BRICS Summit: Afghanistan likely to dominate discussions

While the alliterative theme of this year’s BRICS Summit is “cooperation for continuity, consolidation and consensus”, conversations are likely to be dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic, security and Afghanistan.

For the second year running, Thursday’s annual gathering of the world’s leading emerging economies – including Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (comprising the acronym BRICS) – will be held virtually due to the pandemic.

The summit will be chaired by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is slated to attend, along with President Xi Jinping of China, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The attendance of Xi, who is selective about his appearances, is especially significant.

“China is sending a signal that it is still pursuing a multi-polar world,” Ian Johnson, senior fellow for China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Al Jazeera. “It’s also part of China’s continuing foreign policy to water down US influence in the world by pursuing other groupings of countries, such as BRICS.”

Crises old and new

The first BRIC summit was held in Russia in 2009. Born in the shadow of the global financial crisis, the gathering – which added South Africa a year later, along with an “S” in its acronym – aimed to pool the burgeoning power of the world’s leading emerging economies to the benefit of each member and to spur global financial reform.

Today, the BRICS nations account for roughly a quarter of global gross domestic product (GDP).

Like their developed-economy counterparts, BRICS members are still grappling with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the recovery among them is far from equal, and all face headwinds from virus-related disruptions.

China – the world’s second-largest economy – has been bouncing back strongly from last year’s COVID-19 blow. The most recent bit of good news arrived on Tuesday when government data showed that exports grew at a faster-than-expected pace last month.

India, which suffered a devastating second wave of COVID-19 earlier this year, is on track to mount the world’s fastest growth by year’s end, while Russia’s economy has recovered to pre-pandemic strength.

Brazil and South Africa are the group’s laggards. Brazil’s economy shrank unexpectedly in the three months ending in June, and political unrest is further muddying the outlook. South Africa’s economy grew 1.2 percent in the second quarter, but a contraction is expected in the third quarter after deadly riots swept the nation.

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