Fighting COVID-19 pandemic, fueling economic recovery high on agenda of BRICS summit: observers
Global Times

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Leaders of BRICS countries urged to enhance cooperation in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and uphold multilateralism during the BRICS Summit 2020 video conference on Tuesday.

BRICS members are endowed with new dual responsibilities to bolster global economic growth and uphold the momentum of multilateralism, as the international community confronts profound transformations and growing uncertainties in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising unilateralism, observers noted, after fruitful results from a summit focused on fighting the pandemic and regional cooperation that accelerate economic recovery.

Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the 12th BRICS summit via video link on Tuesday at the invitation of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Addressing the summit, Xi called for global cooperation to overcome global challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic and global economic recession. He put forward several proposals for BRICS cooperation, such as upholding multilateralism and safeguarding world peace and stability, and deepen solidarity and cooperation in jointly coping with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Xi said it is against the aspirations of people around the world to ignore rules and the rule of law, engage in unilateralism and bullying, withdrawing from multilateral groups and reneging on agreements.

Any country using the pandemic to conduct de-globalization would only damage its own as well as other countries' interests. We have to firmly continue to build an open global economy and oppose protectionism under the cover of national security, Xi stressed.

The virtual summit of the 12th BRICS summit, which includes the five major emerging economies - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - focused on economic recovery and cooperation, which has been hampered by COVID-19, and enhanced collaboration on public health.

Members of the bloc discussed speeding up the building of a COVID-19 vaccine R&D center to help bloc members recover from the pandemic.

Xi noted that Chinese companies are carrying out Phase III clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines with Russian and Brazilian partners, and China is also willing to have relevant cooperation with South Africa and India.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called on member states to speed up the development of #COVID19 vaccines and build R&D centers.

Putin noted that China had proven that the novel coronavirus could be overcome, calling on other countries to learn from China's experience.

With certain members of the group still in the throes of COVID-19, fighting the pandemic is high on the summit's agenda, Chen Fengying, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times, noting that China and Russia have been relatively successful in battling the virus, so they can play the leading role in cooperation in this field, and share their experience with other members.

COVID-19 vaccine R&D is expected to be the highlight in discussions on fighting the virus, according to experts. "Luckily, some members have already conducted cooperation on vaccines, such as China and Russia, and China and Brazil," said Tao Lina, a Shanghai-based vaccine expert.

Although the target markets of vaccines developed in China and Russia are not the same, there's much room for cooperation between the two countries. For instance, China could help Russia manufacture their vaccines, Tao told the Global Times.

Chinese company Sinovac Biotech and Brazil's Butantan Institute are also closely working on COVID-19 vaccine development.

Once successfully developed, China is likely to share a vaccine primarily with BRICS members, making it a public good within this bloc, said Chen.

Chinese observers stressed that the lesson BRICS members can learn from COVID-19 is the need to expand communication on public health, build cooperative communication mechanisms and minister-level communication in the field of health.

Wang Yiwei, director of the institute of international affairs at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Monday that innovation not only plays a key role in the future development of the world, but also strengthens BRICS members. "Members within the bloc are looking to create a new innovation mode that differentiates itself from the US capital-driven one which only benefits itself but exploiting developing countries. The innovation center and mode generated within the bloc are more suitable for developing states," said Wang.

Observers also shrugged off concerns that the border tension between China and India will overshadow cooperation within the five economies. "COVID-19 has dealt a heavy blow to India's economy, and the country is facing similar problems as other members within the bloc, namely, upgrading its industrial chain, easing economic restriction and promoting poverty alleviation. Also, India is looking at China to learn from its economic development experiences. So the rift between the two is unlikely to affect cooperation," said Wang.

Chen also stressed that the BRICS summit will continue serving as a "bridge" between developed and developing nations, and help the bloc speak at the G20 with a united voice representing developing nations. "Cooperation and understanding between the two parts of the world is particularly important, as communication and cooperation have been paralyzed against the backdrop of COVID-19," said Chen.

According to the International Monetary Fund, China is the only BRICS member predicted to post positive GDP growth this year with a 1.9 percent expansion. That compares to an estimated 10.3 percent contraction for India, -8 percent for South Africa, -5.8 percent for Brazil and -4.2 percent for Russia.

Comprising five emerging economies, BRICS has become a symbol of an increasingly multi-polarized world amid unprecedented worldwide challenges, and the mechanism should be strengthened at a time when unilateralism and protectionism are on the rise, in order to provide new solutions for global governance and global economic recovery, experts noted.

Over the last two decades, BRICS has seen its combined proportion of global GDP grow in terms of purchasing power parity, rising from 18.8 percent in 2001 to 30.5 percent in 2019.

"These large developing economies can play a larger role when the global pandemic has paralyzed the global industrial chain in developed economies," Qian said, noting that under the guidance of China - the first major economy to resume economic and social activities - BRICS, with half of the world's population, will help maintain stability in the global industrial and supply chain while contributing to the fight against COVID-19.