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[OPINION] The increasing asymmetry of BRICS

The 10th BRICS Summit - the second in South Africa after 2013 - attracted more international journalists to the Sandton Convention Centre than local media.

While this indicates the grouping's importance as a talk shop, its asymmetry is becoming increasingly evident.

The BRICS acronym is accredited to British economist Jim O’Neill referring to Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa when they were the fastest growing emerging economies on the planet.

Strictly speaking, today BRICS encompasses China, India and the worst performing three emerging economies on earth.

South Africa did a bang-up job laying on facilities for the four leaders hosted by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The organisers kept the media safely at arm's length and protestors habitually drawn to such high-level gathering out of sight and earshot.

This allowed Chinese President Xi Jinping to brush aside the host’s traditional power of articulating the summit narrative and turn the gathering into the platform he wanted to drive Beijing’s notion of the way foreign police should be conducted.

No diversion was permitted.

The symbolic visit the host had planned to the Cradle of Mankind was scrapped for 'logistical' reasons. For that, read security.
The Chinese were taking no chances, importing their own staff, furniture and even drinking water into the president’s Sandton hotel.

BRICS has become one element in a much broader Chinese effort to reshape global affairs.

This time around BRICS was aimed at US President Donald Trump’s determination to abandon multilateral fair trade rules and wage a trade war that Xi rightly said can have no winners.

The Johannesburg declaration made exhaustive reference to the need to protect multilateralism.

The final communique also prioritised the fight against terrorism.

India was disappointed to be unable this time to have Pakistani groups name in this regard.

Weeks before the summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was ready to give it a miss.

He needed a special visit from Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe to persuade him that efforts by Kashmiri independence activists to seek a prosecution in South Africa would not lead to him being arrested in South Africa.

Jean-Jacques Cornish is an Africa correspondent at Eyewitness News. Follow him on Twitter: @jjcornish

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