The BRICS Summit: Exploring Digital Cooperation

By Imran Khalid | Gwadar Pro Aug 19, 2023

Editor's Note: The writer is a freelance columnist on international affairs based in Karachi, Pakistan. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of Gwadar Pro.

Alongside the long list of traditional topics like trade expansion, health, and climate change, the upcoming BRICS summit is anticipated to delve into numerous unconventional subjects. Although a central feature of this summit is the discussion on the BRICS membership expansion process and a unified BRICS currency, it is also exploring fresh opportunities for cooperation, particularly in the digital economy—an arena of increasing importance in today's interconnected world. 
The essence of BRICS cooperation lies in equality, mutual benefits, inclusivity, and common development. While BRICS nations exhibit varying levels of economic development and priorities, shared interests bind them. Overcoming challenges requires unified efforts beyond isolated initiatives. Prioritizing shared concerns like infrastructure, tech R&D, and industrial transformation can foster practical cooperation. Similarly, embracing the digital economy holds potential to forge a strong cooperative path forward. 
The digital economy presents an immense arena for future cooperation, bolstered by the collective economic might and vast market potential of the BRICS nations. These countries together constitute over 40 percent of the world's internet users and possess abundant digital resources. China's 2022 data achievements, contributing 10.5% and 14.4% to the global tally, underscore the group's prowess. Furthermore, the ongoing membership expansion will further amplify opportunities for enhanced BRICS cooperation within the digital economy. 
Yet, BRICS cooperation in this realm remains at an embryonic stage, trailing behind the global average in indicators such as digital GDP and digital trade. However, over the past decade, the BRICS members have made tangible strides in digital collaboration. Notable examples include China's AliExpress, commanding a remarkable 25.8 percent of Russia's e-commerce domain. This dynamic synergy exemplifies the potential for BRICS nations to propel each other forward in the vibrant landscape of the digital economy, carving a path of cooperation and mutual growth. Bilateral investments are also on the rise, evident in China and Russia's joint Sino-Russian Research Center for the Digital Economy and other projects.
Developed nations have advanced digital cooperation from "first-generation" basics like the internet and e-commerce to "second-generation" realms: artificial intelligence, big data, cloud computing, IoT, open source, and digital security. BRICS' digital collaboration, however, remains in "first-generation" infancy. Disparities persist, including e-commerce rules and authentication of e-payments. In contrast to the second-generation digital cooperation witnessed among developed nations, BRICS cooperation still predominantly centers around first-generation policies, with disparities even within the bloc itself. 
Nationalist sentiments and skepticism are the two reasons that have impeded development in this domain. Growing suspicion among certain members, driven by external influences and domestic developments, has tested the bloc's unity. Amid these challenges, the BRICS nations must summon political courage and wisdom, transcending divisive forces. By utilizing the potential of the digital economy, they can overcome these obstacles and pave the way for cooperative solutions. The summit serves as an opportunity for displaying resolve, charting a course toward cohesive growth.
Unlike trade and investment in other sectors, the digital economy triggers greater sensitivity due to its impact on development and security. The US-led West's efforts to woo BRICS members have caused divisions. As the political landscape shifts and trust between nations wavers, the BRICS bloc must rise above the tide of conflict and polarization. 
A commitment to common ground, underpinned by digital cooperation, could break the cycle of declining trust and foster a renewed era of mutual understanding. While challenges abound, the BRICS nations' collective endeavor in the digital realm offers a beacon of hope—a testament to their commitment to inclusive development and cooperative progress. In an increasingly interconnected world, the BRICS members should look beyond differences and work together for the common good, ultimately redefining the contours of global economic and digital cooperation.

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