In stormy waters it is common for fishermen in southeast China to set out to sea in groups.
Each boat has its own captain, but they will discuss fishing strategies when they return from a voyage. Over cans of beer, they argue but soon find common ground and set the time for the next sail.
Leaders of the world’s five major developing countries were doing something similar when they met in Xiamen for the annual summit themed “BRICS: Stronger Partnership for a Brighter Future.”
The BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are like five boats on a fishing trip. Each has its own cause, but they sail in one direction with a common aim. At this crucial juncture lessons need to be drawn, and the “captains” need to set the direction for the journey ahead.
In Xiamen, Xi Jinping chaired the BRICS summit for the first time as Chinese president. He debuted in the 2013 Durban summit on his first foreign trip as head of state, and has played an active role in the group ever since.
Xi summed up the work of BRICS over the past decade: “Treating each other as equals and seeking common ground while shelving differences.” BRICS has always favored dialogue over confrontation, partnership over alliance, he said.
This wisdom has formed the spark of China’s foreign policy with Xi at the helm. And it has been brought into BRICS cooperation.
Days before the Xiamen summit, a military standoff between China and India at the foot of the Himalayas ended peacefully, a clear example of using the wisdom.
Tarun Vijay, head of the India-China Parliamentary Group of the Confederation of Indian Industries, said it is important for the world’s two largest developing countries to speak with a common voice in multilateral arenas.
He cited a Chinese proverb to describe the future of BRICS. “When brothers work together, their strength can break metal.”
Meeting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Xiamen summit, Xi said China is ready to boost political trust with India. A healthy and stable bilateral relationship is in line with the fundamental interests of the two peoples.
When the tide rises
At the summit, BRICS leaders were constantly reminded of the sea. The logo was a sail in five colors. The conference building, a nearby hotel and the city’s airport terminal are all in the shape of a ship.
Xi knows this culture well, as he was Xiamen’s deputy mayor in the 1980s. He loves to spice up his speeches with illuminating seafaring metaphors.
On Monday night, Xi invited his foreign colleagues to watch an evening gala, themed “Setting Sail for the Future.” “It is time to set sail when the tide rises,” he said.
BRIC was coined by former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill in 2001 to describe four emerging economies with fast growth and great potential. The framework took shape in 2006. Four years later, South Africa joined. BRIC grew into BRICS.
Initially formed on economic prowess, the group has increasingly found a common voice on thorny geopolitical issues.
In Xiamen, BRICS leaders were quick to respond to the latest nuclear test in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which detonated a hydrogen bomb the day the summit opened.
In their joint declaration, BRICS leaders expressed “deep concern” over the ongoing tension and prolonged nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, saying that it should only be settled through peaceful means and direct dialogue.
The declaration also touched upon issues in Syria, Yemen, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One day earlier, Xi called on BRICS countries to shoulder their responsibilities in upholding world peace. “We should take a constructive part in the process of resolving geopolitical hotspot issues and make our due contributions,” he said.
With Xi, China has emerged as a responsible power on world stage. Looking to help empower the emerging countries, China has increased its responsibility in global governance from climate change to peace-keeping. In the years leading up to the Xiamen summit, China hosted the leaders of APEC, the G20, and countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative.
Xi told the press after the summit that BRICS leaders agreed to deepen political and security cooperation and enhance mutual strategic trust.
Playing a bigger role in security was part of the four-point proposal Xi raised at the BRICS Business Forum. The president talked about creating new impetus for economic growth in BRICS countries, improving global governance and building extensive partnerships.
Wang Wen, a professor at Renmin University of China, said the proposal had clear input from the governance wisdom and will help BRICS gain strength.
Economic cooperation remains at the foundation of BRICS, and Xi has been calling for openness and larger representation of the developing countries in global economic governance since his first BRICS summit appearance in 2013.
With anti-globalization and inward-looking mentality on the rise, Xi in Xiamen repeated his support for an open global economy, multilateral trade and fight against protectionism. “Emerging market will be hurt most by protectionism,” Xi said. “Openness, inclusiveness, and win-win cooperation are the only viable option.”
Together, BRICS represented 23 percent of global GDP in 2016 and had contributed to more than half of global economic growth in the past decade. But it has not all been plain sailing, as demand shrank, financial risks rose and commodity prices slumped.
Larissa Wachholz, a partner at Brazilian consulting firm Vallya, said Xi’s focus on economic growth, win-win development and equal partnership is important to Brazil. The Brazilian economy just climbed out of recession in the first quarter of 2017.
Opening the BRICS Business Forum, Xi encouraged BRICS countries to pursue innovation-driven development created by smart manufacturing, the digital economy and sharing economy.
This came no surprise to Lenovo chairman Yang Yuanqing, who is all too aware that China is leading the world in Internet technology. The digital economy, with a market scale worth 22.6 trillion yuan, has risen to take up 30 percent of GDP in China. Meanwhile, leading Chinese tech companies are expanding overseas.
In India, Alibaba’s subsidiary partnered with local mobile payment company Paytm and boosted its number of users from 30 million to 200 million, the company said.
“Chinese companies are willing to share their experience as they explore the overseas market,” Yang said. “Seizing the opportunities of the digital revolution, BRICS can achieve impressive growth and overtake developed countries.”
Xi said the new technological revolution has brought developing countries precious chances to play catch-up.
“Losing it, the developing countries will see the divide between them and the developed world grow wider,” he said.
The first ever Dialogue of Emerging Market and Developing Countries became another bright spot at the Xiamen summit.
Leaders of Mexico, Egypt, Tajikistan, Guinea and Thailand were invited by China to sit at a roundtable with BRICS leaders.
Although outreach programs have existed in past BRICS summits since 2013, it was the first time the program had such an extensive representation — from almost every region of the world.
Xi said BRICS cooperation was more than about just five countries, but carried the expectation of the entire international community.
Xi said BRICS leaders supported the “BRICS Plus” approach proposed by China to strengthen South-South cooperation.
People all over the world are beginning to realize the sheer potential of BRICS for cooperation among developing countries.
“BRICS is really going to shock people in terms of what is able to achieve,” said South African businessman Iqbal Surve.
Xi called out to his colleagues: “Let us set sail from Xiamen and join hands to usher in the second ‘golden decade’ of BRICS cooperation.”