South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, second left, holds a bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao in Sanya, Hainan province, China, April 13, 2011
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, second left, holds a bilateral meeting with his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao in Sanya, Hainan province, China, April 13, 2011

Leaders from the group of major developing countries known as BRICS are preparing to meet in Sanya, on the southern Chinese island, Hainan.  BRICS is seen as a growing counterweight to the developed countries' dominance in world affairs.

BRIC started off in 2001 as an economic term used to describe four large rising economies - Brazil, Russia, India and China.

In 2009, those four countries gave the term more meaning when they held their first meeting.  This year, host China invited South Africa to join and is now calling the grouping "BRICS."

The BRICS nations see themselves as speaking out for developing countries.  Brazilian Deputy Minister for Development Industry and Foreign Trade Alessandro Teixeira emphasized that point.

"It's an important meeting, as well, because it's forecast by 2013 that the developing economies will surpass the developed economies in terms of GDP share in the world," said Teixeira.  "So I guess every single meeting that we have of BRICS is an important meeting, because we are talking with the largest economies on the world."

The meeting will focus on economics and the global financial situation.  Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at Hong Kong's City University, says the BRICS countries want to reach consensus so they will be in a better position to bargain hard with the developed countries.

"In general, they [the BRICS countries] believe that the Western countries have been dominating the process of rule-making in various important international financial and trade institutions and they would like to seek a reversal of the present situation," said Cheng.  "They would like to be able to play a more effective role in the rule-making process."

At the same time, Cheng describes the BRICS as a very loose group of countries that may find it difficult to forge consensus because of differing basic interests.

"For example, South Africa, Brazil and India are very proud that they are democracies," added Cheng.  "Then, the countries like India and so on, they certainly perceive that China's economic expansion may not be that favorable to their own economic and security interests, so, basically, there is still inadequate mutual trust among the big group."

This year's host country, China, has been downplaying any possible disagreements.  Assistant Chinese Foreign Minister Wu Hailong told reporters that different points of view will not hamper overall BRICS cooperation.

Wu says the BRICS countries will put aside issues on which they cannot reach consensus, and will delay discussion on them until conditions are right.

The BRICS countries, together, make up nearly one fifth of the global economy.

Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Renmin University, says he believes that, although BRICS will never become a formal international alliance or coalition, one of its main purposes may be to put other countries on notice.

Washington has never said it is concerned about the rise of BRICS, but Shi believes the U.S. and other western officials are watching it closely.  He says the influence of the five BRICS countries is, in his words, obviously increasing.  He says Western countries may have to change their basic world view.