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BRICS Summit 2012 Logo

Leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa met on Thursday, Mar 29, 2012 in Delhi for the fourth annual Summit. Earlier known as BRIC before the addition of South Africa, BRICS is the group of emerging economies around the world, who are exploring new ways of collaboration, collective economic growth and developing common ground on foreign policy.

Sao Paulo at night
Sao Paulo, Brazil
All five economies maintain a great potential to become a superpower, but most of them are dependent on western economies. Any ups and down in the western markets leave their impact on these markets.
Moscow at night
Moscow, Russia

The summit stressed on linking economies, as in trading in local currencies as well as linking stock exchanges of the member countries. The leaders also stressed on setting up of an international bank on par with Asian Development Bank, IMF and World Bank. It would fund various development projects in member countries and other emerging economies and may act as a relief provider for first time buyer mortgages in case of real financial crisis and disaster. The goal of the bank will also include lending, in the long term, if there comes a global financial crises such as the Eurozone crisis and issuing convertible debt, which could be bought by the central banks of all the member nations. Hence it will be acting as a vessel for risk-sharing.

Mumbai at night
Mumbai, India
Shanghai at night
Shanghai, China

The idea of setting up such bank was put forward by India, which received a good response from the member countries as well as from the countries who were observing the event carefully. Analyst John Mashaka called India’s move “long overdue”, and said that setting up a bank was a means of “pulling out of the western-dominated World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.” Assistant professor at the Institute of African Studies (China) Yuhua Xiao noted that setting up the bank showed signs of growing self-assertiveness and inter-dependence among developing economies. Dr. Alexandra A Arkhangelskaya noted that creating such a bank would effectively “shift the weight of economic power”, and could also be very beneficial to non-BRICS nations.

Johannesburg at night
Johannesburg, South Africa

The nations also signed an agreement to extend credit facilities in their local currencies, a step to reduce the role of dollar between them. As of now, if Russia wants to trade with India, Russia will convert Rubles to Dollars send it to India, and then India will convert Dollars to Rupees. Completely removing the intermediate step of converting to and from dollar is not so easy, but if removed, the trade between the two countries will become independent of what the value of dollar is, which is highly unstable.

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Also the nations will be launching a benchmark equity index derivatives that would allow investor of one member country to bet on the performance of stock exchanges of other member countries without currency risk.

Accounted 50% of global economic growth in last decade, BRICS accounts for 26% of global landmass, 42% of the global population and 40% of global GDP.

Below is the tabulation of the countries and their economy in therms of GDP (PPP). The data is taken from CIA World Factbook GDP PPP data update of 2011. PPP is one of the scale to measure difference between two economies. Using a PPP basis is arguably more useful when comparing generalized differences in total economic output between countries because PPP takes into account the relative costs and the inflation rates of the countries, rather than using just exchange rates, which may distort the real differences in income. The table shows BRICS as a single entity is more powerful than European Union. The data for GDP at purchasing power parity (PPP) has also been re based using the new International Comparison Program (ICP) price surveys and extrapolated to 2007. Final figures are estimates in billions of international dollars.

Rank Country GDP (PPP) $Billion Year
BRICS 20,975 2011 est.
 European Union 15,390 2011 est.
1  United States 15,040 2011 est.
2  China 11,300 2011 est.
3  India 4,463 2011 est.
4  Japan 4,389 2011 est.
5  Germany 3,085 2011 est.
6  Russia 2,373 2011 est.
7  Brazil 2,284 2011 est.
8  United Kingdom 2,250 2011 est.
9  France 2,214 2011 est.
10  Italy 1,826 2011 est.

Another method of measuring economy is GDP (nominal) based on official exchange rates. The list below includes mostly 2011 estimates from the CIA World Factbook. The table shows BRICS as the third largest economy after EU and US.

Rank Country GDP nominal $Billion Year
 European Union 17,720,000 2011 est.
1  United States 17,720,000 2011 est.
BRICS 13,766,000 2011 est.
2  China 6,988,000 2011 est.
3  Japan 5,866,000 2011 est.
4  Germany  3,739,000 2011 est.
5   France 2,919,000 2011 est.
6  Brazil  2,407,000 2011 est.
7  United Kingdom 2,370,000 2011 est.
8  Italy 2,135,000 2011 est.
9  Russia 1,995,000 2011 est.
10  India 1,954,000 2011 est.

The performance of the BRICS nations on the international platform has been brilliant, despite the fact all these countries come from different continents, having different government, political and economical structure. How far this concept of BRICS will sustain no body knows, but if it works then it will bring a great change in the current world, a change for good.

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The countries have been working together to find some common ground and fortunately their thoughts match on the issues of West Asia, North Africa and Afghanistan. All five countries called for the international community to continue development projects in Afghanistan for 10 years after America led international forces will withdraw from the nation by the end of 2014.

BRICS nations together have strongly condemned the Western world’s politics on Iran to make other countries stick to the restrictions imposed by them on trade ties.  China’s Trade Minister Chen Deming said that the “rise [in the price] of crude oil has impacted all countries. The Iran issue has become an issue for all. We need to continue with normal relations with Iran, but, at the same time, we respect UN resolution. We hope that unilateral movement by one country will not affect other countries.”  The group warned against any military intervention in Syria by the West or by Israel in Iran. They added that a war with Iran would have “disastrous consequences.”

BRICS VS EU map
Landmass of BRICS vs EU, Click to Enlarge

Out of five BRICS nations, three of them have remained or are super power. India before 14th century, Russia in the 20th century and China almost in 21st century. No matter these countries possess power and wealth, but they may not share good relations with each other. Brazil and South Africa being geographically isolated from these nations share good relations with all. The best example is China and India,  both of them have faced each other in the war in 1965 and China is still occupying a large part of North India and claims some part of Indian territory in North East India. China was also about to open the front in Indo Pakistani war in 1971 but didn’t do so, fearing Pro Indian Soviet Union might take action against them. Russia and China have also shared cold relations following the illegal migration of Chinese in Russia’s far east and border dispute which was recently resolved.

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Russia and India have been sharing good relations from the Soviet times. India also shares good relations with South Africa, one of the major reason being Mahatma Gandhi, whose work in South Africa promoted equality between blacks and whites. In South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi is equally respected as in India. Brazil has also been close to all the countries.

Leaving aside all these solid claims about BRICS, there are critics as well who discuss why BRICS might fail with some genuine facts. One of the reason is all these countries come from different continents, different social, economical and political systems and some of these countries do not share good relations as well as common ground.

One of the best example of this claim is that after the declaration of setting up of an International bank, these countries fear that China will be the most benefited country out of all and will enjoy the most.

However, just after the summit was over, India and China declared that they will keep their border issue aside for now and will take more steps to increase trade between the two neighbors. Indian government also expressed their interest in inviting Chinese investment in India’s manufacturing sector. Both the countries have together declared this year as Indo Chinese year of friendship and cooperation.

After the summit, Brazil and India also took the opportunity of exploring their way of cooperation. The two countries signed six pacts in areas ranging from closer cooperation in science and biotechnology to cultural exchanges. Under a signature, Brazilian initiative Science Without Borders, the two sides inked a pact that envisages placement of Brazilian students and young researchers in India. It will be funded by Brazil.

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, “We reviewed the leaders’ Delhi declaration and believe that their efforts to engage in global multilateral institutions productively can only strengthen the international system. United States welcomed the efforts by the so-called BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — to support the recovery of the global economy as well as “

Russian by roots, global citizen by choice. In love with India and Indian culture, love to report everything from politics to military news. Against the controlled media.

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Changing The Rules of the Game: What to Expect When Social Media Dictates the News

Manak Suri

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Fake news social media

Till about five years ago when I was still in high school and without a smartphone, a single faint thud against the front door every morning at roughly 7 AM would signal the arrival of the daily news digest for everyone in my house including myself. Even though I rarely read beyond the sports section and was more or less updated on every development with my favourite leagues, devouring those few pages was a daily ritual. Today, the newspaper arrives every morning in the same fashion and while the ritual has remained unchanged for most of my family, the need, as well as the want for it, does not exist for me.

My story is a phenomenon that resonates with millions of families across the world. The sources from where we get our news and the way we read it has been rapidly changing, in more ways for some than the others. When Pew Research Center conducted a study on ‘The Modern News Consumer‘ across the United States, it was found that 50% of adults from the ages of 18-29 get their news online, followed by television, radio and lastly with only 5% from print newspapers. Television was still reported to be the most dominant source of news among all age groups taken together. However, since it was mostly the choice of the older population, further changes over the next few years should be substantial and rapid. In another survey conducted by Pew this year, it was noted that about 67% of adults in the United States were getting at least some of their news from social media. While the numbers projected above are for the United States, there is no denying that an increasing population of young adults worldwide is getting more and more of its news from social media, and the same is intuitive given the average time a teen spends on social media is up to roughly two hours per day. The important questions however are:

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1) whether social media is capable enough to take the baton as the foremost source of news and also
2) whether we as consumers of news are equipped enough to differentiate between what is news and what’s not.

Facebook, fake news, furore!

“Social media already provides more diverse viewpoints than traditional media ever has”, wrote Mark Zuckerberg in his 6,000-word manifesto in February this year on how Facebook plans to make the world better. There is little reason to doubt what he says. However, there are two sides to this coin as well since “the two most discussed concerns this past year were about diversity of viewpoints we see (filter bubbles) and accuracy of information (fake news)”, he also mentioned in the same address citing that alternate perspectives do not necessarily contribute to news and there is a need for a complete picture. Still, the greater evil here perhaps is the inaccuracy in information or what Zuckerberg calls it – ‘fake news’.

Zuckerberg’s address came soon after Facebook received heavy backlash for its role in the spread of fake news meant to divide the Americans ahead of the presidential elections. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, the pressure was sure to mount on the most popular social media site when it was caught in the midst of another incident relating to the spread of misinformation. Facebook’s safety check feature kicked in for citizens in Bangkok in December 2016 when an erroneous article about a bombing in a nearby shrine went viral. For users in the region, such a mistake can cause a pandemonium. With Facebook falling victim to the fake news again, the world was left evaluating their sources of consumption of news.

Trump’s tussles over Twitter

Let’s take a turn back to the United States yet again but away from Facebook. According to the same study conducted by Pew, about 74% of Twitter users have said that they receive their news from the social media site itself. Twitter allows you to keep a close tab on people you follow, and the problems associated with Facebook are largely avoidable. However, what happens when you are barred from following the president of your country on Twitter? Midway through the year, Donald Trump was sued by a free-speech group when he blocked a number of accounts on the grounds of criticism and dissent. With the White House spokesperson stating that tweets from Trump’s personal account were to be considered “official statements by the president of the United States”, the move was called unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment. The question then arises, will Donald Trump’s twitter account be treated as an official one, or despite the remarks from the White House will it be considered a personal one, in which case he may be allowed to block anyone from his account, just like any other person.

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Just like Mark Zuckerberg had to shoulder responsibility for the unprecedented burden that social media all of a sudden now carries in disseminating the news, so did Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, although his role was different and just limited to admission of self-perceived guilt. Recognising that Twitter may have played an important role in having Trump elected as president, Williams publicly apologised when he said, “It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that. If it’s true that he wouldn’t be President if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”

Sharing the burden is your choice to make

Zuckerberg and Williams, among others, have been at the centre of a phenomenon where social media has taken over reporting and while Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites keep working on filters, resolutions, and artificial intelligence to help overcome the set of issues that this wave has brought with it. This does not mean there is no role for us to play. We are not all fed the same information as we were until a few years ago in the form of newspapers. Today we have fountains of news, information and opinions at the distance of a click, a tap or a scroll. Unfortunately, that also means that not everything that comes across our way is genuine, or to our liking, or even what we may be looking for. To that end, developing habits of open-mindedness, fact-checking and impartiality is imperative on our part.

When we are biased in favour of or against a particular idea or entity, we are often willing to skip checking of facts from sources we may feel are dubious or biased themselves if the news suits our allegiance on the matter. That is where impartiality jumps in. For example, as a young Indian adult when seeking an update on the situation in Kashmir I am aware that the dailies of the two different countries (India and Pakistan) may be under the political influence to portray the news as per the wishes of their respective countries’ governments. Keeping that in mind I may opt to read news from sources from both the countries individually, or maybe just not get carried away with the political undertones in the report from either of them to paint the opposition in a bad light and focus just on the facts. Similarly, while reading an article on the border dispute between India and China on the Chinese daily Global Times, I have to keep in mind the controversial journalism and the pro-government stance that the daily is often known to take, or perhaps get my news from some other source.

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Social media has opened the doors to information and connectivity like never before for people all over the world. In the strife to make different platforms for dissemination of news better equipped to make us even better informed, we would do well to strive to also keep ourselves toe to toe with it.

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China

A Lovers’ Quarrel: What Now for India and China?

Manak Suri

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india china border love

India China Border

When China’s Consul General to India Zheng Xiyuan addressed a gathering in the city of Mumbai earlier in the week he made an interesting comparison on the relationship between the two Asian giants. “Relation between China and India is just like the monsoon season,” he said. “There are different levels of rainfall in different years. And sometimes you have clouds as well.” It is not surprising how apt the statement is especially with regard to the past three years which have seen the tiger and the dragon compete for geopolitical influence in Asia and beyond and tussle over longstanding territorial issues. The latter of the two culminated in the 70-day long military standoff in Doklam/Donglang, which has since then deescalated. However, the monsoon sometimes surprises with a few delayed showers, and so has Beijing with a sudden change in its rhetoric towards New Delhi, from one of visible aggression to one which is seemingly cooperative.

Clashes between the two kept analysts across the globe busy, with the possibility of a full-scale military conflict a favourite topic of discussion for the political enthusiasts among the uninitiated. The Doklam episode was the final among a series of recurring conflicts. The most prominent among them included India snubbing China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) summit in May flagging sovereignty issues due to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); a key portion of the OBOR which runs through a region of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan and claimed by India, and China’s repeated blocking of India’s move to get the chief of Pakistan based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed listed as a global terrorist with the UN. The relations had already taken a downturn with India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group being blocked by China on a consistent basis. Added to that, tensions reached a high with India’s decision to allow the Dalai Lama, seen as a separatist by China to visit the Tawang region which is claimed by China as Southern Tibet and by India as a part of its state Arunachal Pradesh. This happened despite repeated warnings from the Chinese that the visit would cause serious damage to diplomatic ties between the two countries. Did it?

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The action-packed episodes are in the past now and recent developments on the world stage are worth a second look. With no new conflicts brewing for the time being and a precarious lid on the existing ones, it has been nothing short of intriguing to see the evident tone of cooperation between the two frenemies since the Doklam issue has been resolved. China seems to have made good, even if ever so slightly, on blocking the move to designate the JeM chief as a globally designated terrorist by condemning the Pakistan based terror group along with the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba at the recent BRICS summit held in Xiamen. While the move has likely and arguably been made to protect its own investments in the country and doesn’t have any visible bearing on India’s repeated efforts as yet, the step is significant in projecting Beijing’s new viewpoint on the fight against terror based outfits on a global level which previously was limited to vague statements sighting requirement of solid evidence and further communication and coordination between the involved countries. Beijing has also snubbed Pakistan in its effort to internationalise the issue of Kashmir, maintaining its position that the matter is for them and India to resolve on their own. While there has been no change of position on the issue from before and there is no strain of ties between the two ‘all-weather allies’, the tone of the statement is a change to be welcomed by New Delhi in its prominent stand against terrorism on both the national and international level.

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Speaking of change, India along with Japan remained relatively quiet in the South China Sea conflict, making no explicit mention of it in their joint statement when the Prime Ministers of both the countries met earlier this September. Improvements in ties aside, another likely reason could be that the issue has taken a backseat with the focus of China, Japan as well as that of the United States on the heightening tension in the Korean Peninsula.

However, with Trump’s undiverted attention on Kim, the South East Asian countries involved in the conflict may find it difficult to stand up to the Chinese on their own, should Beijing choose to push even further with its activities in the contested waters. Therein lies an important lesson for India. “The Chinese have demonstrated a pattern of creeping encroachment”, India’s former Ambassador to Beijing Ashok K. Kantha has said, and India would do well to remember that. Indians may see the disengagement from both the sides in Doklam as a diplomatic victory over the Chinese but the conflict is not yet resolved. China’s perceived soft behaviour may merely be an understanding on their part that perhaps the time to act is not now, more so that cooperation is the way ahead; something which has continuously and explicitly been implied by both the sides over and over considering what else is at stake.

As two large and quickly growing economies, India and China’s relationship with each other has been heavy enough invested in by both the countries for them to know different. This is not just evident from the business end, but also from the mixing of the two cultures as well. Bollywood movies are enjoying huge popularity among the Chinese audience. At the same time across the border, Mandarin as a language has acquired more importance over the years, with schools offering the same as an optional language growing in number. Opinions of the people on each other may change every now and then from favourable to not as much in polls, yet there is no denying their mingling.

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In this lovers’ quarrel, as is with any other, while the occasional bickering is unlikely to give way (at least in the foreseeable future), reconciliation is perhaps always the key and a quick one for that matter. This is known by both, even if they may forget from time to time.

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Can ‘Made In China 2025’ Turn The Innovation Wheel Towards China?

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Shanghai China

With the ‘Made in China 2025’ proposal, China is hoping to generate an innovative boost in its manufacturing industry with the aim to promote quality home-built products to the world. Originally introduced in 2015, Made in China 2025 is giving China 10 years to redress its IT and technology industry and implement innovative programs to develop its knowledge and industry accordingly. The goals are to increase the domestic and international content of core materials in high-tech to 40% by 2020 and then a whopping 70% by 2025. Opinions are still divided as to the feasibility of Made in China 2025, especially as foreign content represents more than half of all high-tech goods. At the moment, it doesn’t seem that China will be able to meet its goals. But the Chinese government is creating innovation centers to support its industrial development and approach the production of high-end equipment. Smart manufacturing, cloud computing, smart equipment that works almost without human interactions and the pursuit of innovative technologies are being encouraged throughout the country as a way to tackle the domestic deficit in high-tech production. Could China become a leader in the innovative and skilled industries?

China, formerly known as the kingdom of cheap unskilled labor

It’s difficult not to associate China with cheap products, and consequently inexpensive and unskilled labor. In the fashion industry, made in China may not always be synonymous with quality, but it certainly means that you get a damn cheap frock and sometimes that’s just what you want. The only way that bigger brands have found to tackle the competitive challenge of cheap labor is to promote quality, fair wages and innovative fashion technology to justify the price of their products. However, customers who research a bargain still turn to Chinese products. With its reputation for being the largest cheap labor factory in the world, China’s cheap products from unskilled labor are hard to beat if you’re price-conscious. With low wages and high productivity, China holds the place of an advanced capitalist – if not despotic – economy in the world market.

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In other words, China has a major labor reorganization to address to become a competitive and innovative economy. Domestic skills don’t come for free.

China is changing its stance about skilled labor and innovation

It’s because they understand the importance of moving from an economy that relies primarily on unskilled labor to an economy that is built on the innovation of educated labor, that the Chinese government is trying to improve vocational education. It comes as no surprise that China has been struggling with a shortage of skilled labor for several years as a  five-year plan for the increase of training and recruitment of highly skilled workers by improving the competitiveness of vocational schools. With the government’s support, this five-year plan is also trying to address the Chinese mindset that has been trained to reject education in favor of cheap labor, aka the guarantee of immediate wage as opposed to the prospect of studying first and earning later. With almost 98% of employment rate for skilled workers, it’s easy to see the value of educated vs. unskilled labor. However, vocational studies delay the entry to the professional world and make it more difficult for the Chinese population to cope with everyday costs.

Nevertheless, those who are educated, are already driving an innovative spike through the Chinese manufacture industries.

World’s largest solar power plant

China’s province Anhui holds the world’s largest floating solar power plants, built on top of a flooded coal mining area. In fact, the floating solar power plant combined with the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park, a 10-square-mile land-based plant that is said to be the largest on the planet, has generated an increase of 80% of China’s solar power output at the beginning of 2017. From January to March 2017, the overall solar power generation reached 21.4 billion kilowatt-hours more than the previous year. For comparison purposes, a town of 1 million inhabitants needs 10 million kWh a year, so the increase only is enough to supply a small country. More surprisingly, the whopping boost in solar power comes as several solar plants have been standing idle because of issues with congested transmission infrastructure. At a time where renewables are becoming hugely precious, it’s easy to measure the Chinese competitiveness on the energy market.

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Fast and effective 3D printing sector

One 3D printing manufacturer embraced the need for environmentally-friendly structures and policies and decided to perfect a new printing system that will change the Chinese take on poverty. WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co built in a day a village of 10 houses using a customized 3D printed to print concrete parts out of recycled waste. The test village was built in Shanghai, using a hefty printer – 150 meter long, 10 meter wide and 6 meter deep – to print concrete constituents, and cement reinforced with glass fiber. Naturally, the houses didn’t pop out all assembled. The printer was set on creating separate parts that were then transported and assembled by people. This amazing experience could present a new possibility for the Chinese government to bring safe and hygienic houses in poverty-stricken regions of China. As this gigantic project progresses the need for high-quality 3D software and reliable 3D printer motors by domestic manufacturers – Moons is one of those high-end tech manufacturers that provide the relevant motorized parts for 3D printers – will increase. In a challenge at human scale, China has proven that innovation for the people is the best kind of innovation. Market competitiveness and economic power have been rejected for the sake of the less privileged part of the Chinese population.

The infamous transit elevated bus

It’s difficult to talk about Chinese innovation without mentioning the elevated bus that has kept the world in suspense. The bus that was designed to drive over the top of cars and that was planned to for testing over a 300 meters track along a roadway was unfortunately ruled out as a scam by the Chinese authorities. At first, it was financial difficulties followed by strange setbacks. But the Beijing police recently announced that they’re trying to recover the funds for each investor. While this sounds like an innovative failure, the transit elevated bus suggests a practical and creative solution to traffic problems. It’s likely that we’ll hear about it again in future, from a serious high-tech firm that wants to make a difference.

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Communication with space

The Quantum Experiments at Space Scape is a research project in quantum physic. Based in China, the project is of international importance and has recently proven the ability to communicate from space using quantum photons. In what can only be described as a big leap for science, China’s quantum satellite has successfully distributed entangled photons between different base stations on Earth – with as much as 1,200 kilometers between them on the ground. While in theory entangled photons can remain linked across the distance, this has never been possible across such vast distances, and even less between the Earth and space. Whether this will allow us, in longer terms, to communicate more effectively with the space around the Earth or to reach so far unknown extraterrestrial civilizations is unknown. But it makes no doubt that this small step for the entangled photons is a giant step for science!

Made in China 2025 is a big claim. But the constant innovation that is changing the Chinese industries offers the possibility that maybe in the near future the world could rely on China for our renewable energy, 3D print technology, transport solutions and spatial explorations. Think big, or 不撒大网不得大鱼, as they say in China (bu sa da wang bu de da yu): Without casting a big net, you can’t catch a big fish.

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