From BRICS to BRICS+? Between Expansion and Diverging Views

From BRICS to BRICS+?  Between Expansion and Diverging Views

 

According to the joint statement released by the ministers of Foreign Affairs of the BRICS member states (Federative Republic of Brazil, the Russian Federation, the Republic of India, the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of South Africa) a virtual meeting took place on May 19, 2022, under China’s current Chairship.

Based on the BRICS information portal, infobrics.org, one day later, on May 20, 2022, a “BRICS+consultation was held as part of the virtual BRICS Foreign Ministers’ meeting, with the participation of Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates. No official statements of these nine participating countries at the “BRICS+” could be so far identified.

In the joint statement released soon after the meeting, “The Ministers supported promoting discussions among BRICS members on BRICS expansion process. They stressed the need to clarify the guiding principles, the standards, criteria and procedures for this expansion process.” The wording in the official document gives a ground to consider that the BRICS+ is no longer only an idea, but entered into a new stage, namely launching the diplomatic activity to establish the criteria for enlarging. The analysis of the reactions before and after the meeting is leading to the assessment that there are two sides. One very eager and optimistic for consolidating the membership of BRICS, and the other rather undecided and unspoken, which makes even more difficult to identify for sure the prospective candidates. It is therefore difficult to reach very soon how large or limited the expansion will be and, from this point of view, it is so far a case of guessing.

In accordance with the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, as quoted by Chinese and Russian state media, discussions on an expansion process might already be in full swing: “China proposes to start the BRICS expansion process, explore the criteria and procedures for the expansion, and gradually form a consensus.” The Chinese pundits expressed an even more assertive stance, as reflected by the Info BRICS platform, affirming that “BRICS Will Welcome New Members, to Better Represent Voices of Emerging Market Economies”.

Wang Yiwei, director of one of the most active think-tanks in Beijing, went even further, suggesting some of the possible BRICS enlargement admission criteria and potential candidates: “… countries that belong to G20 members and are also interested in joining the BRICS can be firstly considered. Indonesia, for instance, as a strong representative of emerging market economies and the biggest Muslim country, is likely to be a potential candidate.”

Indeed, it could be inferred that some of the nine “BRICS+”participants at the consultation might be interested in joining the BRICS once the relevant admission criteria have been established. On the other hand, the above mentioned countries’ participation does not necessarily signal their desire to take part in an enlarged BRICS.

So far, only the Argentinian President, Alberto Fernandez, openly stressed his country’s desire to join the BRICS group, during his visit to Beijing, in February 2022. In the same key, the Argentinian Ambassador to China, Pier Sabino Vaca Narvaja, appreciated the invitation extended to his country to attend the BRICS Summit as a “very important invitation”.

Indeed, it appears no other country than Argentina has openly stated its intention to join BRICS. Shall this be the case, one could only weigh in the advantages and disadvantages for the new members to join BRICS.

It could be envisaged that, in order to secure the BRICS expansion, necessary in the context of the existing competition in the Indo-Pacific, as well as with regard to BRICS’s continuous growth, China might be planning a diplomatic outreach to both the existing as well as potential BRICS members.As the spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry admitted, “as the BRICS Chair this year, China actively supports the start of the BRICS expansion process and broadens 'BRICS Plus' cooperation”.

In fact, the recent article entitled “Building peace and prosperity with strong BRICS”, authored by the Chinese Ambassador to India, Sun Weidong, confirms China’s efforts to persuade the existing members on the advantages of BRICS’s expansion. Moreover, while the Chinese top-diplomat appreciated that “it is of great significance for the BRICS foreign ministers’ meeting to reach consensus and outcomes on multiple important issues concerning global security and development”, he also held that the group will “speak with a louder BRICS voice to uphold the common interests of the developing countries”, thus hinting at the advantages of a possible expansion.

India was represented at the BRICS Foreign Ministers Meeting by the Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. While an official point of view on India’s behalf could not have been identified at the moment, according to the Sunday Guardian, an Indian newspaper founded by M.J. Akbar, India’s former Minister of State for External Affairs (until 2018), India is “likely to stonewall China’s bid to expand BRICS”. According to the sources quoted in the article, “New Delhi is of the view that Beijing has initiated this ‘illogical’ move with the clear objective to increase its influence and exercise its authority in the group.” Moreover, the Indian weekly journal added that it is highly unlikely for the BRICS members to find a “consensus (...) on expansion, with Brazil already unwilling to give a go-ahead to China. (…) Officials believe that South Africa, another important member of the group, will take the Brazilian line on this.”

Provided Russian Foreign Minister’s Sergey Lavrov recent remarks, according to which Saudi Arabia and Argentina are desirous to join an extensive format of the BRICS, it could be held that Russia could generally favour an expansion process.

As in any major international or regional organisation, attracting new members among the emerging economies could give a new impetus and a better traction to BRICS. On the other hand, such an attempt may amplify disparities among the existing members.

Created over a decade ago in order to address the imbalances between developed and developing countries, BRICS appears to have lost momentum in the global economic architecture lately, having become a topic lightly covered by media or think-tank reports. Also, provided the economic disparities in which the member countries evolved, certain analysts have implied that BRICS might have become a forum staged by China. Similarly, Russia’s current image projection in the world, especially after the unprovoked military aggression of Ukraine, is not unlikely to have consequently deteriorated the image of the BRICS group worldwide.

To what degree such expansion attempts on China’s behalf would add further credibility to BRICS’ economic relations to EU and the US in the current international setting remains to be seen.

As a strong representative of emerging market economies, with a steady annual growth of 6%, the “driving force” of ASEAN and the current president of the G20, Indonesia appears likely to continue to be considered for an extended BRICS+ formula. Both Indonesia’s participation at the “BRICS+” discussions, as well as its mentioning by the think-tank analysts in Beijing, seem to support this hypothesis.

While a potential Indonesian membership to BRICS could address – at least in part – the country’s needs for infrastructure development and a faster pace of growth, it goes without saying that Jakarta could also become a promoter of ASEAN’s interests in a possibly expanded BRICS.

On the other hand, shall it join BRICS, Indonesia – which has no official policy stance on BRICS at the time – might also face a growing bilateral deficit with China, as well as softening its long-earned neutrality in the on-going Indo-Pacific great power competition. Clearly, an invitation launched by the BRICS members under the current Chinese chairmanship for Jakarta to join BRICS would generate a lot of potential response scenarios from Indonesia.

As the US-China competition in the Indo-Pacific is amplifying, its results are already visible not only in terms of media statements and press releases but also in the regional and global architecture. In this regard, many states in the region could avail of the on-going climate as a blessing in disguise. While such competition could severely affect the regional states’ economy, security or foreign policy options, it could also serve them well in achieving their national interest while maintaining a balancing – if not neutral – stance among the two competing powers.

 

 

G.S.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position or view of IRSEA.