(MENAFN- Asia Times) This week, the five foreign ministers of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) will meet in Cape Town. On the second day of their meet they will be joined by 15 other foreign ministers representing Africa, the Global South, and“Friends of BRICS” nations. Among other things these deliberations will seek to firm up the agenda for the BRICS Summit to be held during August 22-24 this year.
What are the core issues that are expected to engage their interactions, and what makes BRICS an increasingly decisive forum for global governance?
In its second decade, BRICS has emerged as the world's most powerful grouping, with expanding recognition for being the locomotive of global growth. But BRICS' economic rise also marks an important geopolitical drift, as this grouping has come to be seen as an alternative to the US-led“liberal world order.”
For instance, BRICS' collective gross domestic product has surpassed the US-led Group of Seven advanced industrialized nations. In purchasing power parity terms, while the collective GDP of the G7 shrank from 50.42% of world GDP in 1982 to 30.39% in 2022, BRICS' GDP for the same period enhanced its share from 10.66% to 31.59%.
As well, while the Covid-19 pandemic set in deceleration of the G7 economies, BRICS economies – especially those of China and India – continued to show strong potential.
Also, the Ukraine war has set the stage for BRICS becoming increasingly conspicuous, as the grouping is seen as the most reliable partner for Russia. Besides Russia itself, not one of the other four BRICS nations has supported any of the Western resolutions to condemn Moscow's military operations. They have also not collaborated with Western economic sanctions that seek to impose obligations on other nations.
Indeed, BRICS has emerged as the singular support base keeping the Russian economy afloat. Also, while the United States has been busy raising a coalition of 50 or so nations to supply Ukraine for its war efforts, South Africa, the current chair, has prioritized BRICS playing a greater role in ending the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
Individually as well, China and India have been exploring ways to facilitate an early end of the Ukraine war.
This clearly reflects the new bold BRICS. In face of the International Criminal Court having issued arrest warrants for President Vladimir Putin for his so-called war crimes in Ukraine, South Africa has announced diplomatic immunity to all officials from Russia. This confidence and enthusiasm both within BRICS and about BRICS makes their parleys both interesting and intriguing, with implications way beyond these five nations.
For instance, about two dozen nations have expressed interest in joining the BRICS grouping. About 20 have formally applied for membership, which of course has remained frozen since South Africa joined the original BRIC grouping in 2011.
These applicants include nations from across the world: Algeria, Argentina, Baharain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sudan, Thailand, Tunisia, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and so on.
Within BRICS as well, the member nations' reluctance to open up has witnessed change. China has typically been the most vocal supporter of expansion, while India was seen as the most reluctant. Over the years, Russia, Brazil and South Africa – in that order – have also shown greater inclination to add new members, though each of them has its own preferences.
The Ukraine war has seen Russia becoming increasingly supportive of BRICS expansion. This is driven by its need to expand its support base against Western censure and sanctions.
New Delhi remains concerned about Beijing trying to pack more of its friends into the forum, which could result in India getting marginalized. But with India now the world's fifth-largest economy, New Delhi may have its own reasons to support friendly nations like Argentina, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
While BRICS members will need to build consensus on detailed criteria and other modalities for new members' inclusion, this growing global interest surely enhances BRICS' credibility and influence on global governance.
Expanding intra-BRICS trade has been the primary tool for strengthening the forum. This has lately seen increasing focus on exploring alternatives to reduce their dependence on the US dollar, and creation of a brics currency is expected to be on top of their agenda this week.
The freezing of Russian assets by the West has seen this becoming a priority, where some of the BRICS members have already put in place mechanisms for using local currencies. China has been working on globalizing its yuan. New Delhi has also evolved arrangements to trade in indian rupees with 18 nations.
India, which is going to host two back-to-back summits – of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on July 3-4 followed by the Group of Twenty meet on September 9-10 – has sought to use such multilateral meetings to evolve a consensus on its own agenda. But in addition to these preoccupations, the BRICS foreign ministers' meet this week will see Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar's bilateral meetings with China and Russia drawing special scrutiny and interest.
The Hiroshima G7 summit two weeks ago saw Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi having his first in-person bilateral meeting since the beginning of Ukraine war with President Volodomyr Zelensky.
During the war these two leaders had spoken four times by phone, and before that they had only met briefly at the glasgow climate-change summit in 2021. But now, after this month's meeting, Modi's call to“raise your voice against unilateral attempts to change the status quo,” even if spoken in the context of border tensions between India and China, will require some explaining with India's time-tested friend Russia.
This will also be seen against the backdrop of Modi's meeting with Vladimir Putin during the Samarkand SCO Summit last September where the Indian PM had told the Russian president that“today's era is not an era of war,” words that were repeated ad nauseam in Ukrainian narratives with Western media seeking to paint them as India's warning to Moscow.
Likewise, with India preparing to host President Xi Jinping at the SCO and G20 summits, this has created strong expectations of the two sides finding a breakthrough in their border tensions.
These will soon enter their fourth year, with both sides maintaining heavy forward deployments while 18 rounds of senior-level talks and more than a dozen inter-ministerial meetings, plus meetings between their foreign and defense ministers, have not been of much avail so far.
At Cape Town this week, the foreign ministers of India and China will have their third bilateral in three months. India has maintained that bilateral relations cannot be normal until the standoff on the border is resolved.
All these bilateral equations of BRICS members are bound to impact their efforts at building a multilateral consensus on a range of issues, from expanding membership to initiatives for addressing global challenges. Many of these are also issues that get reverberated in other forums and will have a direct impact on the parlays of coming SCO, BRICS and G20 summits.
BRICS is seen today as the most formidable voice for the Global South on the high table of major powers of the post-World War II US-led world order. With the Ukraine war widening that bipolarity, BRICS will have to tread with care.
Second, Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva becoming the next chairman of BRICS in August will also sharpen its credentials as an alternative to US-led global governance.
For BRICS to overcome its internal disjunctions and harness its historic opportunities will require not just strong mutual understanding and trust but everyday diplomatic finesse and foresight for bold initiatives. And this will remain a work in progress, as an expanded BRICS will only makes consensus that much harder to achieve.
Follow Swaran Singh on Twitter @SwaranSinghJNU.
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