While BRICS nations emphasize their equal partnership there is no doubt about the dominant role in trade and investment played by China, the world's most populous nation and its second largest economy which recently overtook the United States as the biggest importer of oil. China also has the world's largest foreign exchange reserves.
This BRICS summit has been dedicated to supporting development in Africa — Zuma invited 15 other African leaders to the meeting — and analysts note that some BRICS nations are rivals in the scramble for Africa's resources.
China long as overtaken traditional former European colonizers as Africa's biggest trading partner. Recently there have been rumbles about the nature of China's investment in Africa.
Botswana's President Ian Khama last month lambasted China for shoddy work in his country, saying "We have had some bad experiences with Chinese companies." In an interview with South Africa's BusinessDay newspaper, Khama blamed Chinese companies for a spate of power cuts he blamed on Chinese construction of a power plant that is months behind schedule.
Khama also expressed concern about the rate of Chinese migration to Africa, saying "We accept China's goods. But they don't have to export their population to sell us those goods."
And in a recent opinion piece the governor of Nigeria's central bank, Lamido Sanusi, accused China of being "a significant contributor to Africa's de-industrialization and underdevelopment," with its cheap manufactured goods competing with African goods on the continent and its huge appetite for raw materials preventing Africans from adding value to their natural resources. Sanusi suggested there was a "whiff of colonialism" about China's Africa policy.
China's new leader Xi Jinping, in a keynote speech before attending his first international summit at the BRICS, said China would "intensify, not weaken" its relationship with Africa. On Wednesday he told the summit China will "support Africa's efforts for stronger growth."
He said China would continue to make its own and international development priorities as it works to achieve a "grand goal" of doubling China's gross domestic product and the per capita income of its population of 3 billion by 2020.
Other leaders at the summit gushed about the possibilities opened by their fledgling BRICS forum, which represents nearly half of the world's population and more than a quarter of world trade.
India's trade minister Anand Sharma said BRICS will "have a defining influence on the global order of this century."
He warned against trade protectionism, which has played out within BRICS with South Africa accusing Brazil of dumping poultry products.
Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff said BRICS has confounded its critics. "Even the most skeptical voices do recognize the contribution the BRICS bloc of countries has provided in the field of international economics," she said. Even the World Bank has said that global growth over the past few years and for the foreseeable future is being driven by the bloc.
Rousseff said it is time multilateral institutions like the IMF and World Bank become more democratic to clearly reflect the growing influence of developing countries.
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