China leader’s first trip highlights growing clout of BRICS nations – by Geoffrey York (Globe and Mail – March 22, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

JOHANNESBURG — For a glimpse of a potential new world order, take a look at the carefully chosen plans for the first overseas trip by China’s new President.

Fresh from his triumph in China’s leadership transition this month, Xi Jinping won’t be paying his respects in Washington or Europe on his debut foreign tour. Instead, on Friday, he flies to Russia – and then onward to three resource-rich African countries, in a trip laden with symbolic and political meaning.

The centrepiece of Mr. Xi’s nine-day “diplomatic blitzkrieg,” as some in the African media are calling it, is the annual summit of the BRICS group of nations, to be held in the South African coastal city of Durban next week. The BRICS themselves are evolving into a political entity, offering China a chance to lead the group and campaign for a multipolar world where the West is less dominant.

Originally an economic bloc, BRICS – now comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – is venturing further into politics and security. The summit will feature an unexpectedly heavy agenda of global issues, from the Syrian war to the planned creation of a development bank to compete with the World Bank, with $50-billion in seed money.

In a sign of the group’s expanding diplomatic role, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad this week asked the BRICS nations to intervene in Syria “to stop the violence.”

The BRICS nations have insisted that they don’t see their bloc as a military alliance or a rival to Western-led organizations such as the G8 or NATO. But as the Syrian request shows, BRICS is moving into security issues in a bigger way. Its summit in Durban will include a defence seminar and an exhibition of military products. National-security advisers from the BRICS nations have begun holding their own summits, most recently in New Delhi in January, to discuss hot subjects such as Iran and cybersecurity.

BRICS began a dozen years ago as a clever catchphrase from the imagination of a Goldman Sachs economist. Today, under China’s unofficial leadership, it is evolving into a global force and even a political competitor to the Western-dominated G8 bloc. Beijing says the “peace and security” and “governance” of Africa will be among China’s priorities at the summit.

While it claims to have no political ambitions, BRICS is already a powerful economic bloc. Its leaders boast that it represents 45 per cent of the world’s population, 30 per cent of the world’s territory, 30 per cent of global output and 17 per cent of world trade.

As the BRICS architecture expands into Africa, other regions are clamouring to join. Egypt made a plea for membership this week, and countries such as Indonesia and Turkey are seen as possible future members.

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