A worker arranges a signboard of the 15th BRICS summit outside the Sandton Convention Center in Johannesburg, South Africa, Aug 17, 2023. [Photo/Xinhua]
The 15th BRICS Summit held in Johannesburg from Aug 22 to 24, the first in-person gathering of BRICS leaders since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, attracted global attention, especially because the five original members of BRICS are now regional powers.
On Aug 24, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa officially announced the inclusion of the six countries in BRICS, marking the second expansion of the grouping. Initially, the grouping comprised the “BRIC Four” — Brazil, Russia, India and China. “BRICS” came into being with the inclusion of South Africa in December 2010.
In comparison with the first expansion, the second one has attracted much more global attention. As a matter of fact, more than 40 countries have expressed their desire to join BRICS, with about 20 of them submitting formal applications to do so. This means the six new members were included in the grouping after much deliberation by the existing BRICS leaders.
The BRICS leaders’ decision to include the six countries as new members was based on significant strategic consideration and keeping in mind the BRICS mechanism’s future direction and objectives. Overall, the fundamental goal of BRICS is to serve as a primary institutional vehicle promoting cooperation among developing nations and a key collaborative platform for the Global South.
But contrary to Western propaganda, BRICS is not a clique of self-seeking countries. Instead, it is an open forum based on the principle of “seeking common ground while preserving differences”. The new BRICS members are all developing countries, even though Saudi Arabia and the UAE are relatively affluent countries due to their oil economies, and Argentina has a high human development index. However, they vary significantly in terms of their political system, culture and level of development. This means BRICS will focus on inclusive development.
Considering these factors, it’s understandable why only six countries have been inducted into BRICS as new members. Given the substantial differences among the member states, the larger the grouping becomes, the more challenging it will be to reach a consensus on any issue. Through controlled “expansion”, BRICS can enhance its influence without compromising its cooperative efficiency. The six new members are unique in their own ways — home to large populations, strong economies and/or traditional culture.
Egypt, for instance, has long been a prominent regional power in North Africa and the Arab world, while Argentina is a major player in Latin America, second only to Brazil. Iran and Saudi Arabia are major Middle East powers and Ethiopia, a historically and culturally important country, has the second-largest population in Africa and its capital, Addis Ababa, is home to the headquarters of both the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa.
As for the UAE, it has developed into a global aviation and maritime hub and has the sixth-largest oil reserves in the world. Also, it has been a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2022-23 term.
Each of the new member states has distinct attributes. As such, their inclusion in BRICS will help further enhance the strength and global influence of the grouping’s mechanism.
The BRICS mechanism operates on the principle of consensus-based decision-making and flexible cohesion, which allows it to rally developing countries for a common cause and help build a fair and rational new international political and economic order.
That BRICS has not yet built a permanent secretariat doesn’t mean its members have been engaging in superficial cooperation, because the BRICS mechanism has developed into a multi-tiered collaborative structure, which includes leaders’ summits, meetings of foreign ministers, security officials and coordinators, regular communication among representatives of multilateral institutions, and cooperation across various fields.
The performance of the BRICS New Development Bank, too, is noteworthy. The NDB doesn’t serve only BRICS member states. Its services extend to all developing countries, though BRICS members enjoy preferential borrowing rights. On allegations that the NDB is a “China club”, Leslie Maasdorp, NDB vice-president, recently said that China, like other BRICS members, is a shareholder in the bank, and it is not the largest shareholder, and emphasized that the idea of the NDB being a “China club” is baseless.
By making efforts to establish a fair and rational global political and economic order, amplifying the voice of developing countries and addressing common global issues such as climate change, the BRICS members have been able to overcome their differences. And, hopefully, they will play a more significant role in the international order to improve global governance.
The author is a researcher at the National Academy of Development and Strategy and a professor at the School of International Studies, Renmin University of China. The views don’t necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Liang Jun)