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 Acronym alert : SEA BRICs? SEA CRIBs?

Peter A Coclanis
Published Tue, Aug 30, 2022 · 06:55 PM

THERE has been a lot of talk of late about the possibility of a new international grouping known informally as the BRICs-plus, with Indonesia often being mentioned as a member. Such talk got me thinking about the undervalued position of Southeast Asia more generally in the thinking of many when pondering the world’s economic future. My ruminations recently intensified when I read a piece by Financial Times columnist Janan Ganesh making the case (obvious to me) that Southeast Asia going forward was the place a young person staking out a career would want to be. Hear, hear. If I were young, I’d be on a plane over right now.

Not that Southeast Asia has been totally disregarded in the era of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China), an acronym that originated with financial analyst Jim O’Neill, then at Goldman Sachs, in 2001. For example, over a decade ago, as a result of both Russia’s frequent economic troubles and Indonesia’s economic promise, some writers, putting an Italian-sounding twist on things, began speaking of BICI (Brazil, India, China, and Indonesia). A bit later, O’Neill, beavering away, began touting MIST (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, and Turkey), and speaking and writing about what he called the “next 11” (N11), a broad grouping of large emerging economies with great promise that included three countries in Southeast Asia (Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam) as well as nearby Bangladesh.

O’Neill, as usual, was on to something, as a quick and simple comparison will demonstrate. According to estimates in the CIA World Fact Book (2022), India, an original member of the BRIC group—at times the acronym has been rendered as BRICS to include South Africa as well -- currently has a population of about 1.39 billion. Today the population of the 11 nation-states in Southeast Asia (the Asean nations plus Timor-Leste) is a little over 689 million, or just under half that of India. However, according to data for 2021 from the World Bank, the combined GDP of the Southeast Asian nation-states, US$3.345 trillion, rendered in nominal US dollars, is larger than that of India by about 5 per cent. Indeed, if Southeast Asia was considered a single entity, its GDP in 2021 would rank as the fifth largest in the world.

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