Information Bulletin of the BRICS Trade Union Forum

Monitoring of the economic, social and labor situation in the BRICS countries
Issue 35.2023
2023.08.28 — 2023.09.03
International relations
Foreign policy in the context of BRICS
American Power Just Took a Big Hit (Американская держава только что получила большой удар) / USA, September, 2023
Keywords: expert_opinion

For more than a decade, the United States mostly ignored BRICS. The grouping, formed by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, rarely registered on Washington's radar. When it did, the impulse — as shown by Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, recently stressing that the coalition is not "some kind of geopolitical rival" — was to downplay the group's significance. Western commentators, for their part, largely painted BRICS as either a sign of Chinese attempts to dominate the global south or little more than a talking shop. Some even called for its dissolution.

Such complacency looks less tenable now. At a summit in Johannesburg last week, the group invited six global south states — Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — to join its ranks. In the aftermath of the announcement, indifference gave way to surprise, even anxiety. Yet there's no need for alarm. BRICS will never run the world or replace the U.S.-led international system.

It would be a mistake, though, to dismiss its importance. After all, any club with such a long waiting list — in this case, nearly 20 nations — is probably doing something right. BRICS's expansion is an unmistakable marker of many countries' dissatisfaction with the global order and of their ambition to improve their place within it. For America, whose grip on global dominance is weakening, it amounts to a subtly significant challenge — and an opportunity.

The critics have a point: BRICS remains a work in progress. Its two major initiatives — the New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement — are quite small when compared with the scale of global development lending and finance. Other initiatives such as cooperation on health research and space exploration are in their embryonic stages. Expansion could make institution-building harder, with more players in the mix. There are, for example, some differences between the way China and Russia and the global south states view the grouping.

America's global dominance, to be sure, is underwritten by vast military spending, a network of alliances and hundreds of far-flung military bases. But even if an expanded BRICS only muddles along in terms of material success — and there's a good chance it will do better than that — it will challenge Washington in three key areas: global norms, geopolitical rivalries and cross-regional collaboration.

Since the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991 and despite the disastrous interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, America has been able to portray itself as speaking for the values of freedom and democracy everywhere. In fact, the disproportionate sway Washington holds over the articulation of global norms is a major source of its power. It's not for nothing that the Biden administration repeatedly claims that the world is divided between rules-following democracies and rules-flouting autocracies, with the United States at the head of the former.

This "democracy vs. autocracy" framework has already been partly discredited by Washington's own embrace of authoritarian governments. A bigger BRICS would deal it another blow from a different angle. Of the 11 states that will make up the expanded group, four can be said to be democracies, four are autocracies, two are monarchies and another a theocracy. It is further evidence that a country's political system is a poor indicator of how it frames its interests and with whom it decides to build a coalition.

What's more, the expanded group will include two pairs of fierce rivals — India and China, Saudi Arabia and Iran — as well as the acrimonious pairing of Egypt and Ethiopia. Shared BRICS membership alone will not solve the serious problems between these adversaries. But it will create unique opportunities for direct, two-way conversations between states that dislike each other in a relatively safe multilateral environment. Washington has historically found advantage in exploiting divisions for its own ends, most notably in the Middle East. By reducing the distrust between countries, BRICS could help counter this unhealthy cycle.

To perpetuate its primacy, Washington also tends to divide the world into regions. U.S. allies and partners, in the global south especially, are typically urged to counter a U.S. adversary or forge deeper ties with local U.S. partners in their region. India and the Philippines are encouraged to counter China, for example, while the Gulf States are nudged to focus on Iran and build links with Israel.

This divide-and-conquer approach acts to limit middle powers' horizons to their own regions. With members across three continents, BRICS could create new spaces for key global south states to forge deeper habits of interaction and cooperation well beyond their regions, working against the grain of Washington's preferred division of labor.

More than anything, the growing attraction of BRICS is a signal that American global dominance is waning. But that doesn't mean most of the group's new and original members are anti-American: Egypt is a steadfast security partner, Brazil and South Africa have longstanding relationships, and India is perhaps Washington's closest friend in the collection. They would simply prefer to live in a world in which the United States was a leading, rather than the dominant, power.

And would that be so bad? America, facing its own intractable domestic problems, should view BRICS expansion less as a threat and more as an opportunity. It offers a chance for the United States not only to relearn the practice of cooperation but also to let go some of the distant burdens and notions of exceptionalism that do not serve its national interest. In the process, a better America — and possibly a better world — may yet emerge.
                Is BRICS 2023 becoming a strategic alternative to G7? (Станет ли БРИКС 2023 стратегической альтернативой G7?) / Russia, August, 2023
                Keywords: brics+, global_governance, political_issues

                In global geopolitics, military strength and capabilities or economic viability and prospects of a nation, such data from a data analysis understanding are vital to understand and measure its national power and strength. Over the years, many nations have come together to achieve their shared objective and interests and have expanded their grouping despite such groups are vital or no longer needed today. NATO fits such a description; in the paper, the analysis will be done on BRICS becoming an alternative to G7 as the bloc has started to undermine G7's reach, power and influence in the global geopolitics.

                On June 16, 2009, BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) was formed, and the addition of South Africa in 2011 established BRICS, a bloc of emerging economies that are working to instate their world economic and trade systems. As data concerning the economy and military's strength have a multi-frontal aspect, it remains relevant in geopolitics to understand a country or bloc like BRICS' reach and influence. In 2023, BRICS contribution to global GDP (31.5%) has surpassed G7 contribution (30.7%) and now nearly accounts for 1/3 of the world economic activity and has become a voice of the developing nations worldwide.

                The 15th edition of the BRICS summit was held in Johannesburg, South Africa, between August 22 and 24 under the theme 'BRICS and Africa: Partnership for mutually accelerated growth, sustainable development and inclusive multilateralism'. BRICS have aimed to reshape the political-economic landscape to benefit themselves and further shape the global political and economic order to suit their shared interests. The recent rise of BRICS and developments like the de-dollarisation, the drive to expand BRICS and China's push to oust G7 and make BRICS a global leader has begun the G7 vs BRICS rivalry.

                The significance of BRICS

                The term BRICS was coined by Goldman Sachs Analyst Jim O'Neill, who argues in coming times, G7 members should consider adding BRIC members as their contribution to the global GDP will only increase. At the time of such a statement, BRIC's contribution to the global GDP at the end of 2000 was 23.3% and today has surpassed the G7 contribution to global GDP and become significant and a strategic competitor and rival to G7. The 2023 BRICS summit has become the biggest summit in its history as the bloc invited 69 state heads, highlighting its rise and showcasing its growing value worldwide and global acceptance.

                The BRICS mechanism and structure works to promote peace, security, development and cooperation to establish a fair and equitable world and became a prospect and, to an extent, an alternative to other countries to join the group. With group accounts for 41% of the globe's population, 30% of the land area, 31.5% of global GDP and 16% of international trade, BRICS, today, no longer be ignored by other countries. Promoting cooperation, economic growth and development and enriching people-to-people contact are BRICS's three pillars. Since 2009, the bloc has worked and established more than 30 cooperation among themselves and like-minded countries. With BRICS combined worth equal to the US economy, the bloc has become a voice for the global south (developing nations) and is pushing to reshape the global order and reform institutions like the UN, WHO, WTO and IMF. Further, despite the ongoing border dispute between India and China, cooperation between both nations in the BRICS forum has remained, and the Beijing Declaration 2022 showcases the bloc's intent to address the conflict and ensure global peace and stability.

                BRICS vs G7: China's push to make BRICS alternative to G7

                In recent years, China's geopolitical initiatives and measures aren't only to carve out a space for itself and counter the US-led order worldwide. Strategic moves like the Belt Road Initiative, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Global Development Initiative (GDI) and Global Civilisational Initiative (GCI) and their global acceptance have given ample scope to China to go past the US in coming times. In such circumstances, the growing significance of BRICS and becoming a strategic rival to G7 has become the focus for other developing nations to align with the group to secure their interest.

                The transformation of BRICS from a non-aligned bloc for the economic interest of developing countries into a political force to openly challenge the West has yet to become a reality. The expansion of BRICS and the inclusion of six countries will change the direction of the bloc and its approach towards global geopolitics. South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa argues that the expansion of BRICS will represent a diverse group of nations sharing a common desire, and India, Russia, China and Brazil support such an approach. Brazil's invitation to Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia and Argentina to join BRICS in January 2024 will diversify the group's power, hold and relevance in the global geopolitics. The inclusion of such nations enhances the scope of the BRICS, as the presence of large oil reserves in Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE and Russia, which holds 43% of world reserves and share of new members in the global GDP, will increase BRICS bargaining power in global power politics in coming years.

                To understand such joining, the inclusion of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will amplify BRICS dominance in the Middle East region's geopolitics, which will undermine US-led order in the region. Recently, China's move to broker a peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran has alarmed the West of China's intent to counter the West as it began to flex its muscles. The BRICS provides China with an opportunity to expand its reach, and its existing ties with BRICS new members need to be carefully considered as it could impact the working and functioning of the bloc in the coming years.

                Chinese President Xi Jinping, in his speech during the summit, argues as China looks for expansion of BRICS, emphasises China's aversion to hegemonism and bloc confrontation and wishes for a more equitable international order. However, China and Russia look at the BRICS as a counter to Western dominance and oust G7 as a global leader in the coming years. Thus, the use of local currency for trade by BRICS members and the push to de-dollarise the global economy is being done with such intentions. A global de-dollarisation is still a distant dream; Chinese-led institutions and growing China's hold in other blocs like SCO will give impetus to such a drive, and thus, the role of G7 to counter it has become pivotal.

                On the issue of BRICS becoming an alternative and strategic rival to G7, a shift has been witnessed in the global geopolitics post-Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The anti-west narrative and its acceptance have gained momentum to move away from the US-led order viewed in the push for local currency for trade to de-dollarise the global economy. As the invasion united the West against Russia but distanced them from the rest as consolidation of the West is taking in the backdrop of a divided Cold War order, and emerging powers like China and India and blocs like BRICS have taken centre stage in global geopolitics. The push to formulate a BRICS currency has gained momentum, which will impact G7 and the US hold in the global economy.

                As the rise of BRICS in the last two decades is impressive and unquestionable, the bloc members continue to trade more with G7 members than within the bloc. China being the lead economy of the bloc, its trade with the G7 (27%) shadowed trade with BRICS (7%), and such aspects were also reflected in the case of India, South Africa and Russia, excluding Brazil. In the current context, BRICS cannot offer the financial and economic incentives that the G7 has at its disposal as global acceptance of dollar provides G7 better scope to compete with BRICS. The inclusion of new members and the launch of BRICS currency in the coming years will empower BRICS. Being politically appealing to many countries, in the coming times, with new members, BRICS will become strategically vital and an alternative to G7 to nations willing to bandwagon with the rise of the global south and BRICS.


                This raises a valid point, if BRICS has to remain relevant in global geopolitics in the coming decades, the members (existing and new) must come together and formulate a clear vision to secure their core principles and pillars. The expansion of BRICS is a good prospect as it will strengthen its voice, allowing it to venture into a new domain like the outer space, artificial intelligence etc. However, BRICS members should strengthen trade with each other, strengthen their internal economy and National Development Bank (NDB) and set up a meditation process that will project BRICS as a serious player intent to address global issues and threats. Further, BRICS should set up a new institution – transforming ideas into a reality – like the BRICS Credit Rating Agency proposed by India, benefiting others by providing an alternative to the Standard & Poor and Moody. Such developments will strengthen BRICS and supersede the G7 as a vital player and mediator in global geopolitics. It will empower China to push its agenda and idea of a new global order, and the Chinese-led initiatives like the GDI and Global Security Initiative coupled with the summit highlight BRICS is moving in this direction. However, other BRICS members must address such a scenario and ensure that the existing global order and BRICS don't become another SCO that acts as a vehicle for China to challenge the existing global norms.

                              BRICS and Ethiopia: A New Frontier in Geopolitical Tug-of-War (БРИКС и Эфиопия: новый рубеж в геополитическом перетягивании каната) / Russia, August, 2023
                              Keywords: brics+, political_issues

                              In an era where global alliances are becoming ever more important, BRICS' recent expansion to include Ethiopia is a testament to the evolving dynamics in international politics. The inclusion not only marks a strategic alignment for the coalition but also highlights Ethiopia's growing prominence in regional geopolitics.

                              Ethiopia's assertion of its influence in the Horn of Africa, particularly its sway over Somalia and its alleged influence over parts of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean waters, underscores the nation's pivotal role in the region. By welcoming Ethiopia, BRICS effectively establishes a foothold in an area where access to maritime routes and control over the Red Sea and Indian Ocean waters are increasingly becoming points of contention.

                              However, the implications of this expansion stretch beyond the member nations. Ethiopia's closeness with BRICS may drive Somalia to foster deeper ties with Western powers, notably the EU and US. The West, understanding the strategic significance of Somalia's Red Sea and Indian Ocean waters, may perceive the need to strengthen their influence in Somalia to counterbalance the BRICS alliance.

                              The timing of Ethiopia's inclusion coinciding with the multi-deal between the UAE and Ethiopia provides another layer to the story. Both nations have growing interests in the Horn of Africa, particularly in Somalia's sea waters and ports. There's an emerging pattern here; strong nations taking advantage of weaker ones. It is no secret that Somalia's government has been grappling with stability issues, which seems to have provided an opportunity for nations like the UAE and Ethiopia to gain a foothold in the region.

                              The tactic of using regional federal member states to further diminish Somalia's sovereignty is a strategic move. It's a classic case of divide and rule – if you can weaken the federal authority by supporting regional powers, the central power's sovereignty can be compromised.

                              Therein lies the potential for heightened geopolitical tension. If Somalia becomes a theater for power plays between the West and BRICS, we may well be witnessing the early stages of a new geopolitical cold war. The waters off the coast of Somalia, which were once mostly noted for piracy, could now become the focal point of a larger global strategy.

                              For Somalia, this is a wake-up call. As bigger powers play their geopolitical games, it's crucial for Somalia to regain its sovereignty, ensure stability, and strategically position itself in the global arena. The expansion of BRICS serves as a reminder that in the world of geopolitics, strategic location and influence often supersede the age-old principles of sovereignty and self-determination.

                              A potential move by the West to bolster the Somali Navy would be telling. It would not only challenge Ethiopia's claims of controlling Somali waters but also signify the West's commitment to maintaining its influence in the region. Such a move would send a clear message to BRICS – that the West won't back down from securing its interests in the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

                              As BRICS evolves and grows, its decisions will inevitably reverberate across the globe. The inclusion of Ethiopia might be just a membership expansion on paper, but in the world of geopolitics, it is a move that could reshape alliances and ignite fresh rivalries. Stakeholders across the world would do well to pay close attention to these developments, for they might just herald the start of a new chapter in global diplomacy.

                                            BRICS expansion is a big win for China. But can it really work as a counterweight to the West? (Расширение БРИКС – это большая победа для Китая. Но может ли это действительно стать противовесом Западу?) / USA, August, 2023
                                            Keywords: brics+, expert_opinion

                                            When leaders of the BRICS nations gathered for group photos at the end of their summit in Johannesburg last week, it offered a glimpse of the contours of the new world order Beijing is trying to shape.

                                            Standing at the front and center was Xi Jinping, China's powerful leader, surrounded by a stage of leaders from emerging markets and developing countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

                                            The summit was the largest the BRICS have ever held, with more than 60 countries attending alongside member nations Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

                                            Flanking the current BRICS leaders were counterparts from Argentina, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates – who had just been invited to join the club.

                                            The development is a big win for Xi, who has long pushed to expand the bloc and its clout despite reservations from other members such as India and Brazil.

                                            The expansion, the first since South Africa was added in 2010, is set to more than double the group's membership and significantly extend its global reach – especially in the Middle East.

                                            "This makes China the clear winner," said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London. "Getting six new members is a significant move in its preferred direction of travel."

                                            For Beijing, as well as Moscow, the expansion is part of its drive to forge the loose economic grouping into a geopolitical counterweight to the West – and Western institutions such as the G7.

                                            A key Russia-friendly bloc may decide to expand. Who stands to benefit?

                                            That mission has become all the more urgent over the past year given China's escalating rivalry with the United States, as well as the ramifications of the Ukraine war – which saw Beijing further estranged from the West over its support for Moscow.

                                            As shown by the BRICS expansion and the long waiting list to join, Xi's offer of an alternative world order is finding receptive ears in the Global South, where many countries feel themselves marginalized in an international system they see as dominated by the US and its wealthy allies.

                                            Echoing their demand for a larger say in global affairs, the BRICS leaders' declaration repeatedly called for "greater representation of emerging markets and developing countries" in international institutions – from the United Nations and its Security Council to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

                                            Xi, who peppered his speeches at the summit with criticism of US "hegemony," hailed the expansion as "historic" and "a new starting point for BRICS cooperation."

                                            Happymon Jacob, a professor of international studies at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University, said the expansion highlights a shift in global geopolitical fault lines.

                                            "Being a leader of non-Western forums and the Global South, which in general is dissatisfied with the US-led institutions, will invariably help China become a counterweight to the US and the world order led by the US," he said.

                                            But a wider membership also raises questions about the cohesion and coherence of BRICS, whose existing members already differ widely in political systems, economic prowess and diplomatic goals.

                                            "I am skeptical in terms of the effectiveness of the organization after the expansion, and whether in the end the expansion is more symbolic than substantive," said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center in Washington.

                                            "The more members there are, the more interests the organization needs to reconcile and accommodate."

                                            That is particularly true for a consensus-based organization like BRICS, where decisions are only made if all members agree.

                                            The new joiners are a somewhat disparate group. Two are very much struggling economies. Argentina, a serial defaulter that has long struggled with inflation and currency crises, is the biggest borrower from the IMF. Egypt, which is facing its own economic crisis, is the IMF's second largest debtor.

                                            Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa and once one of the continent's fastest-growing economies, is reeling from the devastation of a two-year civil war in the country's Tigray region, which ended in December, amid evidence of widespread human rights abuses.

                                            The enlarged bloc will also include three of the world's largest oil exporters: Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran.

                                            The former two are traditionally close allies of America, but have recently fostered closer ties with China which has stepped up its presence in the region amid a perceived power vacuum left by the US.

                                            Iran and Saudi Arabia are arch rivals, though earlier this year they restored diplomatic ties in a deal brokered by China.

                                            That contrasts heavily with a more unified bloc like the G7 which is comprised of like-minded democracies with large industrialized economies.

                                            Helena Legarda, lead analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, a think tank in Berlin, said it is unclear to what extent the BRICS expansion will increase the value and influence of the group.

                                            "Without a shared ideology and clear overarching goal, it is likely that the addition of six new members may instead make BRICS a more divided group."

                                            Chinese leader Xi Jinping, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, on August 24.
                                            BRICS/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Internal divisions

                                            A key dividing issue is the anti-US agenda pushed by China and Russia, which has been strengthened with the inclusion of Iran.

                                            India and Brazil have expressed concerns about the bloc potentially becoming too anti-Western and dominated by Beijing, and some of the new members may be similarly skeptical, according to Legarda.

                                            "Despite the clear geopolitical objectives that China has for the group, many other developing and emerging economies don't see BRICS as an exclusively geopolitical body. They are also motivated by economic opportunities and the chance of securing privileged access to the Chinese and other markets," she said.

                                            But China is battling its own economic woes at home – from a spiraling property crisis and mounting local government debt to record youth unemployment and an ageing population. Many economists believe the world's second largest economy is entering an era of much slower growth, which can have a profound impact on the global economy.

                                            China's economy is in trouble. Here's what's gone wrong

                                            The BRICS expansion is also likely to fuel competition – and potential friction – between China and India, whose ties have already been strained by a simmering border conflict.

                                            "Sino-Indian competition for the leadership of the Global South is now bound to sharpen with China having a clear advantage," said Jacob in New Delhi.

                                            "While India does have good relations with all of the new BRICS members, China's deep pockets and its ability to fill the post-American vacuum especially in the Middle East would mean that China will be able to influence the institution far more than India could," he added.

                                            The rivalry and tensions between China and India, as well as between Iran and Saudi Arabia, mean that issues they can agree upon and jointly act upon are unlikely to be significant in number and in nature, said Sun with the Stimson Center.

                                            "The expansion certainly builds an image of a growing coalition vis-a-vis the West, but having more countries in one organization does not equate to more effectiveness."
                                                          BRICS expansion: A warning to the US, but not a 'new Cold War' (Расширение БРИКС: предупреждение США, но не «новая холодная война») / Qatar, August, 2023
                                                          Keywords: brics+, expert_opinion

                                                          Last week, the bloc of nations known as the BRICS took the historic step of inviting six new countries for membership.

                                                          The grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa will be joined by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina and Egypt as part of an expanded collective.

                                                          But these six new entrants are among dozens of countries that have expressed interest in joining the BRICS. Further expansions of an organisation many have touted as a systemic rival to the G7 seem almost certain to follow in future summits.

                                                          As economic tensions soar and geoeconomics becomes a battleground, countries of the Global South seem drawn to the BRICS group, which includes and is partially led by China.

                                                          So, why are so many countries, including many US partners, participating in this project and seeking to boost its mission?

                                                          Many argue we are in the midst of a new Cold War. Even members of the United States Congress have lent credence to that concept. But that is an imperfect analogy.

                                                          As many have pointed out, China is a peer economy to the US and is likely to overtake it in gross domestic product (GDP) soon, while the former Soviet Union's economy was, at its peak, only a third that of the US. But what is critically different in the global landscape of alliances is that many countries are in a position to choose their alignment.

                                                          Scholars and analysts have been discussing the rise of the Global South for decades, especially since the 2008 financial crisis, pointing to how the unprecedented and sustained economic growth of many countries outside the West was redistributing global power.

                                                          Researchers have also concluded that while the global economy's centre of gravity was in the Atlantic, between the US and Europe, in 1980, it had moved 4,800 miles (7,725km) to Izmir, Turkey, by 2008 and will likely lie somewhere between India and China by 2050.

                                                          This new environment presents the nations of the Global South with options about how to respond to growing friction among major powers and how to position their nations in the midst of great power competition.

                                                          During the Cold War, one could awkwardly divide the world into three camps: the Western bloc, the Soviet bloc and the countries that were part of the so-called non-aligned movement.

                                                          After the Cold War, many of the norms of the Western bloc formed what is often referred to as the liberal rules-based international order. This new order was enshrined into new organisations like the World Trade Organization and older venues like the United Nations during a "unipolar moment", when democratic capitalism and trade liberalisation seemed to have vanquished every foe.

                                                          But today, the rising power balancing the US is not looking to form a Soviet-type bloc. The reasons are both material and ideational.

                                                          China does not have the military capacity to project power over large parts of the planet and make security guarantees to faraway friends. It also has a grim history with alliance politics – such as its fallout with the Soviet Union. So it eschews the kind of alliances that define the US's relationship with its linchpin allies in Europe and East Asia. Beijing has many partners, even "comprehensive strategic partners", but no allies.

                                                          Beijing also has a precarious relationship with the international order Washington built. The order is one designed and carried out with US interests and preferences in mind – and to a lesser extent those of its close allies. As China rises, the West, and the US in particular, jealously guard the rules they've crafted and the pegging order within those organisations.

                                                          China's voting power and position in international fora are still extremely small compared with its economic weight. For example, China has a 5 percent voting share in the World Bank's main lending arm despite representing 16 percent of the global GDP.

                                                          China has repeatedly asked for its voting power, and those of other emerging economies, to be increased to represent modern global economic distribution to no avail. This is a rather enticing combination to many countries of the Global South. Many of them also see their preferences and interests underrepresented or ignored in the world order as currently constituted.

                                                          Additionally, aligning with organisations like BRICS does not mean binding commitments to one side of the new Cold War. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) may be a security cooperation forum like NATO but it lacks any Article 5 feature. If the worst-case scenario, a Sino-American military confrontation, came to pass, US allies would be expected to quickly join it in the war but China's partners would not.

                                                          In fact, an increasingly large coalition of countries with competing and conflicting political systems, ideologies and approaches to the West may produce an increasingly unwieldy organisation and exacerbate its collective action problem.

                                                          But China is clearly gambling that a larger, more geographically and economically diverse set of countries can eventually be marshalled towards the goal of enhancing their collective representation in the world order. For example, the inclusion of more countries, especially major commodity exporters like Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, may make greater economic integration among BRICS states and the use of non-dollar currencies in trade among them more appetising.

                                                          Scholars who have examined Beijing's relationship with the international order argue that China seeks to engage international institutions to argue for its preferences. But when it is denied what it sees as power commensurate with its global position, it seeks to create parallel institutions. This can be seen in the form of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the SCO and BRICS.

                                                          The US and its linchpin allies have common values and deep social interaction. More importantly, they have similar forms of government and economic management. This both binds them together and solves collective action problems regarding world affairs.

                                                          US partners in the Global South, however, are not under this umbrella and instead court multipolarity to maximise their bargaining position vis-à-vis duelling powers.

                                                          Joining a forum like the BRICS is less a declaration of alignment with Beijing and more an assertion by a country that they wish to remain neutral or play both sides in line with their specific national interest.

                                                          The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial stance.

                                                                        The real message from the BRICS summit (Настоящее послание саммита БРИКС) / Liechtenstein, September, 2023
                                                                        Keywords: summit, expert_opinion

                                                                        Between August 22 and 25, the BRICS – a loose association of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – held a summit in Johannesburg that made plenty of waves. Aside from the five main countries, some 30 other developing nations were invited to participate.

                                                                        "BRICS is a diverse group of nations," said President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, the host. "It is an equal partnership of countries that have differing views but a shared vision for a better world." It is an apt description, especially when it comes to the mentioned "differing views."

                                                                        The group's pivotal defining factor lay in the countries' shared aspiration to distance themselves from an American- and European-led "rule-based world order," as well as the dominance of the U.S. dollar within the global monetary system. They are especially concerned about the dominance of the dollar being used to enforce sanctions.

                                                                        Challenging the West

                                                                        China and Russia aim to leverage BRICS within the framework of a larger systemic conflict with Western powers. This approach is unlikely to resonate with many nations of the Global South, which seek to assert their own perspectives. Often, they view Western value policies as emblematic of paternalistic control, arrogance and a thinly veiled guise for protectionism. They frequently invoke the term "neocolonialism."

                                                                        In a somewhat simplistic manner, though not entirely inaccurate, BRICS is often perceived as a counterpoint to the G7, which consists of the top seven industrialized democracies, along with the European Union.

                                                                        In view of all this, a notable proposal was put on the table, spearheaded by Brazil: the establishment of a BRICS currency. China and Russia regard this as a top priority, given the current and potential sanctions mechanisms. Nevertheless, Beijing's preference leans toward making the renminbi a global reserve currency rather than serving as a shared BRICS currency. This emerged as the central theme of the summit, in addition to the issue of enlargement.

                                                                        The primary, albeit unspoken, "differing view" is this: Neither India, nor Brazil, nor South Africa intend to replace a perceived Western hegemony with that of China, which is rooted in its economic might and influence within institutions like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, BRICS Bank, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and others. This sentiment extends to certain United Nations bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO).

                                                                        African potential

                                                                        The summit's most notable outcome was the admission of six new members. Among these, Iran stands out as particularly contentious and in direct opposition to the U.S. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will bring substantial financial resources, while Argentina will bolster South American representation. Egypt and Ethiopia will enhance the African presence within the organization.

                                                                        The African position in particular is experiencing newfound strength. Historically, Africa was often viewed more as a geopolitical subject rather than an active participant. This is now changing. Beyond its mineral wealth, Africa holds two of the most crucial assets: a youthful populace and arable land for food production. By 2060, Africa could account for around 30 percent of the global population. Meanwhile, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, Africa possesses 45 percent of the world's cultivable land for agriculture and 60 percent of untapped arable land. With this immense potential, African nations are gaining the confidence to assertively claim their role in the global arena.

                                                                        Evolving global realities

                                                                        Political analysts often draw parallels between these developments and the nonaligned movement during the Cold War, which included nations like India, Yugoslavia and Egypt. While there are certain similarities, it is crucial to note that the underlying dynamics have evolved significantly.

                                                                        During the Cold War, in the early 1980s, the G7 (effectively symbolizing the Western bloc) held a gross domestic product (GDP) accounting for about 46 percent of the global total. In contrast, the combined economies of the five BRICS nations represented 16 percent in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). This landscape has experienced substantial transformation. By 2022, the five BRICS countries accounted for 32 percent of global GDP, while the G7 constituted 30 percent. With the inclusion of the new members, the BRICS (or its future iteration) will extend its lead in terms of PPP. Nevertheless, the G7 retains a distinct advantage in terms of GDP per capita.

                                                                        The BRICS nations have already surpassed the G7 in GDP as measured by purchasing power parity. However, the G7 still holds the advantage in nominal GDP per capita. © GIS
                                                                        The collective population of the BRICS 11 now stands at 3.5 billion people, accounting for approximately 40 percent of the global population, in contrast to the 775 million residents in the G7 nations.

                                                                        The current significance of this summit might be somewhat limited due to President Ramaphosa's acknowledgment of "differing views," which indicates that immediate outcomes or effects might not be forthcoming. Furthermore, challenging the established dominance of the dollar within the global monetary system is unlikely to occur in the short term. The value of currency hinges on trust and liquidity, and despite the dollar being employed by Washington for political purposes and as a weapon, it retains its status as the most liquid currency, backed by a measure of trust.

                                                                        It is important to note that over the past two decades, economic growth in the U.S., measured by PPP, has surpassed that of the BRICS countries, with the notable exception of China.

                                                                        Larger trend

                                                                        The true significance of the recent BRICS summit lies in recognizing it as a symptom of a broader trend that questions the established American-European global order. Western value-based strategies are often perceived, with justifiable rationale, as a hypocritical means to uphold the West's dominance and protect its markets. Within the Western narrative of a systemic conflict between (righteous) democracies and (malevolent) authoritarians, particularly Russia and China, this perception of hypocrisy benefits Moscow and especially Beijing.

                                                                        Viewing the Global South through the lens of a conflict between democracy and authoritarianism is a distorted perspective. Attempting to coerce emerging nations into picking sides will not only prove ineffective, but also counterproductive.

                                                                        The results of the summit serve as an appeal to Western capitals to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and formulate practical policies that benefit the emerging world by prioritizing opening markets over coercing them into unfamiliar rules and systems. As we enter a multipolar era, it becomes imperative to acknowledge new players and the reality that the global landscape will not be characterized by harmonized systems, but rather a rich variety of approaches.

                                                                                      BRICS Expansion Is No Triumph for China (Расширение БРИКС не является триумфом для Китая) / USA, August, 2023
                                                                                      Keywords: brics+, expert_opinion

                                                                                      Those who believe that the world is moving to a post-Western global order saw their belief confirmed last week. At its annual summit in Johannesburg, the BRICS forum of five major emerging economies—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—announced a major expansion by inviting six new members. In January, the group will add Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. If economic weight is a measure of power, this will be a singularly potent group. Together, the 11 BRICS states will have a higher share of global GDP based on purchasing power parity than the G-7 industrialized countries.

                                                                                      Depending on where you stand, you might celebrate a more powerful BRICS bloc or worry about it—but neither reaction is warranted. An expanded BRICS will not turn the world upside down, nor does it herald the rise of a post-Western global order. Equally outlandish is the claim that BRICS expansion marks a major victory for China, Russia, and their attempts to build an anti-Western bloc among the countries of the global south—or that BRICS is the core of a new Non-Aligned Movement.

                                                                                      All these potential interpretations take little heed of the internal dynamics of an expanded BRICS and their implications. By confusing their hopes and fears about the global order with analysis, the Western commentariat reveals its enormous ignorance about the countries of the global south, their diverse interests, and their engagement with the great powers.

                                                                                      There is no doubt that the sudden clamor for BRICS membership from so many significant countries has colored the analysis. But expanding the list of members does not turn BRICS into a potent bloc. If anything, the expansion only undermines what little cohesion the group had before the expansion.

                                                                                      The growing geopolitical confrontation between China and India already casts a shadow over BRICS and any attempt at creating a cohesive agenda. With new members come new conflicts: Egypt and Ethiopia are fiercely at loggerheads over Nile waters, while Iran and Saudi Arabia are regional foes—notwithstanding their Beijing-brokered attempt to make peace. These and other fault lines will make it much harder to turn the combined economic weight of the BRICS states into an influential political force in global affairs.

                                                                                      The smarter policy folks in the West should whine less about the supposed rise of BRICS—and focus instead on the many contradictions within the group they can exploit.

                                                                                      Those who think of BRICS as a new Non-Aligned Movement are unintentionally right on one aspect: BRICS will be just as ineffective as the original in turning soaring rhetoric on global issues into concrete, practical outcomes. In pushing for BRICS enlargement, China merely bought itself a bigger talk shop. If Beijing wants to build a bigger anti-Western tent, it can't do it when the BRICS tent already has so many friends of the United States inside it.

                                                                                      Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are close U.S. security partners. Even if they have their differences with Washington, they are unlikely to abandon U.S. security guarantees for untested Chinese promises, let alone protection by the formless sack of potatoes that is BRICS. In his address to the Johannesburg summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping called on BRICS nations to "practice true multilateralism" and "reject the attempt to create small circles or exclusive blocs." Well, India is already part of at least two such "small circles." One is the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, with Australia, Japan, and the United States; the other is the I2U2 forum that joins India with Israel, the UAE, and the United States. In Johannesburg, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi even called for "resilient and inclusive supply chains," an obvious euphemism for reducing economic dependence on China.

                                                                                      If China sees BRICS as a forum for expanding its role in the global south, so does India—and, for that matter, the Saudis and Emiratis, who are willing to deploy large chunks of the capital they have accumulated over the decades for economic and political gain in Africa and beyond. In fact, the competition among BRICS countries for global influence is perhaps more consequential for the group than their presumed common interest in countering the West. Instead of shaping a new theater of contestation with the West, the BRICS forum will be a theater of contestation itself.

                                                                                      The smarter policy folks in the West should therefore whine less about the supposed rise of BRICS—and focus instead on the many contradictions within the forum they can exploit.

                                                                                      This is not the first time Russia and China have tried to promote an anti-Western coalition. Indeed, history tells us that Moscow and Beijing overestimate the possibilities for uniting non-Western societies against the West. When hopes for a communist revolution in Germany failed after World War I, the founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, turned to Asia and promised to "set the East ablaze" with revolutions against global capitalism and Western colonial overlords. At the 1920 Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku, in Soviet-occupied Azerbaijan, the Communist International gathered a colorful but motley group of nationalists, revolutionaries, and religious leaders. Lenin's effort did not get very far as rising nationalism made Asia inhospitable to Bolshevik ideas.

                                                                                      In the 1960s, Chinese leader Mao Zedong thought he could do the same with his attempt to promote revolutions in Asia; instead, his many failures paved the way for capitalism with Chinese characteristics at home. Soviet leaders Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev tried a different tactic—aligning with nationalists in Africa and Asia against the West. Moscow did seem to gain ground in the global south through the 1970s. At the 1979 summit of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana, Cuban leader Fidel Castro and his supporters declared that the Soviet Union and its satellites were the so-called Third World's "natural allies."

                                                                                      A United States in supposed terminal decline, however, came back swinging in the 1980s to put Moscow on the defensive. Meanwhile, the elites of the global south turned out to be rather clever in using to their advantage the divisions among the West, the Soviet Union, and China. Castro and other leaders' resounding declaration of friendship with the communist bloc in 1979 has many parallels to China's expression of its ambitions for BRICS. But just as the Soviet Union ran out of resources to support its large roster of Third World clients in the late 1970s, Xi's China has also overreached—it is beset by deep economic troubles and has its hands full dealing with pushback from the United States.

                                                                                      Still, last week's BRICS expansion announcement might serve one useful purpose: telling the West not to take the global south for granted. Sensible Western decision-makers should therefore discard both conservative contempt and progressive condescension—each of which, in its own way, makes it difficult to engage the elites of the global south—and find better ways to reengage developing nations.

                                                                                      The greatest threats to the modern West from the non-Western world came with the rise of nationalism in Asia and Africa. Decolonization and competition with the communist bloc to win friends in the global south helped the West regain ground. After the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991, however, the lessons from the Cold War were quickly forgotten, and the West turned to sneering and hectoring the global south. China and Russia moved in, exploiting anti-Western resentment in the global south.

                                                                                      The West can't sustain its global primacy on the cheap. It needs to come down from the high pedestal it has put itself on since the end of the Cold War and wrestle in the mud with the Chinese and Russian challenge. The West successfully overcame the challenges to its global primacy during a long phase of superpower competition, when it found more cooperative ways to engage non-Western elites. It can do the same again. The BRICS expansion may be a dud, but it is still a warning shot that the West must end its strategic slumber. The global south is waiting.

                                                                                                    What BRICS Expansion Means for the Bloc's Founding Members (Что означает расширение БРИКС для членов-основателей блока) / USA, August, 2023
                                                                                                    Keywords: brics+, expert_opinion

                                                                                                    With the addition of these six countries, BRICS now represents 42 percent of the world's population and 36 percent of global GDP. The primarily economic bloc was originally created as an alternative to the U.S.-led international order, with the goal of offering growing countries in the Global South a counterbalance to Western institutions.

                                                                                                    BRICS's consensus-based approach has hampered its effectiveness in the past, but the geopolitical factors driving its expansion — as well as the sometimes-conflicting strategic goals of its individual members — will have a major role in shaping the future of the international system. USIP experts examine what BRICS expansion means for its founding members (China, Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa) and what the recent summit can tell us about the bloc's plans going forward.


                                                                                                    Tugendhat: This gathering has largely been seen as a diplomatic victory for Chinese leader Xi Jinping. He was lauded with the "Order of South Africa" as he arrived; he scheduled meetings with African heads of state who joined as observers to the meetings; and he even managed to de-escalate tensions on the Sino-Indian border.

                                                                                                    But above all this, China was able to see through an expansion of the bloc's membership. This matters, because the BRICS combination of U.S. adversaries like Russia and Iran alongside U.S. partners like Brazil and India will force the United States to consider the security interests they may come to share.

                                                                                                    On the negative side for China, its ambitions to reform the world's financial architecture in favor of Global South interests continue to meet frustrations. We have heard a lot about the possibility of a shared BRICS currency in recent months, but this is unlikely to gain traction for many reasons.

                                                                                                    For starters, it implies that BRICS members would hold larger amounts of each other's currencies, and it's unclear that any members of the new or expanded BRICS would wish to buy Russian rubles right now even if they could. Moreover, the Chinese yuan still struggles to internationalize meaningfully for its closed capital markets. And finally, the introduction of the Euro in 2002 has had very little impact on the dominance of the U.S. dollar in the 20 years since, so it seems unlikely that a middle-income alternative would pose much more of a threat.

                                                                                                    China's attempts to drive the New Development Bank may fare somewhat better, but it is still unclear how much funding it may receive from existing or new members. It also remains to be seen how the bank might distinguish itself from already-existing Global South development banks. Furthermore, the New Development Bank has suffered from its dependence on sometimes fractious relations between the founding members, such as former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's sometimes hostile engagements with China and the fallout over India and China's 2020 border clashes. It's possible that BRICS institutions will frequently fall victim to similar political disruption.

                                                                                                    Which brings me to a final consideration. China's ambition to expand BRICS membership has been analyzed by some as an attempt to establish a counterpoint to the G7. And yet, China may have inadvertently created something far closer to the G20: a big grouping with no secretariat, no legal authority to their decisions and often no consensus.

                                                                                                    With so many competing views, this expansion may introduce more challenges than opportunities for the founding members, especially when it comes to creating alternative institutions to the current world order. The enlarged BRICS will undoubtedly serve as an important forum for global conversations among middle-income countries, but that may be its biggest impact on global affairs.


                                                                                                    Markey: This year's BRICS summit was a tricky assignment for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who aimed to tackle several thorny issues: balancing India's ties with Russia and the West, managing BRICS expansion, and addressing border tensions with China.

                                                                                                    Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, New Delhi has tried to balance close ties with Moscow (including major oil and defense deals, as well as continued diplomatic relations) against pressure from Western friends and partners like the United States. In part to sidestep Western ire, India transformed its July Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit into a virtual-only gathering, and Putin's absence from the BRICS summit made India's life easier. To complete New Delhi's balancing act, Modi followed up with a friendly phone call to Putin a few days after returning home.

                                                                                                    On BRICS expansion, India simultaneously sought to preserve its privileged stature as a founding member, advance its claim to leadership as a voice of the Global South, and resist moves by Beijing to dominate the group by packing it with overtly China-centric partners.

                                                                                                    Battling widespread speculation that India initially objected to the expansion agenda, Modi took pains to express enthusiasm for the added members. The new member list could have been worse for India, which enjoys increasingly warm relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Only Iran's admission creates minor headaches, as it reinforces the group's anti-Western reputation and saddles the bloc with another prominent member facing U.S. sanctions.

                                                                                                    Back in India, the most anticipated meeting of the summit was between Modi and Xi. The two leaders had barely spoken in person since the summer of 2020, when Chinese and Indian forces along the Line of Actual Control engaged in their bloodiest border skirmishes in over four decades.

                                                                                                    In the end, a closed-door, "informal" one-on-one session bore all the hallmarks of intensive negotiations. There were no prior announcements, dueling readouts (with India's more upbeat than China's), and a day-long delay before the exchange was publicly disclosed. The meeting achieved no obvious diplomatic breakthrough, and Indian opposition politicians pounced on Modi. Overall, the experience will only raise the stakes for the next major Modi-Xi exchange, likely to happen in New Delhi at the G-20 summit in September.


                                                                                                    Randolph: In an increasingly polarized world driven by competition between the United States and China, Brazil is finding it more difficult to assert its relevance and leadership, as demonstrated by last week's BRICS expansion announcement. China managed to secure the expansion despite the reservations of India and Brazil — shifting the forum from one grounded in alternative economic development to one intended to directly challenge Western-dominated forums and institutions.

                                                                                                    Brazil's President Lula publicly stated during last week's summit that the BRICS forum is not meant as "a counterpoint to the G7, G20 or the United States," instead characterizing the group as a means of organizing developing countries. To that end, President Lula exclusively focused his speech to the forum on the bloc's economic nature, emphasizing its importance in securing greater financing for developing economies, achieving fairer global trade and building more Global South-driven economic growth.

                                                                                                    However, Chinese leader Xi articulated a much broader mission for the group in a speech to the forum read by Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao, laying out a vision in which BRICS works to reform global governance and expand political and security cooperation among members. This vision, as well as the inclusion of Iran among the six new member states, belies President Lula's insistence that the group is not taking on an anti-West stance and places Brazil in a progressively more uncomfortable position in its relationship with the United States.

                                                                                                    This is not a new approach for President Lula, who has historically sought to elevate Brazil on the international stage by serving as an intermediary for competing powers. In 2010, he traveled to Iran to try and facilitate a nuclear deal between Iran and the United States. Most recently, President Lula's government has struggled to finesse its attempts to broker peace between Russia and Ukraine.

                                                                                                    It remains to be seen what Brazil stands to gain from its concession to China in remaking the nature of BRICS. Brazil is widely considered to have supported the expansion of BRICS in return for China's support of Brazil's addition to the U.N. Security Council as a permanent member, alongside fellow BRICS country India. The compromise appears lopsided from the start — China walks away with immediate gains and Brazil receives only hollow promises, given that U.N. Security Council reform appears unlikely.

                                                                                                    Perhaps President Lula will be able to use China's support to his advantage during his expected meeting with President Biden before the U.N. General Assembly. However, Brazil may find itself increasingly one power among many struggling for relevance in the ongoing competition between the United States and China to define the future of the international order.

                                                                                                    South Africa

                                                                                                    Verjee: For South Africa, the current BRICS chair and host, the summit can be divided into two halves.

                                                                                                    During the run-up to the meeting, the possibility of hosting Russian President Vladimir Putin given his International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant loomed large. Had Putin attended, South Africa would have been legally required to detain him. The episode evoked the 2015 visit of then-Sudanese dictator Omar el-Bashir, who narrowly escaped arrest after attending the African Union summit in Johannesburg, leading to a severe rebuke of the South African government by both domestic and international courts. Ultimately, Putin's absence from the BRICS summit defused any significant domestic controversy in South Africa.

                                                                                                    However, the summit itself brought few tangible outcomes for South Africa, whose membership in BRICS is largely symbolic. South Africa is the smallest and most economically insignificant member of the club. The expansion of BRICS will diminish South Africa's significance even further — the two African states joining, Egypt and Ethiopia, are both more populous than South Africa and are experiencing higher rates of economic growth, albeit in much smaller economies.

                                                                                                    Perhaps more important than the summit was the bilateral visit from President Xi the day before, as well as the preparatory visits that Chinese trade ministers and business groups made just weeks earlier. As Xi himself pointed out, this was his sixth visit to South Africa. South Africa was the first African country to sign the Belt and Road cooperation document, and China is South Africa's largest trading partner. Bilateral trade volumes continue to grow, as does Chinese foreign investment in South Africa. Summit or not, South Africa's relations with the other BRICS countries remain far less important.


                                                                                                    Sharad/Ashby: As Russia deals with economic sanctions and international condemnation for its war against Ukraine, BRICS has become an important forum for Moscow to demonstrate it is not internationally isolated. Russia not only needs BRICS — it needs BRICS to expand in order for Moscow to advance its own foreign policy.

                                                                                                    Evading an ICC arrest warrant, President Putin had no choice but to deliver his summit speech remotely. Similar to his message at the Russia-Africa Summit in July, Putin used his BRICS speech to align Russian foreign policy with Global South countries and accused the United States and the West of advancing a rules-based system that hinders most countries politically, economically and militarily. He also sought to frame the war against Ukraine as a defensive mechanism against perceived Western aggression.

                                                                                                    Touching on the economic fallout from that war, Putin deflected blame for exiting the Black Sea grain deal — a move that has led to increased food costs in many of the countries attending the summit. Instead, Putin proposed an increase in trade between Global South countries, which would further mitigate shocks to his own economy due to Western-led sanctions.

                                                                                                    After over a decade in existence, it remains to be seen whether BRICS will become a force politically and economically within the international system. Russia is banking that it will, based on its support for BRICS expansion during the summit.

                                                                                                    Russia has varying degrees of relations with the new BRICS members, with its strongest bilateral partner among them being Egypt. The motley crew of established and new BRICS countries works in Russia's favor, though — particularly economically, as the UAE, Iran and Saudi Arabia add energy heft to the group.

                                                                                                    From Russia's perspective, BRICS and its new members will enable the Russian government to further push for a multipolar world order — a key talking point under Putin's rule. Russian officials also reiterated aspirations for the bloc to decrease their dependency on the U.S. dollar and to further the goals of the Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership 2025.

                                                                                                                  How BRICS Was Expanded: The Inside Story of Twists and Turns (Как расширялся БРИКС: история перипетий изнутри) / India, September, 2023
                                                                                                                  Keywords: brics+, expert_opinion, political_issues

                                                                                                                  New Delhi: When it was announced that the bloc of emerging economies would more than double its group by adding six new members, it was a surprise to the rest of the world. Inside the group, it took a lot of twists and turns to reach that decision.

                                                                                                                  South African President Cyril Ramaphosa declared at a press appearance with the leaders of the other countries on August 24 that BRICS had invited Argentina, Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Iran. The doubling of a group in terms of numbers at one stroke was unprecedented in recent years.

                                                                                                                  China had been advocating for bringing in new members for a long time, but the other countries had not displayed the same level of enthusiasm.

                                                                                                                  It was rather clear that India had been resisting an expansion, worried about the direction such a move would take. With China and then South Africa taking over the chairmanship in consecutive years, the writing on the wall was getting clearer.

                                                                                                                  India's resistance was also worn down by the personal requests made by various countries who were vying to get in. While it was publicly acknowledged that the Iranian president had engaged with Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding BRICS, similar approaches were made by various other nations. The mounting diplomatic pressure was becoming untenable.

                                                                                                                  Just ahead of the summit, India claimed to have a "positive intent and an open mind when it comes to BRICS expansion".

                                                                                                                  When the delegations arrived in Johannesburg, all countries – except one – were prepared with an initial list of candidates for membership. Russia and South Africa had a list of three countries, China had four and India, somewhat unexpectedly, had the largest with five candidates. "It was a bit of a surprise to see the Indians with the biggest list after all the history," said a well-informed official of one of the BRICS members.

                                                                                                                  The only country that didn't have any list of names to put forward was Brazil. While President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in the run-up to the BRICS summit had even talked about supporting Argentina and Venezuela, diplomatic sources said that Brazilian officials did not furnish any candidates but left the final decision to their leadership.

                                                                                                                  It is learnt that Russia's initial list of priority candidates was Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Argentina, while China had the same names with the addition of Egypt. India's five names were those with whom it had a strategic partnership. It also included Indonesia, which withdrew from the race after all the members agreed to it.

                                                                                                                  Indonesian President Joko Widodo issued a statement on Thursday, after the expansion announcement, that Jakarta was "not in a rush" and wanted to "examine" the membership issues further.

                                                                                                                  Sources, however, dismissed speculation that Indonesia was hesitant due to the perceived anti-West agenda of the group, noting that President Widodo had seemed happy enough in South Africa when he was informed about the green light for Jakarta's entry. The official reason that Jakarta provided the BRICS members is that there were some internal approvals and rules for which it needed some ASEAN approval.

                                                                                                                  Incidentally, sources insisted that Indonesia had apparently not formally applied for membership, even though it was on the top of the list of candidates. It had apparently expressed its interest verbally through China earlier.

                                                                                                                  After Indonesia withdrew, Iran's candidature came more sharply into the picture. China had been the strongest advocate for Saudi Arabia that also been vigorously lobbying for membership, but the other members felt that there needed to be a regional balance. Moreover, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had actively engaged in personal lobbying efforts with each member state, which made it diplomatically challenging to turn him down.

                                                                                                                  While Russia had strongly supported Iran's candidacy, to the surprise of many, China displayed hesitance. According to well-informed sources, China even raised questions about the necessity of expanding the group by incorporating numerous new entrants.

                                                                                                                  This year, China had a major diplomatic victory in West Asia, when it brokered an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore diplomatic ties after seven years.

                                                                                                                  Most observers inferred from the negotiations that China's enthusiasm was somewhat dampened, possibly due to objections from Saudi Arabia. This was against the backdrop of Beijing and Riyadh having grown steadily closer in recent years.

                                                                                                                  It also appeared that the Saudis were also not too happy that the UAE was part of the new group.

                                                                                                                  India had also concluded that if Saudi Arabia was brought into BRICS, Iran could be the balance, The Wire has learnt.

                                                                                                                  At one time during the negotiations, Iran's candidature made it almost seem like it was China versus the rest of the BRICS group, said a diplomatic source. Sensing the mood in the room and unwilling to be seen to obstruct, China acquiesced. It seemed that the candidate selection process was now done.

                                                                                                                  The final twist in the tale took place at the official dinner hosted by South Africa for the BRICS members and the other heads of state on the night of August 23. Since the decision on the five countries had been already made, the participants at the dinner got an inkling of who made the cut.

                                                                                                                  When he learnt that his country was not on the list, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed put his foot down during the dinner. He apparently conveyed that it was inconceivable that an African country, which was the "cradle of humankind" was not being included in the expanded BRICS.

                                                                                                                  The South African president then persuaded the other BRICS member that Ethiopia should be included at the last minute on Wednesday night, sources confirmed.

                                                                                                                  Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Narendra Modi during the 15th BRICS Summit at Johannesburg, in South Africa on August 24, 2023. Photo: PIB

                                                                                                                  The criteria for becoming a BRICS member has not been made public so far, with the Indian foreign secretary terming it as an "internal document".

                                                                                                                  In an interview, the South African foreign minister Naledi Pandor said that the criteria used in selecting the new members included commitment to progressive ideas, recognising the UN as a "premier global institution", belief in peace and respect for international law.

                                                                                                                  "Most of the BRICS countries come from backgrounds where we experienced colonialism and different forms of oppression so we believe in freedom and justice and the pursuit of equity and development. These are the underlying general principles that we elaborated on in the guideline document," she said.

                                                                                                                  Sources said that while these are the ideals that news members would agree with, there were also economic parameters that were drawn up. These included limits like trade with BRICS members at around $50 billion or a GDP of around $400 billion.

                                                                                                                  However, it was stressed that these were just general parameters. "Potential members don't have to meet all these economic criteria," sources said.
                                                                                                                                BRICS Expansion: India's Tragic Mistake (Расширение БРИКС: трагическая ошибка Индии) / Canada, August, 2023
                                                                                                                                Keywords: brics+, expert_opinion

                                                                                                                                The BRICS bloc of emerging economies – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – have agreed to expand the grouping's global reach with the addition of six new members as of January 1: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. While more than 40 countries had expressed interest in joining the bloc, six were chosen in an effort to expand the interests of the Global South. But for India, the presumptive leader of this emerging region, the decision to expand BRICS is a major foreign policy blunder, one that puts additional power into the hands of its regional rival while restricting its own.

                                                                                                                                Experts have argued that BRICS has been beneficial for India, which as a multinational economic body, allows a comfortable, moderating space for both Beijing and New Delhi to talk without political distraction, even when there are security vulnerabilities ongoing for both, as evidenced by the Doklam standoff in 2017 and the current Ladakh crisis. While entry into economic and development bodies such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), or South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) have clear benefits, BRICS expansion carries more risks than rewards for India, as it dilutes its standing in the organization, while maximizing China's influence through ties to countries it already has stronger partnerships with.

                                                                                                                                Iran's relationship with China is on sturdy ground, with Iran increasingly dependent on Beijing as Western sanctions continue to bite. Tehran's relationship with Xi Jinping is one concentrated on stimulating Iran's energy output and economic development. Two years ago, Iran and China signed a $400 billion strategic cooperation agreement, one that would move Iran into China's grand Belt and Road designs. There were added benefits for Beijing as the deal increased its influence in the Middle East. China is a major buyer of sanctioned oil and has a long-standing exploitative relationship with Tehran.

                                                                                                                                China welcomes Iran's oil exports, but benefits from price restrictions as well as Iranian discounts, which can add up to as much as 25 percent. China gets away with it because it is willing to risk the consequences of dealing with sanctioned companies. Assisting the Iranians through BRICS allows China to move relations with Tehran to the next level, beyond oil or its continued assistance in helping develop Iran's nuclear weapons capacity. Iran had tried to work with India or Brazil, but quickly realized that India was not willing to compromise its relationship with Europe and the United States. However, the ties that bind the two are also value oriented, as they are aligned on issues of national sovereignty, external inference, and are both motivated by the prospect of a strategic shift.

                                                                                                                                India's relationship with Tehran is also based on energy needs and Iran's geostrategic location, but it is dependent on Iran, not the other way around. Energy aside, India has much to be concerned about, as both rivals Pakistan and China could exploit Iran's critical ports. India worked hard to get a deal to develop the Chabahar Port, in part because it worried that it could have been a potential security concern if China gained a foothold, as the Gwadar Port in Pakistan has become. Xi's elevation of Iran into the BRICS umbrella risks giving China-Iran cooperation an additional boost, and an avenue out of economic isolation. Tensions with the United States and its Western allies will weaken as a result. It also complicated India's attempts to create a Second Quad in Western Asia, as China has additional leverage as a result of this expansion. China's renewed presence in the Middle East should worry India.

                                                                                                                                Iran's entry into BRICS also creates a hostile environment for India in other mini-lateral and multilateral fora. While there may be an added benefit to India to draw on the addition of large OPEC countries, there is an extreme risk that the addition of Iran and Saudi Arabia, combined with Russia and China, would constitute the solidification of an anti-Western bloc, which could compromise India's balancing acts in its relations with both the G7 countries and the G20, of which it is currently chair. While it on paper could give the Global South more of a voice in decision-making, the increased divisiveness created with BRICS expansion could make consensus, or even compromise much more difficult.

                                                                                                                                China's hand in the inclusion of other countries cannot be discounted and they mark territory that India as a regional power cannot influence. China was instrumental in granting Argentina economic assistance to help it repay part of the $2.7 billion dollar loan it took from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). For Argentina, China has been a critical infrastructure development partner, borrowing more than $3 billion from Chinese banks to finance rail projects and renewable energy. Argentina's entry into BRICS was also supported heavily by Brazil. As China's reach throughout South America grows, its leverage over developing and emerging economies also grows. Beijing's influence over Buenos Aires through BRICS will also grow.

                                                                                                                                While the repercussions of the expansion will not be felt until next year, and the shift in the world economic order might not be as large as some might predict due to currency valuations, India's status within the bloc will diminish and it will be arduous for New Delhi to balance its odd relationship with Russia, its strategic rivalry with China, and maintain its influence in an alliance that now overwhelmingly favors Beijing.

                                                                                                                                The views expressed in this article belong to the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of

                                                                                                                                              Investment and Finance
                                                                                                                                              Investment and finance in BRICS
                                                                                                                                              On the centrality of BRICS trade liberalization for Africa (О центральной роли либерализации торговли БРИКС для Африки) / Russia, September, 2023
                                                                                                                                              Keywords: expert_opinion, trade_relations

                                                                                                                                              With the completion of the 2023 BRICS summit in South Africa there is a clear sense that a fundamental shift has indeed taken place in the perceptions of BRICS on the international stage. The expansion launched during that summit has certainly raised the attention towards BRICS in the world's media space, with almost diametrically opposed opinions being levelled as to the bloc's post-expansion fortunes. In all of this panoply of views the one criticism that does seem valid vis-à-vis BRICS is the lack of economic integration initiatives, most notably in the area of trade liberalization. Indeed, while there may be an important economic side to BRICS expansion, thus far it is the geopolitical lens that has prevailed in the analytical commentary after the summit. For a fundamental change in the perception of BRICS as an economic bloc that is capable of engendering strong economic growth impulses in the world economy a roadmap or at least a discussion of trade liberalization across the BRICS+ platform is needed.

                                                                                                                                              The issue of BRICS trade liberalization, most notably with respect to the African continent, is the main focus of a policy brief authored by BRICS+ Analytics and published after the BRICS summit by the South African BRICS Think-Tank (SABTT). The main points of the policy brief are summarized below:

                                                                                                                                              • The scope for greater trade liberalisation with respect to Africa is particularly sizeable for the BRICS in the agricultural sector. In particular, according to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), India's simple average bound tariff totaled more than 50%, while with respect to agricultural products this figure exceeded 113%. The Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN) applied simple average tariff for agricultural goods reached nearly 40% in 2022, while the trade weighted import tariff on agricultural goods reached 48.5%. The comparable figures for China are notably lower than in India, but still higher than in most developed economies – in 2022 the MFN applied simple average tariff on agricultural goods reached 13.9% and 13.1% on a trade-weighted average basis (see WTO, 2022).
                                                                                                                                              • Greater market access is a key competitive edge that the BRICS can wield via-a-vis the developed economies in opening up markets to Africa – to a far greater degree than in areas such as technical assistance, where leading Western economies and Bretton Woods institutions arguably still have a significant edge. What is even more important, is that most BRICS economies currently conduct their trade policy via their priority regional integration arrangements – Russia via the Eurasian Economic Union, South Africa via the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), Southern African Development Community (SADC) and AfCFTA, Brazil via Mercado Común del Sur [Southern Common Market] (MERCOSUR). What this means is that coordination of market liberalisation from BRICS to Africa will necessitate the use of a BRICS+ format in which AfCFTA cooperates in the same inter-regional platform with the respective BRICS regional integration arrangements such as MERCOSUR, Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and others. This in turn implies that greater trade liberalisation vis-à-vis Africa will come not only from the BRICS core members, but also from their regional partners in the respective trade arrangements. This is the "multiplier effect" of BRICS+ in terms of trade liberalisation that can be prioritised vis-à-vis African economies.
                                                                                                                                              • Greater market access from the BRICS to Africa will go a long way towards correcting the current trade imbalances in the world economy, whereby there is lower than potential South-South trade (including among South-South regional partners) compared to the trade conducted by developing economies with the West. The BRICS+ multiplier in the BRICS-Africa trade liberalisation could also serve as an important stepping stone to the formation of a free trade area across the Global South. Finally, greater market access coming from BRICS to Africa could be a powerful trigger to boosting not just trade and investment, but also the use of national currencies.
                                                                                                                                              The policy brief can be accessed via the following links:

                                                                                                                                              What about the effects of expansion on the prospects for advancing economic cooperation within the BRICS bloc? Does this expansion render future trade liberalization within BRICS easier or more difficult? At this point it is still hard to tell either way. Most of the countries included into the group of new entrants have relatively high import tariffs, which implies that the scope for lowering trade barriers on their part may be substantial – the question will be whether the same could be said of their propensity to liberalize trade. Another possibility is that the inclusion of Saudi Arabia and UAE into BRICS may deliver greater momentum to cooperation among the BRICS regional blocs, with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) possibly becoming an important player in the BRICS+ "integration of integrations" cooperative framework. Another possible angle is that with Saudi Arabia becoming a key BRICS power, it may seek to cement its position in the bloc via intensifying energy sector cooperation with Africa and other parts of the Global South.

                                                                                                                                              Image by Bellergy via Pixabay

                                                                                                                                                            Political Events
                                                                                                                                                            Political events in the public life of BRICS
                                                                                                                                                            Russia on the Way to BRICS Chairmanship (Россия на пути к председательству в БРИКС) / Russia, September, 2023
                                                                                                                                                            Keywords: expert_opinion, chairmanship

                                                                                                                                                            BRICS has received an impulse to make a real transition to a new, more just world order. The ability of the new BRICS to fully realize itself and fulfill the mission of the transition depends on how our descendants will remember the 21st century, Viktoria Panova writes.

                                                                                                                                                            Last week in Johannesburg, South Africa, the summit of BRICS leaders ended; this, in a number of different ways, marked a new stage in the development of the bloc, and in the growth of its influence throughout the world. Without going into details regarding the agreements that were reached, we will only note the fact that despite the large array of topics on all three pillars of interaction (political, economic and humanitarian) and the priorities of South Africa, most attention was focused on two key issues. First, the issue of expanding the group and the previous explosive growth of official applications for membership, and, second, working out a way for BRICS to launch its own payment instrument. Therefore, it is not surprising that the overwhelming majority of observers hardly noticed the development of many other issues on the agenda. However, today we will focus exclusively on those points that, in this author's opinion, will have a decisive influence on the essence of Russia's upcoming BRICS chairmanship.

                                                                                                                                                            Starting January 1, 2024, Russia will already be dealing with a completely different BRICS; as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, this is already a whole football team. Incidentally, the beginning of the new BRICS this year was also very symbolic. As we remember, the first BRICS summit was held in 2009 in Yekaterinburg. However, the groundwork for the meetings of the association was laid back in 2006, both through the interaction of Russia as the chairman of the G8 with dialogue partners from among the largest developing countries, (which later got the name Heiligendamm — L'Aquila Process, or HAP), and at a separate meeting on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly of the Ministers of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

                                                                                                                                                            Already in 2014, starting from the second cycle of meetings, the order of the countries' chairmanships changed and began to correspond to the letters in the acronym (initially such a change in places was due to a Russian request, because of the need to combine several international obligations and the planned chairmanship in a different structure). So, the beginning of the fourth cycle was again marked by the presidency of Russia and it, as the upcoming chairman, has a special responsibility for the new face of BRICS.

                                                                                                                                                            At first, there was a degree of euphoria stemming from the fact that BRICS was showing itself to be a true representative of the global majority, responding to the existing request for inclusion instead of endlessly winding up the issue through a long and dreary process of developing restrictive criteria. However, now the association will have to solve a number of tasks, at least some of which will be even more complicated. The key one is to maintain efficiency, fully involving newcomers in all already agreed-upon projects and mechanisms, and not slowing down the process of deepening interaction.

                                                                                                                                                            It seems that the BRICS states have absolutely no alternative but to use the remaining time of the South African presidency completing the optimisation of all existing and agreed-upon processes and agreements, which imposes an additional burden on all relevant departments and expert circles. After all, it is logical that the new member countries should get an extremely clear and precise picture of all the relationships in the association for full inclusion in all BRICS processes. Leaving such issues for the duration of the Russian presidency may complicate the process of integration of new countries.

                                                                                                                                                            Equally important, although seemingly more technical, is the question of the order of the presidency, which must take into account the new members. As noted above, the fourth BRICS cycle begins in 2024, and if earlier this issue was resolved quite simply, now it is necessary to develop an algorithm according to which such a sequence should be most acceptable to everyone. This is a task that falls completely within the time of the Russian presidency. Should the core of BRICS go through the fourth cycle in the same order and give newcomers the opportunity to experience all the nuances and specifics before diving into the whirlpool of events themselves? Or will a new rotation order be initiated in Kazan, taking into account regional, political and economic principles? After all, the chairmanship, despite the general continuity in the issues under consideration, also reflects the national specifics of the proposed priorities, as well as the opportunity to ensure financial and domestic political stability for organising a large number of international events. As we know, the new composition is even more diverse and varied.

                                                                                                                                                            It is also known that while more than twenty official applications for joining the BRICS were submitted; the ranks of the association were replenished by only 6 countries, which in turn determines the importance of developing the format and parameters of interaction with promising BRICS partner states. This is also a task for the coming year of Russia's presidency. The challenge of maintaining the message of global majority engagement remains even after this wave of expansion.

                                                                                                                                                            These are just basic questions, without which it will be difficult, if not impossible, to establish normal discussions and interactions within the group. But the issue of content remains relevant. At the latest summit in Johannesburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the theme of the 2024 chairmanship will be "Strengthening multilateralism for equitable global development and security", which will include both the development and continuity of the previously-discussed issues, and the directions in which Russia has significantly accumulated best practices.

                                                                                                                                                            Note that the issue of launching the full-fledged work of BRICS in the new composition can serve as a kind of answer to the ongoing discussions on how exactly it is necessary to reform the current system of international relations, to come to concrete consensus proposals in the follow-up to this year's statement on the need to expand the UN Security Council by offering a greater voice to developing countries, which in turn will allow progress on other problems affecting the so-called foreign policy dossier.

                                                                                                                                                            It is perhaps difficult to imagine the Russian presidency without considering energy issues. The Johannesburg Declaration quite clearly postulated the right of countries to use the optimal balance of energy sources, taking into account national needs and capabilities, which allows us to hope within the forthcoming chairmanship for a full-scale conceptualisation of the principles of a fair energy transition for the countries of the world's majority. It can also be noted that the BRICS Energy Research Platform launched at the initiative of Russia has shown its usefulness. Therefore, taking into account the accumulated experience of interaction, as well as in view of the expansion of BRICS membership, including key energy actors, it would be possible to revive the idea of establishing closer cooperation in this area and creating a BRICS Energy Agency.

                                                                                                                                                            As we remember, since the beginning of the meetings in the BRICS format, one of the key issues has been the reform of the global monetary and financial system, and the role of the dollar and national currencies in international exchange. In 2009, thanks to the active work of all the BRICS countries, both in the G20 and directly in the IMF, it became possible to advance the revision of quotas in favour of developing countries. It was then that the BRICS countries collectively approached the total blocking share in the Fund. But despite commitments to continue such a revision in line with new realities, the process has stalled. Presumably, another attempt to achieve a positive result will take place this autumn, but even if successful, the BRICS will still have the task of reforming the international monetary and financial system by increasing the voice of the world's majority countries and levelling the actual veto right of one country.

                                                                                                                                                            A certain stress of the chairmanship may also lie in the attention that the launch of the new BRICS payment instrument has received. If ten years ago it was enough to agree on a common mechanism for the use of a pool of foreign exchange reserves and a framework agreement on the use of national currencies, today more concrete decisions are needed. Of course, we are not talking about the creation of some new BRICS currency. Nevertheless, the ever more active use of the dollar and the SWIFT system as a weapon against dissenters clearly forced not only those countries that have strained relations with the United States, but also the more loyal national leaders, to think about levelling the existing risks.

                                                                                                                                                            Therefore, another test for the ability to effectively respond to the environment on the part of the BRICS will be the opportunity to agree within the framework of the Russian chairmanship on the launch of an alternative payment instrument for the association. An important nuance in maintaining the stability of such an instrument may be the availability of mineral resources from the BRICS countries, especially since the new configuration includes a third of the world's gold production, the entire range of rare earth metals, about 80% of aluminium production, almost 45% of oil reserves (4 countries are among the top ten), about half of the world production of wheat and rice. The dollar, which today de facto is such a unit of account, as we remember, has not been backed by anything since the beginning of the 1970s. Therefore, the task facing the BRICS is to ensure the stability and predictability of trade and investment both within the BRICS and externally. Despite all the complexity, it seems quite realistic and its relevance is justified not only by the current sanctions policy of the West in relation to a number of BRICS countries, but also by the objective need to ensure independent financial, trade, and economic development that is not controlled by the US authorities.

                                                                                                                                                            Also, despite the fact that the second BRICS Economic Partnership Strategy will be completed only in 2025, already within the framework of the Russian chairmanship, it will be necessary to begin comprehensive work on a new strategy, taking into account the capabilities and aspirations of the eleven members of the enlarged group. This will require the active inclusion of the expert track in the process of negotiations and consultations with the relevant experts of the six states. In particular, an important part of the new strategy should be a component of the BRICS transport interconnectedness and infrastructure development, including in the context of the proposal announced by President Putin to create a commission on transport issues and create new sustainable transit arteries both in Greater Eurasia and on a global scale.

                                                                                                                                                            And of course, bearing in mind the comprehensive nature of the association itself, humanitarian issues are no less important. I will not dwell here on all the events and topics listed at the summit, but I would like to highlight the need for progress in the field of education. So, this year, at a meeting of relevant ministers, it was still possible to agree on the need to create and launch a BRICS university ranking, which will avoid voluntarist approaches toward most of the existing international rankings, again controlled by the West. It seems that this project cannot be delayed and specific proposals should be formulated as early as next year with the help of the leading experts in the field of education from the eleven countries. In addition, taking into account the expansion that has taken place, it is important to propose not only options for expanding the BRICS Network University, but also new meanings for its work, proposals for adapting national legislation to facilitate the launch of double-degree and network programmes, as well as developing and launching a full-fledged mobility program for the students, teachers and scientists of the BRICS countries.

                                                                                                                                                            All of the above is only the first approach to individual topics that are on the agenda of the association. In fact, today we are witnessing a turning point. BRICS has received an impulse to make a real transition to a new, more just world order. The ability of the new BRICS to fully realize itself and fulfill the mission of the transition depends on how our descendants will remember the 21st century. The countdown has already begun, but it is 2024 that will show whether Russia, as the chairman and the entire BRICS, have coped with this non-trivial super-task.
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