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MOSCOW, Apr 19 2012 (IPS) - Indonesia’s keen interest in becoming the newest member of BRICS – a bloc of emerging-market nations comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – has sparked off a round of debate on the future and efficacy of South-South groupings.
István Tarrósy, assistant professor of political science at the Department of Political Studies at the University of Pécs and managing director of the Africa Research Centre in Pécs, Hungary, said that Indonesia’s development statistics make the country a shoe-in for membership: it is the largest economy in southeast Asia and is a demographic giant with a population of 248 million people, making it the fourth most populous country in the world, ahead of even Brazil and Russia.
It also has an active labour force of 117 million people, as of 2011.
Indonesia has long been recognised as a leading actor in the developing world, most notably for its active role within the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) ever since it hosted the Bandung Conference in 1955.
“Its voice has always been decisive in any issue connected with the then Third World, today, the Global South. In terms of South-South cooperation, and in light of a redefined system of North-South dialogue within a gradually more multi-polar world, Indonesia has its place among the top categories of states influencing how our transnational global world develops,” Tarrósy told IPS.
Furthermore, given the country’s “pragmatic foreign policy practices and long-term cooperation with countries of the region and beyond, Indonesia could strengthen the common voice of emerging economies via BRICS. With the potential entrance of Indonesia, BRICS would then need to redefine, or rather refine its status as (possibly) one of the most important inter-regional groupings of countries of the global South,” he added.
For instance, it could pave the way for increased “South-South cooperation in Africa, with a more substantial Indonesian role in project generation and financing. In addition to China’s and India’s growing presence and involvement in the African continent, Indonesia could play (a bigger role), particularly if we (acknowledge) the growing amount of official development assistance (ODA) emerging economies have granted Africa,” according to Tarrósy.
Indonesia is one of Asia’s leading economic powerhouses; with last year’s economic growth recorded at 6.5 percent, the country is poised to overtake Russia in the regional economic race, said John Mashaka, financial analyst at Wells Fargo Capital Markets.
He told IPS that Indonesia recorded exports worth 204 billion dollars in 2011. Compared to its European counterparts like Greece, Italy and Spain, which are still floundering in the economic slush of the 2008 crash, Indonesia’s credit ratings shot up and the country’s economic outlook remains favorable.
Its domestic market is huge and the current economic boom can be attributed to its political stability and sound economic and monetary policies, which have attracted consistent FDI.
“In short, Indonesia is an economic power to be (reckoned) with and its decision to join the BRICS could have a huge impact in terms of the body’s credibility. Indonesian membership will definitely solidify BRICS’ capital composition, and also bring on board extraordinary fiscal capability,” Mashaka told IPS.
BRICS versus IBSA?
Thomas Lawo, executive director of the European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI) in Bonn, Germany, doubts that BRICS will be a major game-changer in global geopolitics in an increasingly multi-polar world, mostly because of its members’ divergent economic trends and political interests.
On the one hand, Russia is set to re-emerge as a strong global power with a dominant role in central and western Asia, along with India and China.
“But India needs to sort out its internal rifts and neighbourhood problems first, while China is becoming a strong force to reckon with in Asia, Africa and Europe. China is definitely the (primary) growth-engine of Asia and is stepping up its influence in the global economy (armed) with military strength to match its ambitions,” Lawo said.
Indonesia, on the other hand, is more comfortably clustered with South Africa and Brazil as a regional power and an economic anchor-country for the southeast Asian region, but lesser on a wider global scale.
Another possibility is the re-emergence of a politically stronger ASEAN, now that Burma (Myanmar) is opening up to its neighbours. In this context, the MIST countries – Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand – will become more relevant, if they can overcome their internal problems and play the regional integration card.
Alexandra A. Arkhangelskaya, head of the Centre for Information and International Relations at the Institute for African Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, explained to IPS that after the admission of South Africa, BRICS will likely be expanded to include Indonesia, Turkey, Australia, Nigeria and Mexico.
If this happens, she stressed, BRICS will be pushed to clearly articulate its specific identity in the international arena.
The rise of BRICS as regional bloc also raises the question of whether its role is very different from that of IBSA, the same group minus China and Russia.
BRICS has certainly attracted a lot of attention and it is widely accepted that the bloc will try to achieve certain broad economic reforms as well as attempt to restructure the Western-dominated global financial architecture.
Still, Arkhangelskaya believes that the extent to which IBSA will be forced to live in the former’s shadow will very much depend on South Africa, which is currently “sitting on two chairs”, as well as China’s role in BRICS and the world economy.
Experts fear that IBSA will be forced to dissolve in the light of BRICS’ expansion.
Some analysts still argue that IBSA and BRICS represent the old clash of India versus China; others believe it is more likely that the groups will find themselves on very different tiers of the South-South multilateral cake.
Although there is some overlap in core issues, the fact remains that the BRICS countries are more focused on economy, while IBSA is concerned with promoting democratic values and other causes common to the three countries, and has a distinct personality of its own.
Thus, IBSA can remain an instrumental and practical mechanism of the three countries representing three different continents, sharing their interests and strengthening their economic cooperation to further the interests of the South.
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