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BRIC a convenient illusion, not a lasting alliance

Judging from the anti-China rhetoric that has dominated the mid-term election campaign in the United States, the potential for stronger ties between a surging and dynamic China, and a defensive and declining US seems very limited.

If Americans are so hostile toward China now, one can imagine the hysteria in around 15 years when China may overtake the US as the world's largest economy.

Chinese analysts may therefore conclude that the nation should focus on other emerging powers such as India and Brazil, which are equally forward-looking, bold and self-confident as they rise. The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) alliance seems like an ideal vehicle.

And indeed, China has significantly strengthened ties to the other BRIC members over the past decade.

Yet despite the continued hype about the emerging powers, China must be careful not to take the BRIC alliance too seriously. While the label conveniently boosted China's image across the world, betting on the strategic importance of the alliance is bound to lead to disappointment. The BRIC label may not be able to stand the test of time, and China should continue to maintain strong ties to established powers.

Jim O'Neill, an economist from Goldman Sachs, has been hailed for the invention of the BRIC label. Yet the transformation of the BRIC acronym from an investment term into a political reality is not a sign of O'Neill's prescience.

The triumph of the BRIC label and its enthusiastic acceptance even by its "members" is a testament to rising powers' unfilled yearning to understand an ever complex world and their place in it.

Across history, scholars and policy-makers have attempted to distinguish between countries according to categories, groups and blocs organized along different variables.

In 1946 Winston Churchill successfully established such a concept when he introduced the idea of an "Iron Curtain," using ideology as the organizing principle. Six years later, French demographer Alfred Sauvy coined the term "Third World" helping human beings across the world understand the international system.

Today these models are no longer meaningful, so there have been many proposals since the turn of the century about how to reconceptualize geopolitical reality.

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