India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, China's President Xi Jinping, President Cyril Ramaphosa, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Brazilian President Michel Temer during the 10th BRICS Summit "family photo". Picture: Gianluigi Guercia/Pool/EPA
Johannesburg - At a time when the United States is emasculating the United Nations, pulling out of global agreements and destabilising trade relations, the BRICS leaders have fired back.

As a powerful collective, BRICS leaders have resolved to create a new world order which outright rejects protectionism and unilateralism.

“We need to put forward solutions to the world’s conflicts and forge a new type of international relations we must strengthen our unity and keep broadening our circle of friends,” China’s President Xi Jinping said at the 10th BRICS Summit in Sandton.

There is no doubt China has stepped into the gaping leadership vacuum created after the US pulled out of one international agreement after another - the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Change Accord, the Iran nuclear agreement, and even the UN Human Rights Council.

BRICS countries are pooling their collective resources in order to be less dependent on the Western global economic governance system, with talks progressing on the creation of a BRICS rating agency, and the decision to create a BRICS local currency bond fund.

With loans increasingly being issued by the New Development Bank in local currencies, this represents a threat, albeit symbolic at this stage, to the dominance of the US dollar.

Indian President Narendra Modi told BRICS leaders the world is at a crossroads. In keeping with the theme of the Summit on the fourth industrial revolution, Modi said technology and digital interface present opportunities and challenges. “One welcome consequence is the world will be in closer contact and we can leapfrog across stages of development, but it is difficult to judge the impact on human values,” Modi said. “Whatever the consequences, they will be far-reaching and serious,” he told delegates.

Modi emphasised that the BRICS countries would need to re-skill their workers and provide social security to unskilled workers as new kinds of industries emerge.

President Cyril Ramaphosa told the BRICS leaders: “The fourth industrial revolution needs to be approached in a collaborative manner with a development agenda or it will entrench existing disparities and fault lines in our societies.

“The mastery of the fourth industrial revolution must not be the exclusive preserve of a handful of countries.”

Ramaphosa pointed out that the World Economic Forum has identified three of the most important skills necessary for capitalising on the fourth industrial revolution - complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity.

According to Brazilian President Michel Temer: “A country’s biggest asset is its citizens’ ability to assimilate and co-ordinate knowledge, which is why Brazil has made a priority of education reform.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin called for greater co-operation within BRICS in the digital economy, saying: “The digital realities call for greater safety and security of business and citizens, safe and reliable internet and the protection of personal data.”

Putin went beyond the traditional calls for intra-BRICS co-operation, calling for BRICS to move beyond just a meeting of leaders, but to create inclusive and institutionalised people-to-people engagement across the BRICS countries.

The leaders have signed the Johannesburg Declaration, which encapsulates many of the themes the leaders touched on.

The need to resolve conflicts in global hotspots from Afghanistan to Syria and Yemen was a notable inclusion in the Declaration. The leaders specifically mentioned the need to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

“We agree that the conflicts elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa should not be used to delay resolution of long-standing conflicts, particularly the Palestinian-Israel conflict,” the Declaration states. “We reiterate that the status of Jerusalem is one of the final status issues to be defined in the context of negotiations between Israel and Palestine. With regard to the situation in Gaza, we reiterate our support to the UN General Assembly Resolution on the protection of the Palestinian population and call for its full implementation.”

According to the Johannesburg Declaration, the 10th BRICS Summit is a milestone in the history of BRICS, and as Putin said, former president Nelson Mandela’s legacy is reflected in the activity of the grouping.

Independent Foreign Editor