Does China Belong in BRICS?

As Xi Jinping arrives in South Africa for a summit meeting of the BRICS nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—Graham Allison suggests that grouping China together with the “RIBS” is misleading. From The Atlantic:

In 2001, China’s GDP was equal to the GDP of all the RIBS combined. In the five years since the global financial crisis, just the increment of growth in China’s economy is larger than the entire economies of Russia and India combined. Indeed, in the half decade since the financial crisis, 40 percent of all growth in the global economy has occurred in China.

[…] Concepts that jumble together elements with more differences than similarities sow confusion. While it may have played a useful purpose at the beginning of the century to highlight faster-growing emerging economies, BRICS has become an analytic liability. Like generalizations about per-capita growth in countries where wealth disparities are widening (as the rich get richer while the income of the poor declines), submerging China in this acronym misses more than it captures. If a banner is required for a meeting of these five nations, or for a forecast about their economic and political weight in the world ahead, RIBS is much closer to the reality. Even if governments, investment banks, and newspapers keep using BRICS, thoughtful readers will think China and the rest.

But while China may have little in common with the RIBS economically, Beijing still appears to see political utility in BRICS membership. From Yun Sun at Brookings:

Xi’s first overseas trip reveals the international quagmire China is in. The past 10 years witnessed unprecedented growth of Chinese economy, but it was also accompanied by unparalleled foreign policy challenges. As many Chinese analysts observed, China’s external environment did not improve as a result of China’s rise, instead, it has worsened. China has become richer, but less respected. It has more transactions with the world than ever, but less friends.

Therefore, Xi’s trip to Russia, Africa and the BRICS summit genuinely reflects China’s strategic moves to break away from this predicament. It seeks to reconsolidate friendship with a Russia also antagonized by the West, with Africa to reinforce its developing-country identity and solidarity with the developing world, and with other emerging economies to align their collective power against the traditional developed countries. China learned its lesson that it is yet to be strong enough to challenge the existing international order (and the supremacy of the U.S.) alone. Alignment with other rising powers, like the BRICS countries, and reinforcement of its friendship base among developing countries will be a new emphasis for China’s foreign policy in the foreseeable future.