Academic journal article Journal of International and Global Studies

South Africa in the BRICS: Soft Power Balancing and Instrumentalization

Academic journal article Journal of International and Global Studies

South Africa in the BRICS: Soft Power Balancing and Instrumentalization

Article excerpt

South Africa has become an active participant in the current period of transition in the global balance of power and has strategically positioned itself with other emerging powers in opposition to the traditional powers. South Africa's membership in the BRICS forum (comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) entails both opportunities and challenges for the country, the continent, and global governance. However, it appears that opportunities for transformation are not being fulfilled; rather, economic positions are being retrenched in line with neoliberalism, and the BRICS forum is being used for unilateral national political gain. By joining the BRICS grouping, South Africa is reinforcing neoliberalism in Africa, with markets being liberalized across the continent, trade and investment becoming the focus, and social and environmental protection remaining a distant concern. Meanwhile, other countries, particularly China and Russia, are instrumentalizing the forum to get what they want out of African countries (namely, oil for China and investment opportunities for Russia) without formalizing the grouping's policies and effecting change to global institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as was initially promised. This paper applies the concept of soft balancing strategy to demonstrate that BRICS is an economic cooperation forum, not a political cooperation forum, which explains the aforementioned consequences.

As Cornelissen et al. (2012) argued, economic transformations after the global financial downturn indicate tectonic shifts away from the G-7 countries and toward the BRICS countries and other countries of the global South. In this context, the recent inclusion of South Africa in the BRICS grouping, which is committed to reorienting global institutions toward and improving development prospects for Southern countries, has crucial implications, given South Africa's increasingly hegemonic status in Africa. As Alden and Le Pere (2009, p.145) rightly pointed out: "Public goods and leadership in peace diplomacy, resolving conflicts, and helping to develop the continent's institutions collides with the more instrumental aspects relating to investment, its commercial interests and the material sources of its hegemony."

The concept of soft balancing strategy is analytically useful in assessing South Africa's participation in BRICS and the consequences thereof. Following Flemes (2007), a soft balancing strategy is an effort to increase the bargaining power of developing countries; cooperation between them "equally focuses on concrete collaboration areas," such as trade, security, infrastructure, and representation. Groupings of countries can "be characterized [not only] as ... a strategic alliance for the pursuit of common interests of developing countries in global institutions but also as a platform for [multilateral] and interregional South-South cooperation." With a soft balancing strategy, the key concepts are sector cooperation, common interests, and foreign policy instruments. This paper applies these concepts to the BRICS grouping to assess South Africa's participation in the group and the consequences thereof.

While South Africa is presented with many challenges on the African continent, its ability to exert influence over its neighboring countries has strengthened its development as a rising regional hegemon. First, it maintains a position of economic leadership in sub-Saharan Africa; South Africa is the only country on the continent that makes its replenishment contributions to the World Bank's International Development Association, which provides concessional loans to the poorest countries. It is the third-largest shareholder of the African Development Bank--behind only the United States and Japan. It is the only African donor for the African Development Fund and is the largest donor for the South African Development Community (SADC) (Besharati, 2013). …

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