By Kester Kenn Klomegah
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has held an extraordinary meeting of BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) via videoconference as part of important events planned this year after Russia took over the chair-ship from Brazil.
The BRICS Foreign Affairs Ministers who took part in the meeting included Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar represented India; Ernesto Araújo Foreign Affairs Minister of Brazil; Wang Yi, State Councilor and Foreign Minister of China and Ms. Grace Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa.
The ministers reviewed the impact of the current global crisis provoked by the outbreak of COVID-19 on the system of international relations and agreed that there is no alternative to using both bilateral and multilateral forms of cooperation, unite behind efforts without any hidden agenda, in finding a collective response to the challenges and threats posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The meeting exchanged in-depth views on possible joint measures on how to contain COVID-19 and deal with the financial, trade, economic and social consequences of the pandemic. They discussed important issues related to developing a five-way cooperation, including the calendar of events for Russia’s BRICS Chairmanship in 2020.
“We believe that it should become a very good reinforcement for our countries’ economies when they’re coming out of the crisis stage and resume economic operations,” Lavrov noted during the meeting.
The international community should unite to ensure the most positive outcome of efforts in tackling the crisis, but acknowledged that such efforts are being undermined by sanctions imposed on some countries, and suggested that the sanctions should be lifted or removed.
In the opening speech, Lavrov emphasized the priority in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak, protect people’s lives and health as well as the global economy. “The need to uphold multilateral principles and rely on international law in formulating solutions to current cross-border threats is an urgent challenge. We are convinced that it is very important to strengthen the solidarity of BRICS countries,” he said.
The BRICS heads of state adopted a decision a couple of years ago to expand cooperation in the fight against infections and the joint production and use of vaccines, according to Lavrov, and suggested “BRICS has to accelerate the implementation of this initiative.”
Cooperation on countering infectious diseases has long been a priority for BRICS. For instance, the final declaration of the 2015 BRICS summit in Ufa, Russia, contains instructions by the leaders to jointly work on managing the risk of disease outbreaks, including the current new coronavirus.
“We are concerned about growing and diversifying global threats posed by communicable and non-communicable diseases. They have a negative impact on economic and social development, especially in developing and in the least developed countries,” the 2015 BRICS declaration adopted in Ufa, Russia. It was the Seventh BRICS Summit, held under the theme “BRICS Partnership – a Powerful Factor of Global Development” under the chair-ship of Russia.
That declaration further stated: “In this context, we commend the efforts made by the BRICS countries to contribute to enhanced international cooperation to support the efforts of countries to achieve their health goals, including the implementation of universal and equitable access to health services, and ensure affordable, good-quality service delivery while taking into account different national circumstances, policies, priorities and capabilities.”
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi echoed Sergey Lavrov’s call for unity and solidarity. In an official statement released by the ministry, Wang said that the BRICS should “stand firm by multilateralism, by the UN-centered international system” and “champion the approach of consultation and cooperation.”
“Through joint efforts, we will safeguard the legitimate rights and interests and space for development not just for ourselves but also for all other emerging market and developing countries,” Wang Yi said.
With its rapid spread in many parts of the world, COVID-19 has put lives and health of people around the world under grave threat, seriously disrupted the global economy, and posed severe challenges to BRICS, the minister said, while acknowledging further that “as representatives of major emerging countries with global influence, BRICS countries must act in the interest of the well-being of humankind, and stand by justice and equity.”
Wang Yi, however, proposed the following:
First, uphold multilateralism and improve global governance. The sudden onslaught of COVID-19 reminds again that BRICS interests are, closely entwined and the future. A challenge that respects no border and makes no distinction of ethnicity has only made global governance more important, not less, building a community with a shared future for mankind.
China’s strategic assessment is that COVID-19 will not change the theme of the times which remains peace and development; it will not cut short the historical trend toward multi-polarity and globalization, and still less will it deter humankind from its firm pursuit of civilization and progress.
In a time of crisis, BRICS must stand firm by multilateralism, by the UN-centered international system, and by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. BRICS needs to sustain coordination in the UN, the G20 and other multilateral frameworks to keep up secure and smooth functioning of global industrial and supply chains, and defend the multilateral trading regime with the WTO as the cornerstone.
BRICS should continue to work for making development the centrepiece of the global macro policy agenda, and expedite the delivery of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Second, BRICS should come together in the spirit of partnership to combat COVID-19. Under the personal leadership and direction of President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government and people have fought a people’s war against COVID-19. China has acted according to the principle of shoring up confidence, strengthening unity, ensuring science-based control and taking targeted measures.
As the virus hits more countries around the world, China is doing everything it can to help those in need. In spite of substantial demand at home and growing pressures to meet foreign orders, China has provided a large amount of medical supplies to fellow BRICS countries, and facilitated the purchase of such supplies through commercial channels.
Going forward, China is ready to step up the sharing of information and experience with BRICS countries and conduct joint research and development of drugs and vaccines, respecting each other’s sovereignty and national conditions.
Third, BRICS should uphold unity and coordination to forge a powerful synergy. President Xi Jinping stated that the virus is a common enemy of humanity and can be defeated. Living in a global village, no one could stay safe when others’ houses catch fire.
Likewise, in fighting COVID-19, victory can only be secured when the virus is brought under control in all countries. China has been a strong force behind international anti-epidemic cooperation because its own experience has made it fully empathetic with other peoples suffering from similar difficulties.
As countries battle the disease in light of their own situations, China called for mutual understanding and respect for these efforts, and sharing and learning from each other’s experiences. The global community should never be distracted in its collaborative response by finger-pointing or the blame game, allow new tensions and divisions to be created as a result of politicization or stigmatization.
In view of the weaknesses and inadequacies exposed during this crisis, BRICS needs to enhance global public health governance, make it a higher priority on the international agenda, and work together to build a community of health for all.
Fourth, China will work with all BRICS members to support Russia’s Chairmanship. China also supports Russia’s initiative to formulate a Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership 2025.
On his part, Indian Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar noted that BRICS, which brings together almost 42 percent of global population, with impressive growth, investment and trade share, has an important role to play in shaping the global economic and political architecture.
He highlighted the initiatives and various decisive steps taken early by India. For example, India is providing pharma assistance to nearly 85 countries, including many countries in Africa, on a grant basis, to support their response to the pandemic. This has been widely welcomed.
He further emphasized that the pandemic is not only posing a great risk to the health and well-being of humanity but is also severely impacting global economy and output by disruption of global trade and supply chains. Economic activity across sectors has been negatively impacted leading to loss of jobs and livelihoods.
He emphasized the need to provide support to businesses, especially small and medium scale enterprises, and the efficacy of traditional medicine systems to strengthen immunity be recognized and that BRICS should support these efforts.
Jaishankar emphasized the current challenge that underlines the need for reform of multilateral systems and that a reformed multilateralism was the way forward. He referred to the centrality of development and growth in the global agenda. India reaffirmed its support for Russian BRICS Chair-ship in 2020 and under the theme “BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Shared Security and Innovative Growth.”
The BRICS member countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) collectively represent about 26% of the world’s geographical area and are home to 3.6 billion people, about 42% of the world’s population and with a combined nominal GDP of $16.6 trillion.
Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent research writer, who served previously as Moscow Bureau Chief for Africa Press Agency (APA) and Inter Press Service (IPS), and has won awards including the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia’s economic cooperation with African countries.
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