and Dilma Rousseff (photo: REUTERS/Igor Russak/RIA Novosti/Pool)
Vladimir Putin and Dilma Rousseff are heads of two BRICS countriesImage: Reuters

The most recent conflict between the BRICS countries and the United States was at the spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Washington in April when an agreed reform of the IMF failed because of a veto by the US Congress.

In 2010, IMF members had agreed to shift voting rights by 6 percent in favor of the developing and emerging countries. The reason: over the past 10 years, BRICS countries increased their share of global gross domestic product from 18 percent to 28 percent.

Counterweight to US dominace

In Brazil, the veto by the US Congress caused an outcry, further deteriorating the already strained relations between the two countries. Following the surveillance scandal revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff distanced herself from Washington, promptly cancelling her planned meeting with US President Barack Obama in September 2013.

Rousseff's predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, in office from 2003 to 2011, had established a counterweight to the political dominance of the US in Latin America by expanding the so-called south-south cooperation. Growing trade among emerging markets resulted in China replacing the US as the primary buyer of Brazilian products in 2009. Since 2012, the Chinese have also been Brazil's most important import partner.

Brasilien China Finanzminister Guido Mantega Lou Jiwei (photo: REUTERS/Rogan Ward)
Brazil is reaching out to ChinaImage: Reuters

For Rousseff, the political and strategic cooperation with China is even more important than the growing trade between the two countries. Brazil views the participation of Chinese President Xi Jinping at the BRICS summit in Fortaleza as an absolute priority. His official visit is the first of a Chinese head of state in Brazil and in the region. After the BRICS summit, a meeting is planned with the heads of state of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac).

The Ukraine crisis is accelerating the strategic orientation of Brazil toward Asia and Africa. It appears the greater Moscow's isolation, the better the coordination among the BRICS members. Neither Brazil nor China, India or South Africa have commented on the events in Kyiv or Crimea. The principle of nonintervention has clearly welded the otherwise heterogeneous countries together.

"For Brazil, the BRICS countries are a platform to benefit as a mediator and reformer on the international stage," said Cristina Pecequilo, a political scientist at the University of Sao Paulo, adding that she doesn't view Russia's G8 exclusion as so tragic. "The emerging countries are better represented by BRICS than by the G8."