BRICS for a new world order
Alternative history and an old video game
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The Big Story:
It’s pure coincidence but apt that the five BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa – are holding their 15th annual summit during Gamescom, one of the world’s largest video games expos. The BRICS bloc’s aspirations feel a bit like a new version of an old video game, perhaps Rise of Nations 2.0? Like countries in a world domination video game, BRICS wants to project power. It already accounts for almost half the world’s population, roughly one-quarter of global gross domestic product, and by some measures, a larger share of global economic activity than the G7 rich countries.
Gamescom is in Cologne, Germany; the BRICS summit is in Johannesburg, South Africa. There are few question marks about the video expo; the BRICS game has some glitches. One of the the five BRICS leaders can’t attend in person – Russia’s Vladimir Putin is forced to dial in as he avoids an international arrest warrant for allegedly masterminding the deportation of Ukrainian children.
The leaders physically present also have problems. Xi Jinping’s African safari is no escape from economic headaches at home in China. India’s Narendra Modi is facing criticism for months of ethnic clashes in Manipur, as well as proposed new legislation that could spur more communal trouble. South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa is under pressure because rolling blackouts are strangling his country’s economy. Right now, Brazil’s Lula da Silva is the only BRICS leader with a good story to tell.
In fact, the ‘father’ of BRICS, Jim O’Neill, is pretty downbeat about the bloc. O’Neill coined the BRIC acronym in 2001 to highlight the economic potential of the big four – Brazil, Russia, India, China. BRIC later added South Africa as a member and became BRICS. But O’Neill now says BRICS has “never achieved anything since they first started meeting (as a bloc in 2009)” except “powerful symbolism”.
What does BRICS symbolise? An imagined world in which the West has lost dominance. Like players in a video game, the bloc is considering all manner of strategies to achieve its goal, not least expansion and even a wildly ambitious common currency.
This Week, Those Books:
Picks for this week include a novel that masterfully builds the very world BRICS might want and a non-fiction exploration of the bloc’s once-praised potential.