China's Expansion May Make the Rest of BRICs Uneasy
The yuan's peg against the dollar and a bigger say on the international scene may be making all the headlines as the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India and China meet in the Brazilian capital over the next 24 hours.
But the big story that many are missing is the growth in trade and investment between the four economic power houses – and how this is shaping relations between them.
Discussions over who has the biggest say on how the IMF is run in a sense miss the point of the emergence of the BRIC giants over the last decade.
While it is clearly absurd that the Netherlands has a similar number of votes on the IMF as China, no one in their right mind would now suggest that the small euro zone member carriers even a fraction of China's economic or diplomatic clout on the global stage.
Discussions over the historical irregularity will continue, but in the real world the emergence of China and to a lesser extent India and Brazil make significant changes to the international order inevitable and the world's multilateral institutions are now playing a game of catch up with reality on the ground.
The most important issue on the agenda at the BRIC meeting in the Brazilian capital is trade, according to Jan Randolph from IHS Global Insight.
"Trade and investment within the emerging market sphere has been one of the most striking and underreported new trends to evolve in the global economy over the last 10 years, growing very fast but from relatively low bases compared with US and EU trade and investment volumes. China has now overtaken the US as Brazil's largest export market," he said.
Randolph believes China's aggressive expansion into markets like Russia and Brazil to secure resources and find a profitable home for its huge foreign exchange reserves is a trend that offers great opportunity that could also lead to tension.
Beijing, New Delhi Tensions?
China "has attempted to channel investment - whether equity or loan - into many areas of the emerging market universe, striking mega billion dollar deals on oil with Russian and Brazil to secure resources, as well as many others developing countries outside the BRIC quartet," he said.
While this trend has been good for Brazil and Russia, China's ambitions are also causing some anxiety amongst the rest of the BRIC grouping. Randolph says the biggest tensions are between Beijing and New Delhi.
Trade has expanded quickly between China and India but the Indian government fears this has not done its country as much good as it did to the Chinese and is beginning to fret that the raw materials that India exports to China are coming straight back as finished products, crowding out their own producers.
Randolph also notes that "Russia too is wary of China's economic expansion as Beijing eyes the vast underutilized Siberian resources to its north and north-west."
But Brazil, Russia and India should avoid lecturing China on its yuan peg, according to Jim O’Neill, the Goldman Sachs economist who coined the phrase BRIC in 2001.
"The Chinese don’t tell the Brazilians what they should do, so why should Brazilians tell the Chinese what to do," O'Neill told Reuters in an interview.
Any attempt to push Beijing on the issue will simply delay the long-awaited shift in Chinese currency, he added.
This is a message that is now being heard in Washington. President Obama, who earlier this week met Chinese president Hu Jintao in Washington, has toned down the rhetoric of his administration in a bid to give China breathing space to allow the yuan appreciate without loosing face.