BRICS: A new era begins in geopolitics

Phumlani Majozi says it is important that the US and China avoid a devastating collision

A new era begins in geopolitics

4 September 2023

The United States' dominance, that has been around for the past decades, is now being challenged by China. We are witnessing changes in the structure of geopolitical order, as China is becoming more and more assertive on the global stage.

It was inevitable that the West-dominated order would, at some point, face a challenge. As China challenges the West, it’s a repeat of history.

Professor Graham Allison of Harvard University has written a remarkable book titled “Destined For War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides's Trap?”. In that book, Allison argues that when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling one, the most likely result is war. In 12 of 16 past cases that Professor Allison explores in the book, where a rising power confronts a ruling power, the result has been bloodshed.

The very big question many ask now is, will China and US avoid the collision that would devastate the whole world? Allison argues that the war is avoidable, if, both the US and China make efforts to address their differences in the upcoming years.

Former US Secretary of State, Dr. Henry Kissinger, who served under US President Richard Nixon and US President Gerald Ford, has also echoed that the war between US and China is not inevitable.

Kissinger has said that the war can be avoided with “co-evolution”. This means "both countries pursue their domestic imperatives, cooperating where possible, and adjust their relations to minimize conflict”.

I concur with Allison and Kissinger. I am opposed to warmongering zealots in the media and politics who believe the US and China must be in a constant confrontational mode. Any tensions between China and US are not in the interest of Africa. Any war between superpowers would hurt Africa badly. It would also reverse the little gains the African continent has made over the past decades. A stable global order, where superpowers try to cooperate is what will benefit Africa over the long term.

Where the West got it wrong, I believe, over the past decades, was to not allow the emerging economies to be decision makers in global institutions like the United Nations Security Council, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and others. By doing so, the West has encouraged developing countries led by China to establish their own institutions that they believe will advance their interests. In his Bloomberg TV appearance this past week, former US Secretary of the Treasury Larry H. Summers, alluded to this error by the West. But he was talking specifically about the US.

The West should have advocated for a multipolar world, should have allowed developing nations to have much influence in post-World War 2 global institutions.

We are now entering a new era in geopolitics. French President Emmanuel Macron sees the impact China's rise is having on the world. “The paradox would be that, overcome with panic, we believe we are just America’s followers,” Macron told Politico during his state visit to China last April. “The question Europeans need to answer … is it in our interest to accelerate [a crisis] on Taiwan? No. The worse thing would be to think that we Europeans must become followers on this topic and take our cue from the U.S. agenda and a Chinese overreaction,” the French President added to his remarks. Macron’s comments sparked a backlash amongst the intelligentsia in the West, who thought that his remarks endangered the Transatlantic Alliance.

What BRICS means

My comments above lead me to the subject of the 15th BRICS summit that took place in Johannesburg recently. It was a very important summit, chaired by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

A big event for our nation, as dozens of heads of states attended the summit. Developing nations want to be heard on the global stage. Currently, they feel they are not being heard as the West continues to cling on to power, refusing to create conditions for a multipolar world.

At the summit, China's President, Xi Jinping, spoke of the need to fast track development in poor countries and promised that China will deepen ties with Africa and assist in its development.

BRICS has been a good idea for the world, and I wish it strength. However, I must emphasize that it will only become stronger with the adoption of pro market policies. The goal must be increased productivity in the BRICS countries, and that can only be realized with pro market reforms. Loans and donations will not be an enabler of robust economic productivity needed to propel developing countries to rapid prosperity.

China has done well in developing its markets over the past decades. A fascinating book by Ronald H. Coase and Ning Wang, titled “How China Became Capitalist”, delves into how China embraced free market reforms post 1978.

There are great lessons from China on how to implement market reforms. Whether BRICS leaders take these lessons is another question, and whether China continues with the augmentation of laissez-faire policies is worth the watch. At the moment, President Xi Jinping is throttling, suppressing the private sector, to the detriment of China’s economy that is already slowing down.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV not long ago, American businessman, Steven Rattner, said that some people investing in China believe that Xi Jinping doesn’t understand economics. That is worrying, because an economically stronger China, with pro-market, pro-growth policies, is good for our exports.

BRICS will be a counter to the West from a geopolitics perspective. Western governments can be bullies, and hypocritical too. The West sometimes forces other countries to adopt its values, which I see as immoral. People should choose for themselves how they govern their countries.

Six nations have joined the BRICS: Argentina, Iran, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Egypt. Some of these countries are major oil producers.

The question now is, how will this new, expanded BRICS work? What will be the priorities? What influence will it have on global economics and politics?

Some people complain that some of these countries that have joined BRICS are human rights violators. Such concerns must not be dismissed, because they are valid. However, it needs to be understood that South Africa cannot pull out of BRICS because of human rights concerns. It would be a grave error and would disadvantage South Africa hugely. The best we can do is push for human rights within the BRICS circle. The US, EU, and other countries have some form of relationship with these countries, or trade with them. And we should not?

That Egypt and Ethiopia are now part of BRICS is a positive for Africa. It gets these countries economically closer to regional superpowers, and to China. Their joining comes at the right time, as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has been kickstarted in the continent.

I am not opposed to de-dollarisation by BRICS countries. Countries can choose to trade in any currency of their choice. I believe in competition. The more competition the better.

However, I must stress that at this point, and for the foreseeable future, the US Dollar is King and will be King. It’s the most trusted currency in the global market. A stable currency in a politically stable environment.

The Lex column in the Financial Times two weeks ago reminded us of the supremacy of the US Dollar. The Financial Times wrote, “Yet an overthrow of the dollar is unlikely. It owes its dominance to network effects, the depth of US capital markets and the rule of law.” I am sure BRICS leaders understand this.

Our relations with China

A day before the BRICS summit, Xi Jinping met President Ramaphosa for a state visit at the Union Buildings. The two countries assured the world that they are committed to their relations.

Our relations with China must be kept in good shape, as China is South Africa's biggest trading partner and a superpower. It must be a mutually beneficial relationship. We do not have to, and must not, adopt their methods of communist governance. China is a large, productive market, and that is an opportunity for our exports.

We must cooperate with China in an intelligent manner that uplifts the lives of our people. Our relationship with China is a very important one in the 21st century.

Nobody can be sure how this new era will evolve. Our hope must be that the rise of China does not trigger a war with the US, as that would cause great harm to mankind. Developed countries must find a way of cooperating with BRICS countries, as cooperation is in the interest of the world.

Phumlani M. Majozi is author of upcoming new book “Lessons from Past Heroes” and senior fellow at African Liberty. His website is phumlanimajozi.com. Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi.