Yep, just what the world needs—another international summit. On Thursday, leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa convened under the palm trees of China’s Hainan Island for the third BRICS summit. The acronym was coined back in 2001 by an economist at Goldman Sachs to describe the bright emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China. (The “S” for South Africa was formally added to the bloc this year—and it does raise the question of whether, say, Kenya or Kazakhstan has a better chance of joining next to round out the BRICKS acronym.)
Maybe BRIC sounded catchy in an investment-bank report. In real life, not so much. Even as its organizers try to hype the random assortment of nations as a new G5—its members constitute around 40% of the world’s population and 20% of global GDP—there’s little evidence this grouping can unify itself to counter a presumed Western-dominated tilt in global economics and politics.
That’s because the five nations’ individual aspirations are so diverse as to make shared ambitions difficult to articulate. What really ties Russia and India? Or South Africa and Brazil? Yes, they all are hungry for natural resources to power their economies. But that hardly makes them unique among growing nations. Four of the five BRICS are eager to improve trade relations with the fifth member: China. But, again, pretty much every country on the planet wants both a bigger piece of the China pie and a correction of trade imbalances with the People’s Republic. And the same four out of five BRICS are hardly happy with China’s currency situation. Yet a meeting in Hainan isn’t likely to shape the policy of China’s finance czars, some of whom have openly angled for the Yuan to eventually replace the U.S. Dollar as the global currency of choice.
The prelude to the BRICS summit did involve the usual unveiling of trade deals between various members of the economic bloc. And the BRICS are expected to push for increased elite access to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. They may even say something about Libya. But it’s almost a given that what they say won’t be very interesting. That’s the nature of these kinds of international summits: lots of talk behind closed doors, little of substance said publically.
But even if the BRICS confab wraps up quietly, there’s good news for summit enthusiasts. On Thursday through Saturday, on the same tropical Chinese island, another meeting of international minds will occur: the Boao Forum for Asia. Packaged as a sort of sun-and-surf version of Davos, Boao, which is named after the Hainan town that hosts the conference, has been convening since 2001 without producing much of anything. According to its founding mission, Boao “is committed to promoting regional economic integration and bringing Asian countries even closer to their development goals.” The publicity material for the Forum goes on to say that “countries across the region have responded with strong support and great enthusiasm, and the world has listened attentively to the voice coming from a tiny, quiet and scenic island at the southernmost part of China.” This year, Chinese President Hu Jintao will give Boao’s keynote address. Any guesses on whether the world will truly “listen attentively?”