China's new president, Xi Jinping, arrives in Durban, South Africa today for a summit of the BRICS: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. A geo-economic acronym invented in 2001 by a Goldman Sachs analyst to forecast a convergence among fast-growing emerging economies has spawned a geopolitical association. The leaders who gather, and commentators on this event, will search for what these nations have in common. The larger question, however, is whether this acronym has become an anachronism. Assessing the performance of the BRICS over the past five years and prospects for the next, does lumping these nations under a single label confuse more than it clarifies?
When Jim O'Neill of Goldman Sachs coined the term 12 years ago, many expected that economic growth rates in India and Brazil would soon rival China's. That remains O'Neill's bet, his most recent blast foreseeing that "India definitely has the biggest potential for growth among BRIC countries this decade." But the brute fact is that China has continued growing more than twice as fast as other members of this club. Indeed, in every year since 2001, the gap between China's GDP and that of each of the others has widened. In the decade ahead, the gap is likely to become even more pronounced. Given this divergence, it is more appropriate to consider China separately from Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa, which, if an acronym is called for, can be called: "RIBS."