The China Monitor: A Special Report on BRICS 2013 – Is the Road from Durban Leading into Africa?


In the run-up to the 5th BRICS Summit from 26 to 27 March 2013 in Durban, South Africa, the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University published in March a special edition of The China Monitor that looks at all five member countries.

The articles include:
–Contemporary Brazil-Africa Relations: Bilateral Strategies and Engagement with Other BRICS by Danilo Marcondes de Souza Neto.
–Russia’s Africa Policy by Alexandra A. Arkhangelskaya.
–India’s Cooperation Mechanisms with Africa and its Implications for China by Liu Zongyi.
–A Promising Partnership between BRICS and Africa: A Chinese Perspective by Zhang Chun.
–South Africa: BRICS Member and Development Partner in Africa by Sven Grimm.




The BRICS summit 2013 – Is the road from Durban leading into Africa?

Dear Reader,

After having joined the club for 2012, South Africa is going to host the annual summit of heads of state of the BRICS in late March 2013. In the light of South Africa’s foreign policy – if not just for being the African BRICS member state – it is consequential to have chosen Africa’s development as the overarching topic for this summit.

The Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University focusses particularly on China-Africa relations and explores China’s growing role in the world. Africa is no small feature in China’s foreign policy and its economic strategy. This special edition has the purpose to provide background on the various African agendas of the BRICS members in order to inform decision-makers and the broader public on the background of deliberations held in Durban. The discussion we want to provide input to with this publication clearly is not the somewhat futile debate about whether South Africa fits within the BRICS or not; it now is a member state and discussion should rather focus on what South Africa can achieve and which agenda it should promote. The question we asked our authors for this publication was how the other BRICS see the continent and how do their respective agendas fit with Chinese (and South African) foreign policy goals when it comes to Africa.

As a common point, Africa is seen as an economic opportunity as well as a politically valuable partner by all BRICS members. All contributions emphasise economic and political interests – and more or less have a perspective on Africa as a ‘last frontier’ in the global economy. There is also a sometimes startling directness about own interests in African states, even if these interests are not always identical between the BRICS. The emphasis is on common ground with Africa or parts of it, be it linguistically (Brazil and the lusophone states), the shared African identity and destiny (South Africa), South-South linkages (China, India), common values (India, Brazil) or complementarities in the economy (somewhat emphasised for all BRICS). Russia, for its part, and besides its engagement in the BRICS and the G8, interestingly is pursuing an application to join the OECD. Some BRICS also emphasise the openness towards and the usefulness of triangular cooperation (Brazil, South Africa), while others are rather highlighting the bilateral drive (Russia, China and India less so).

With regard to common challenges, peace and security in Africa is highlighted as a worry by several contributors. Also, we do read about the risk of ‘overburdening’ BRICS countries with expectations; in a European debate, we would presumably discuss this as an ‘expectations-capabilities gap’, which is interestingly a common worry when BRICS look at the African continent. Big agenda’s will have to be delivered on big—but how big can the BRICS go without straining the weak cohesion too much?

While the media term of a second ‘Scramble for Africa’ might be exaggerated—this is not the 19th century – all our contributions indeed point to commercial and other rivalries between the BRICS states when it comes to their interest in African countries. Mining is mentioned throughout; not least as a strong interest in Africa’s resources. But it is not all about resources; it is also about access to markets, possibly involving mining, as there are specific interests in investments in this sector due to perceived competitive advantages of enterprises that engage in mining in the respective BRICS country, not least so from Brazil, Russia or South Africa. Yet, the competition transcends natural resources only and includes the creation of markets for other goods. And, not to forget: there are political rivalries for attention and support. This competition might not be a surprise when considering the diverse historical backgrounds, economic structures and political drivers for engagement with Africa and its constituent parts.

One might actually understand the scramble rather as a strive for a good position in an accelerated globalisation, with some defensive elements to it, and some more or less virile seeking of opportunities wherever they present themselves.

This, on the one hand, clearly illustrates that the BRICS are not a block of countries, and they don’t have homogenous interests. Neither are they a trade block. It is a loose club, possibly with potential, but a club with little institutional structure nevertheless. Yet, on the other hand, it does not automatically mean ‘doom’ for the BRICS, as it does not necessarily prevent states from searching for common ground with regard to fleshing out common elements for an African agenda. Some authors explicitly explore that common ground (e.g. the contribution on China), while others emphasise the learning from each other, as most explicitly does the article on India that looks into lessons China can learn from its South Asian neighbour. Some thought is also given on how to include Africa in this search for an agenda, instead of simply regarding the continent of an ‘object of desire’. This holds many opportunities for the continent – and will also mean challenges for smaller states to meaningfully engage with the non-Western global giants and South Africa.

Only in comparison to others can we make meaningful statements about the BRICS role and position in the world. This is not necessarily always about ‘the BRICS’ vs. ‘the West’. Over all of these BRICS debates, we should, however, not forget that other actors, other emerging economies, are also engaging in Africa. Turkey is Africa’s six largest trade partner. Thailand’s overall trade volume with the African continent was larger that that of Russia in 2009. And Malaysia presumably hosts more African students than does China – with a clear appetite for an increasing role as an educational hub. The world is becoming more diverse and therefore provides more opportunities for African societies – if they take up the challenge, engage with the outside world, define own interests in these engagements, and organise around priorities. That is difficult to maintain, but still a better situation than having only few partners with limited interests as was the case in the 1990s.

Several sips from the alphabet soup are needed to understand dynamics between emerging economies and Africa. With regard to China, there is FOCAC (the China-Africa Cooperation Forum). Somewhat in the shadow of the discussion is IBSA (the India, Brazil, South Africa Coordination) towards which BRICS states have different perspectives and which might be eclipsed by BRICS – or it might actually serve a different purpose. There is the G77, the group of developing countries. And the African continent has its own list of acronyms describing its variety of regional integration efforts: the AU, NEPAD, ECOWAS, SADC, COMESA and others. And there is BRICS itself that our authors cast a light on from their respective backgrounds.

We are proud to present one analytical piece on each of the BRICS countries, mostly written by authors from these countries. While the authors are academics and are thus not speaking for their governments, they provide good insights into the debates in their country – and also give interesting recommendations to the respective government. This is a different purpose to our academic journal – African East-Asian Affairs – and we have thus decided to revive our “China Monitor” format as a special edition. We are presenting the articles in the order that is suggested by following the BRICS acronym: Brazil first, South Africa last. We hope you enjoy what we feel is a stimulating read!

Click the link below to read the full report in PDF format