The Ground is Shifting

While many observers have been fixed on the violence in Tibet (Zangzu Zizhiqu), potentially highly significant political events have been taking place in Taiwan. Ma Ying-jeou, the KMT Presidential candidate won a resounding victory over DPP candidate Frank Hsieh 58% to 42%. Further 2 contentious referendum defining under what name Taiwan would seek UN membership were defeated.

In a short but useful RSIS Commentary “Fundamental Change in Taiwan Politics,” March 26, 2008 by Arthur Ding currently a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at S. Rajarantram School of International Studies (RSIS) Nanyang Technological University, Singapore sets out the regional implications of this significant Taiwan vote. A quick note on RSIS Commentaries. This is a prolific series edited by Yung Razali Kassim ( at NTU in Singapore. Though uneven, the RSIS Commentaries provide an abundant on-the-ground survey of issues concerning South, Southeast and East Asia.

Politically on Taiwan now, the KMT has both the Presidency and a majority of the Taiwan Parliament. The new President has endorsed the “1992 consensus” (agreement that there is one China but with the two sides having different interpretations of what that means). In the ‘near future’ Ding suggests that we are likely to see the resumption of a dialogue at the semi-official level between the Mainland and Taiwan. These talks have been suspended since 1999 and the first DPP President, Lee Tung-hui.

But the real challenge is a question of “Rising China” and the effectiveness of regional governance in Asia. China has become a significant player in regional goverenance from the ASEAN +1 and +3 the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and the 6-Party Talks. China has brought new vigor to regional governance in Asia and has promoted a ‘dialogue and consensus’ approach that eschews power politics and focuses on building trust and a consensus for the approach to regional governanace. This growing Chinese regional commitment and the promotion of ‘dialogue and consensus’ has gone a significant distance to allaying fears on the part of China’s neghbors over China’s role in Asia. And while the Chinese mainland leadership sees a real difference over the question of Taiwan – that is that Taiwan is a domestic issue – the degree of collaboration and cooperation with the Island represents a real test of ‘the consensus and dialogue’ approach throughout regional governance. An aggressive ‘hard’ approach could well doom China’s current regional governance strategy.

It’s the Definition stupid

For anyone looking at the large newly emerging developing countries, and there is a growing audience, the ‘who’ of the group is a major question. I suppose this shouldn’t be a big surprise. International relations experts almost always focus on the question of ‘definition.’ Here it is no different. So, when Goldman Sachs, as early as 2001, first turned the lens on these economies it created the BRICs – Brazil Russia India and China. Here at CIGI Distinguished Fellow, John Walley and his colleagues created BRICSAM – Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, ASEAN and Mexico. Subsequently CIGI’s Andy Cooper raised a question: is Russia part of BRICSAM or rather the indusrialized developed club – the G7. Thus Cooper described it as the B(R)ICSAM. And the ‘slicing’ and ‘dicing’ goes on today. But of what importance is this?

Well in fact these different definitions reflect different understandings of power in international relations and the basis of global governance and global governance reform. It is therefore not unimportant to understand why there are differences. Let’s take the one that is generically most identified – the Goldman Sachs BRICs. A quick reading tells you Goldman Sachs is indeeed an economic organization. Here their definition is built on economic growth, GDP (however measured) and even per capita GDP. In this implicit model, these states are Rising BRICs because of their exploding growth. Unsaid – but apparent – this BRIC economic growth and economic power will translate into influence and leadership for these states in the effort to ‘control’ global and regional governance.

In contrast, however, there are the folk at CIGI. Here exploding economic power is important but there is apparently, something else. Call it ‘diplomatic weight’ or ‘diplomatic leverage’ but in any case there is something that extends beyond just economic power and that allows a South Africa or Mexico to be identified as a member of the Rising BRICSAM. Certainly on the basis of economic power alone neither South Africa or Mexico would rank anywhere near the triumvirate as I call it – China, India and Brazil.

Recently Andy Cooper launched a BRICSAM inquiry entitled “Reaching out to BRICSAM: The Heiligendamm Process (HP) and Beyond.” This Project adds numerous definitions, which for the moment we’ll ignore. But this HP process was launched at the most recent G7/8 meetings in Germany. The HP process targeted the so-called O5 or what the countries themselves refer to as the G5 – China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico. So, the G7/8 too appear to recognize the influence/power of the BRICSAM (all included in this global governanace initiative but for ASEAN of BRICSAM origin.) So in examining the O5 we have asked country authors to look at both economic weight, diplomatic leverage and the their willingness to exercise both. One thing international relations experts of the political science persuasion have long recognized about power is that power may only be potential but left unexercised or power can be actualized and thus the assessment of power can vary significantly from those that estimate the power of an entity. Global governanace influence and reform is not just about the economic power of the BRICs but the use and manner of the exercise of power of the BRICSAM. More on that later.


The opening of this blog is but a further step in our collective CIGI and Community effort to enlarge the BRICSAM Community. BRICSAM is a brand name in the same way that the BRICs has become a brand for Goldman Sachs. What many of us have noticed in the last few months especially is that BRICSAM is beginning to gain some traction.

Over the last year CIGI BRICSAM has begun to develop a number of BRICSAM streams of research and networking. For example, there have been notable efforts to build a China Program by original leader – CIGI Distinguished Fellow and UWO Professor, John Whalley (I anticipate a similiar India effort in the near future led by CIGI Distinguished Fellow, Ramesh Thakur). John has been joined by Professor Gregory Chin, CIGI Senior Fellow and Assistant Professor of York University (as we affectionately refer to him as – Zong yi). Gregory has been at the forefront of the CIGI effort to highlight China in our upcoming annual CIGI meetings – CIGI08 (more on that soon). In addition Greg is planning a workshop on April 26-27th on “China’s New Economic Diplomacy and Global Governance.” There China researchers from North America and Europe are going to tackle a variety of economic issue areas where China has become engaged and is influencing global governance organization as well as rules, norms and principles.

Another vibrant research stream is that led by CIGI Distinguished Fellow and Professor at Waterloo, Andy Cooper. When he Andy isn’t off interviewing celebraties for his work on Celebrity Diplomacy, he along with Tim Shaw, CIGI Senior Fellow and Professor at the University of the West Indies and Agata Antkiewicz, Senior Researcher, CIGI have been nurturing “Reaching Out to BRICSAM: The Heiligendamm Process and Beyond.” Just having completed a very successful meeting at Cancun, Mexico the research authors from Europe, Canada, the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and India are racing forward with a collective effort to explore the possibilities for G8 plus Outreach 5 collaboration and possibly expansion under the Heiligendamm process. Stay tuned for more on that.

So there is much activity from CIGI BRICSAM. And indeed RISING BRICSAM is being initiated by me to report, chronicle and comment on the variety of research and activities that are ongoing at CIGI. But as the CIGI Community Leader – affectionately referred to – by at least me – as the BRICSAM Czar there is much more. The research, information and commentary on BRICSAM or parts of BRICSAM is ever enlarging. Since the BRICSAM Community website is among other things a Community of interest on BRICSAM activity, it seemed like the perfect moment to bring to the Community insights, information and commentary on the actvity, research and analysis on the BRICSAM that is appearing around the globe. So that’s what we hope to do and why we launched RISING BRICSAM. We hope top comment of new research from the academy, think tanks and governments around the world. In addition we plan to add comment on work from more mainstream journals, magazines and from the web. And we hope that not only will you find the blog useful and informative but it will give you a place to comment on the flood of work emerging and to alert me to research and commentary on BRICSAM that you believe the Community would benefit from in the near future.