The term “emerging,” initially used by financial and economic actors and subsequently by political ones, serves to analyze how the various countries so described had integrated internationally. Although they share a common concern to challenge an international order which they wish to be fairer and more representative, emerging countries differ both in the courses they have followed and in their diplomatic strategies.

The adjective “emerging” was first used by financial actors in the late twentieth century to describe markets with high rates of return despite riskier investments. It was then adopted in diplomatic and political circles.

A notion with variable meanings

The description “emerging powers” is applied to countries invited to G8 summits in the framework of the Heiligendamm dialogue process (China, Mexico, India, Brazil, South Africa), as well as to G20 states (financial) who are not members of the G8; to participants of emerging clubs such as the IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa), created in 2003; to BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), meeting officially from 2009 onward; and, since 2013, to MIKTA (Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey, Australia). Although the term has spread, the different circumstances in which it is used do not enable the subjects of this emergence to be clearly identified (markets, economies, countries, powers, states). Neither are there any criteria by which to distinguish them, and a comparison of socio-economic indicators does not show sufficiently strong similarities that might identify them. The variable meaning of the notion is linked to the different uses made of it by these actors: in 2001, the acronym BRIC invented by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs merely indicated the inclusion of promising economies, while since 2008-2009, BRIC (which became BRICS in 2011 after South Africa entered the club) also refers to a joint diplomatic initiative.

Emerging markets, 2018

Sources: G20,; Standard & Poor's; Morgan Stanley; FTSE Russell

Comment: The map shows that the category of countries known as “emerging” comes first and foremost from the world of finance: in this case, through the FTSE Russell and Standard & Poor’s or Morgan Stanley Bank groups of analysis and financial rating. The classification shows overlaps with political organizations (BRICS or G20). Nevertheless, these emerging countries do not present a particular geographical whole, although there are few of them in Africa; nor do they have specific individual profiles, since continent-states sit side by side with small states.

Rather than embark on a fruitless search for statistical consistency or a hierarchy based on indicators, it is wiser to examine the strategies for international integration of the actors thus described – whether they claim or contest this description – and to analyze their discourse and practices.

Contesting and reforming the international order

The integration of emerging countries is characterized by contestation of the present international order and a demand for reform in order to make it “more just, equitable, fair, democratic and representative,” as proclaimed in paragraph 2 of the BRICS Leaders Xiamen in September 2017. It is shown in the refusal of these countries to be marginalized in decision-making processes (activism of the Trade G20 during the WTO Cancun Ministerial Conference in 2003), the creation of new institutions (the New Development Bank, an international financial institution established by BRICS in 2014), and the development of discourses and practices presented as alternatives to those of Northern and/or Western countries. South-South cooperation, for example, described as egalitarian, horizontal, and based on reciprocity, is designed to renew development aid procedures while enabling emerging countries to participate in debates on the global governance of aid, as demonstrated by Isaline Bergamaschi and Folashadé Soulé-Kohndou.

The international integration of emerging countries has non-linear effects, from blocking negotiations (at the WTO for example) to modest but symbolic reforms (reform of the IMF voting system), through to diplomatic coups (Turkish-Brazilian attempt to mediate on the Iranian nuclear issue in 2010).

Evolution of International Monetary Fund (IMF) quotas and voting power, 2014-2018 

Source: IMF,

Comment: The map shows state quotas in the IMF, which translates as the voting shares they have for each decision put to vote. The United States, which has the most, also holds a right of veto, before Japan and China. The most recent reform gave more power to so-called emerging countries (China, whose quota shares were doubled, Brazil, Mexico, South Korea, Iran, Turkey, Colombia, and Poland), whereas the influence of so-called early industrialized countries decreased (United States and Canada, Western and Northern Europe, and Japan).

While bringing change, it also helps to legitimize and reproduce the working methods of inherited hierarchies. The behavior of BASIC countries at the COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, condemned by the G77, belongs to a dynamic that is similar to the connivance diplomacy studied by Bertrand Badie; while the organization into clubs tends to exclude civil society and lead to protest, as proved by the activism of the BRICS from Belownetwork.

Multiple trajectories and diplomatic strategies

Despite the convergence of certain demands and collective protest actions, emerging countries differ from one another by virtue of their historical trajectories, their political regimes, their social systems, their demographic features, their economic choices, their forms of capitalism, and their diplomatic strategies.

G20 members, GDP and inequality, 1980-2016

Sources: World Bank , ; World Inequality Database,

Comment: Through the development of economic indicators since 1980, the graphs show the heterogeneity of “emerging” countries. Their changes in GDP are highly variable, with China showing the strongest growth. When their GDP is calculated per capita, all the emerging countries have extremely low figures (especially India and Indonesia, but China too), with the exception of South Korea and Saudi Arabia. Internal income inequalities are high, often more so than in the early industrialized countries.

This observation prompts us to consider the differing strategies of emerging countries. The case of emerging clubs, for example, shows that states belonging to the same club do not necessarily share the same objectives (China and India, for instance, with regard to the New Development Bank); that states do not necessarily put similar efforts into the clubs to which they belong (India in IBSA or BRICS); and the club’s unity is not always preserved in other domains. The comparison over time also enables us to analyze the extent to which integration strategies differ according to leaders, as is highlighted by political and diplomatic developments in Brazil over recent years.


To quote this article

" Emerging Countries " World Atlas of Global Issues, 2018, [online], accessed on Mar 15 2021, URL:


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