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BRICS Summit: A Potential Game-Changer?

By: Khaled A. BaRahma

Credit by: Getty Images &

The BRICS leaders, representing Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, are convening in Johannesburg this week, marking a crucial juncture for the coalition's direction. Despite an International Criminal Court warrant, Russian President Vladimir Putin is absent. Both Moscow and Beijing are advocating for the coalition to grow, presenting it as a counterpart to the U.S.-centric global order. While over 40 nations have shown interest in joining, there's internal discord. Brazil and India are concerned that enlarging the group might lessen their sway and alter their neutral foreign stances. Conversely, China and Russia aim to establish BRICS as an alternative to the Group of 7 (G7) and similar Western-oriented groups.

While not explicitly listed as a topic for the summit discussions, the concept of "de-dollarization" holds significant importance for numerous BRICS nations and the multitude of other countries present at the event. While there have been suggestions about the creation of a distinct BRICS currency to reduce reliance on the U.S. dollar, this notion is generally perceived as impractical by most experts. A more plausible scenario involves BRICS countries and their partners continuing the existing trend of conducting trade using their respective local currencies, rather than relying on the dollar. An example of this is the BRICS bank, which already extends loans in the Chinese yuan and recently revealed plans to do the same using South African and Brazilian currencies.

Although BRICS summits typically maintain a subdued profile, the 15th summit held in Johannesburg captured global notice due to the consortium's declaration of incorporating six fresh members—Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Around 30 nations had earlier indicated their desire to join the coalition prior to the summit. This development prompts contemplation about BRICS' forthcoming trajectory. The expansion appears to have been instigated not necessarily to advocate for Global South interests, but rather driven by China and Russia's aspiraƟon to cast the coalition as an anti-Western entity.

It's essential to approach this transformation with a balanced perspective. Not every BRICS nation supports the vision of China and Russia. Both India and Brazil have expressed reservations about the inclusion of new countries without well-defined entry standards. Consequently, the summit's declaration now specifies membership prerequisites. Additionally, tensions between India and China hamper the group's unity and will likely persist. The worldview of China isn't universally accepted among the newly inducted members, and some have joined to position themselves strategically against Western influences. Historically, BRICS' effectiveness in reshaping global institutions or offering an alternative financial structure has been somewhat restrained. This challenge will likely intensify with the inclusion of more members.

Though the prominence and efficacy of BRICS may not necessarily increase, the group's growth does highlight China's growing influence in the Global South. This can be seen as a prolonged strategy amidst escalating tensions with Western nations. Additionally, this will intensify the rivalry between India and China for dominance in regions like Africa and Asia.

Forging Alliances by the Chinese Approach

Within the narrative of the "counter-dominance" battle that Xi Jinping frequently discusses, the significance of BRICS continues to rise. For Beijing, this movement extends beyond merely gaining legitimacy and leadership in emerging nations. It's about rallying a group that opposes both in speech and action, the leadership of the West, particularly the US, in the global arena, and channeling economic and diplomatic resources to support this stance. Furthermore, it's about creating a worldwide economic and security infrastructure tailored to China's interests, especially when anticipating challenging ties with the G7.

The evolving focus has made BRICS meetings more heated and divisive. India, along with other member countries, resists the notion of the group becoming a plaƞorm primarily led by China and Russia against the West. This has resulted in diplomatic confrontations that were unheard of just a few years prior. Yet, even nations with relatively stable relations with the U.S. recognize the benefits of creating a trade and financial framework that enhances their diplomatic flexibility. Many are wary of potentially being on the receiving end of US sanctions and are looking for protective measures. Beijing is capitalizing on this apprehension to promote a preliminary and cautious approach to “de-dollarization”. The inclusion of Saudi and Emirati players in these endeavors especially bolsters the significance of the BRICS expansion.

Beijing envisions a future where the G7's portion of global GDP and influence diminishes, allowing China to assume a leadership role within a rising Global South. However, this BRICS summit marked the initial instance in which Xi had to convince his audience that China's economy would maintain its upward trajectory in the coming decades. Previously, he could rely on the notion that China's economic ascent was unstoppable. The context of this gathering was set against the backdrop of increasing concerns that he is overseeing a phase of comparative economic stagnation.

Following the BRICS Enlargement: What Lies Ahead?

Although typically understated, BRICS summits took a notable turn during the 15th gathering in Johannesburg, capturing global interest with the announcement of six new entrants: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The period leading up to the summit saw around 30 nations expressing their desire to become part of the group. This development prompts contemplation about the trajectory that lies ahead for BRICS. Instead of solely advocating for Global South interests, it becomes evident that the expansion was driven by China and Russia, aiming to align the group against Western influences.

It's vital to keep a balanced perspective on the repercussions of this transformation. The vision of China and Russia isn't unanimously endorsed among all BRICS countries. Countries like India and Brazil have expressed concerns regarding the induction of new countries without a well-defined set of entry standards. As a response, the summit's declaration has now articulated these membership prerequisites. The ongoing tensions between India and China are further hindering the group's unity.

Also, not every new inductee aligns with China's global perspective, with some nations joining as a strategic counterbalance against Western dominance. Historically speaking, the BRICS consortium's capability to overhaul global governing bodies or to present an alternative economic structure has been restricted. The integration of more members is likely to amplify these challenges.

While the trajectory of BRICS is unlikely to lead to heightened significance or enhanced efficacy, the enlargement does emphasize China's substantial advancements within the Global South. This expansion forms a component of a comprehensive, enduring strategy, particularly as China's relations with the West experience growing tension. Moreover, it will intensify the rivalry between India and China, fostering a more competitive contest for influence across Africa and Asia.


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