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Five-member BRICS Works Out Ways to Combat the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Kester Kenn Klomegah

MOSCOW (IDN) – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has urged Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa to join Beijing and “stand firm by multilateralism, by the UN-centered international system” and “champion the approach of consultation and cooperation”. China and the four countries comprise BRICS.

The group’s member countries collectively represent about 26% of the world’s geographical area. They are home to 3.6 billion people, about 42% of the world’s population and a combined nominal GDP of $16.6 trillion.

Indian Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar noted that BRICS, with impressive growth, investment and trade share, has a vital role to play in shaping the global economic and political architecture.

Wang and Jaishankar were addressing an extraordinary online meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the five countries on April 28. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who took over from Brazil, chaired the conference.

The other two BRICS Foreign Affairs Ministers attending were: Brazil’s Ernesto Araújo, and Ms Grace Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation South Africa.

The ministers reviewed the impact of the crisis provoked by the outbreak of COVID-19 on the system of international relations. They 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 that the pandemic.

The meeting included an in-depth exchange of views on possible joint measures in the BRICS format to contain COVID-19 and deal with the financial, trade, economic and social consequences of the pandemic. They further considered critical current issues related to developing five-way cooperation, including the calendar of events for Russia’s BRICS Chairmanship in 2020.

In addition to the direct preventive action, the BRICS countries analysed the impact of the current crisis on international relations. They established that “there is no other alternative but to seek collective responses to any related challenges and no other alternative but to take a multilateral approach and to pursue equal, non-politicised cooperation of sovereign states in addressing all topical issues on today’s agenda”.

Lavrov told reporters in a news conference: “These efforts (and we spoke about this at length during the meeting) are being obstructed by illegitimate, unilateral and coercive measures – the so-called sanctions that are being imposed in contravention of the UN Charter, the UN Security Council and contrary to international law.”

Under the current circumstances, these unilateral restrictions are holding back the measures against the coronavirus outbreak and are significantly damaging the socio-economic development of the respective states, he added.

“We support the appeal by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet who are calling for the unilateral sanctions that were imposed bypassing the United Nations to be suspended at the least and ideally lifted so that we could respond to the demands of our time more efficiently,” the Russian Foreign Minister told reporters.

In his opening remarks, Lavrov emphasized that the priority is dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak, protect people’s lives and health as well as the global economy. “The needs to uphold multilateral principles and rely on international law in formulating solutions to current cross-border threats is a no less urgent challenge. We are convinced that it is very important to announce the solidarity of BRICS countries,” he said.

The BRICS heads of state had adopted a decision a few of years ago to expand cooperation in the fight against infections and the joint production and use of vaccines. “BRICS has to accelerate the implementation of this initiative,” Lavrov emphasized.

Cooperation on countering infectious diseases has long been a priority for BRICS. 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,” said the 2015 BRICS declaration.

It was the Seventh BRICS Summit, with the theme “BRICS Partnership – a Powerful Factor of Global Development” with Russia in the chair.

It further said: “… 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.”

“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.

Wang Yi proposed the following four-step approach:

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 critical, not less, building a community with a shared future for humanity.

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 jointly 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. Despite substantial demand at home and growing pressures to meet foreign orders, China has provided a large number 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 based on 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 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.

Because 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.

In his remarks, India’s Foreign Minister Jaishankar highlighted the initiatives and various decisive steps taken 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 highlighted the need to provide support to businesses, especially small and medium scale enterprises, and strengthen the efficacy of traditional medicine systems to reinforce immunity. BRICS should support these efforts, said Jaishankar.

He stressed that the current challenge underlines the necessity for reform of multilateral systems and that reformed multilateralism was the way forward. He referred to the centrality of development and growth in the global agenda. India also reaffirmed its strong support for the Russian BRICS chair in 2020 and under the theme of “BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Shared Security and Innovative Growth.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 27 May 2020]

Photo: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov addressing a news conference on BRICS Foreign Ministers online conference. Credit: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia.

IDN is flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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