The BRICS, the G20, and the new (old) emerging world

The BRICS, the G20, and the new (old) emerging world

India hosted the G20 Summit of the world’s 20 largest economies on September 9-10, rebranding itself under its new (old) name, Bharat, the traditional Hindu name for the country. It is not the first G20 country to be rebaptized in the wake of cultural nationalism. Turkey recently officially submitted its new international name as Turkiye. 

The counterpoint is interesting. Emerging economies are charging into the internationalized 21st century by combining leaps of technological modernization with the revival of a traditional de-Westernized national identity. The aircraft carrier with the mosque, the spaceship with the sacred cows of Hinduism. Material engagement with the West in tandem with a symbolic weaning from the West. 

Contradictions reign in our multipolar world. India is a pillar of the BRICS, but Indian troops regularly clash violently with their Chinese counterparts on the bilateral border, each side wielding iron batons and sticks. India has refused to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but it is a strategic partner of the United States, France, and now Greece. Turkey maintains close cooperation with Putin’s Russia while being a member of the Western Alliance. A founding member of BRICS is Brazil, a new member is Argentina, and both are also candidate members of the geopolitically “Western” but dynamically expanding OECD.

Our post-post-Cold War modernity too carries its own regressive characteristics. For the first time since the 1990s, the spread of Western-style globalization is now in reverse. The main driver of developments is no more the geoeconomics of market efficiency but the resurgent raison d’etat of geopolitics. For the first time, the global order of Western-devised multilateral institutions is threatened not only by the rise of a competing superpower like China, but by the tendency of an expanding bloc of countries centered around the BRICS and China to assert greater autonomy vis-a-vis the West and its institutions. The absence of the Russian and Chinese presidents from the G20 Summit in New Delhi may signal an attempt to weaken the G20 as a multilateral grouping in favor of the BRICS. China and Russia appeared aligned in the long negotiations on the nearly 40-page joint communique of the G20 Summit on issues such as Ukraine and terrorism.

The current situation was nurtured by the developments of recent decades. Not only China’s emergence through global trade as an economic and now geopolitical superpower. Not only the entry into the global arena of new actors such as India, Indonesia and Turkiye. But also the deepening rift between globalized elites and the social hinterlands being left behind in countries like the United States. And the international polarization following Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which re-solidified the West as a geopolitical bloc, but also triggered the reaction of a large number of neo-nonaligned states critical of the West, in seeking financial and monetary autonomy from the US dollar. 

And so a multilateral world system where the West had a dominant role is now moving towards two multilateral systems, or towards a new multipolar world which is (perhaps) tending towards a new bipolarity. Over 20 countries have applied for membership of the BRICS, seven of the G20 are now BRICS. 

Some may aspire for the BRICS to become not only the geopolitical voice of the “Global South” but also a rival pole to the West. But the “West versus Global South” confrontation is by no means a foregone conclusion, and not only because many BRICS have no interest in severing their close ties with the West. The internal contradictions of the BRICS determine the limits of their collective ambition. A heterogeneous group of countries, with rivalries between them (India vs China, Iran vs Saudi Arabia, Egypt vs Ethiopia), the BRICS have no single market or common regulatory standards. Their monetary autonomy from the dollar would require much more than China can offer.  

The OECD of 38 democracies now operates as the actual center for formulating and supporting policies decided at the G7 and G20 level. It engages its members and a wide array of global partners from the emerging and developing world in intensive elaboration of common standards and rules, bottom-up benchmarking and best practices. It is also a reliable forum for linking the developed world with the Global South. The OECD is working with China to harmonize Chinese standards and policies with the OECD in areas from agriculture and chemicals to development cooperation and corporate governance. The multilateral OECD/G20 “Two-Pillar Framework” for corporate taxation was signed by 139 countries – including China. In promoting sustainable development and combating climate change, the West and China are coming together – not against the best interests of China, which dominates the solar energy, battery and electric vehicle global supply chains.  

The useful contribution of the BRICS is in alerting the developed world that it must urgently put its relationship with the Global South on a new footing. The European Union is moving in that direction. New financial instruments and policies of Western multilateral institutions (including Macron’s New Global Financing Pact) are seeking to mobilize resources and green investment towards the developing world. The G20 has now opened to the African Union, and a permanent seat for Africa on the UN Security Council is supported by both Europe and the US. The OECD’s Global Strategy Group, to be chaired by Greece in December 2023, will reflect on the economic implications of this new and evolving global geopolitical environment. 

Professor George Pagoulatos is Greece’s permanent representative to the OECD.

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