Department of Culture and Learning

The BRICS as an Emerging Power: Reality or Myth?

International Workshop

The BRICS as an Emerging Power:
Reality or Myth?

Aalborg University
28-29 September, 2017

The workshop’s background rationale and objective

The term “BRIC” (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) was first coined by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill in 2001, who intended to denote a new phenomenon of the four fastest-growing emerging economies of the world. The formation of the BRIC as a grouping emerged when the foreign ministers of the four countries met in New York in 2006, followed by a series of high-level meetings. Since then, the BRIC gradually evolved into a multilateral grouping with the first summit held in 2009. It became “BRICS” when South Africa was invited by China to the Third Heads of State BRIC Summit.

Based on the phenomenon of the rise of new or emerging powers coupled with the situation of the financial crisis that has been weakening the traditional powers, global research and academic communities are predicting that the world order is experiencing a rebalancing of power. Such prediction is most evident in the economic dimension but has implications in the global political domains as well. Many scholars highlighted this transformation from a Realist perspective that the world is experiencing an interesting but “disturbing” moment characterized by an imbalance between the order and the distribution of power that is becoming more diffused. 

Academic debates on world order transformations have revolved around this theme. The main focus has been the crisis of U.S. hegemony and the rise of new powers China and the other BRICS countries that are challenging the US-led world order. Many (have) argued that the BRICS was (is) on the course to reshape and transform the global economy. Other scholars also try to turn the perspective 180 degrees around and focus on how countries in different regions such as Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe etc. are reacting to the rise of new powers and the rebalancing of the world economy. Rebalancing here is understood as a change in the distribution of economic power in the world.

However, after almost a decade of the birth of the “BRICS” acronym, what is the situation today? The situation in Brazil is particularly discouraging. The Brazilian economy is heavily reliant on commodity exports, and it went into recession (South Africa has a similar situation). The Russian economy has for many years pulled back and suffered from collapsing oil prices. The Ukraine crisis turned Russia-West relations back to the Cold War. Due to a devaluation in currency and western sanctions restricting its trade, Russia is experiencing its worst recession in six years. India’s economic growth is far from robust, and the country remains a relatively high level of unemployment, it still suffers from comprehensive poverty and backward infrastructure.

Despite the fact that China also experienced its slowest pace of economic growth at a rate of 6-7% in recent years, the country is the world’s second largest economy, and is becoming as if the biggest challenge to the BRICS’ future. China is seemingly dominating all the new institutions of which the BRICS interest is claimed to be presented. However, China seems to be identified as a revisionist power with respect to the global financial architecture, but a status quo power with regard to the United Nations system in terms of rejecting the enlargement of the Security Council. Even though the Chinese President claimed that potential and strength of the BRICS was "unchanged”, there is an increasingly consensual opinion with media headlines that “BRICS falls under China’s sway” or “China’s lengthening shadow over BRICS” or “China uses the BRICS to push its own agenda”.

The overall objective of the workshop aims to review the development of the BRICS in the past decade including the worldwide discussion and analysis on the topics of emerging powers in general and China’s impact in particular. It is expected that the workshop will contribute to a better understanding of the dialectic relationship and complexities between hegemonic and counter-hegemonic socio-economic and socio-political forces. The workshop seems to be timely more relevant and important when the world is witnessing the swing of US policies, and when Trump’s “America First” is sending worrying signals to emerging powers in general and US-China relations in particular.

The workshop’s theme and some research questions involved

The workshop is to thematically focus on, on the one hand, the transformation process in world politics and the international system provoked by rise of emerging powers; and on the other hand, the challenges and constraints faced by the emerging powers in their endeavors to make a fundamental change in the capitalist world order. Over the past few years, the BRICS have been forced to face many hard realities: 1) vulnerable economies; 2) political instabilities; 3) Russia-West confrontations; 4) India-China mistrust; 5) the predicted China-US confrontations ahead with the unfolding of the US Trump Administration. 

Analysts have in recent years been intrigued by the question of the impact on global politics and global governance brought about by the rise of emerging/rising powers. The BRICS countries and the coalition between them along with the global rise of China in particular have been at the center of many puzzling questions. Especially, against the background of the difficulties and weakening global influences of the BRICS countries, one of the major headline questions can be: is the BRICS as an “emerging group” losing centrality due to the lack of cohesiveness and the economic and political crises in individual BRICS states? Will the BRICS coalition survive as a group when it is seemingly unable so far, both politically and economically, to unveil a common determination to help bring about fundamental changes in the architecture of the existing world order or to accelerate the balancing of the Atlantic dominance?

The workshop is particularly interested in inviting papers/presentations that provide insightful discussions and analyses on a number of related research questions:

  • Is the BRICS as a group developing as a cohesive coalition in world politics?
  • Is there an effect on the cohesiveness of the BRICS group from economic and political crises experienced by some of its members?
  • To what extent do the BRICS countries prioritize the BRICS group in their foreign policy?
  • To what extent are changes in government in BRICS countries leading to changes in their global strategies and thus in the relative priority given to the BRICS coalition?
  • What is the main defined aim of the BRICS group when there are serious differences in their respective national interest, regional orientation, security concern and foreign policy priority?
  • To what extent does the BRICS group contribute to shaping the global order and global governance, and to what extent does the reality correspond to its ambitions in this regard?


Conference coordinator Li Xing

Conference coordinator Steen Fryba Christensen

Conference secretary Marianne Ellersgaard

Further conference information