DR. MOONIS AHMAR
“You have almost a system akin to apartheid South Africa where the minority decides for the majority, and that’s still the situation on the world stage today. We don’t want to be told what is right for us, we want the fault lines of the current global governance architecture to be redesigned, to be reformed, to be transformed. And we want to be part of the process to create a more equitable, a more inclusive, a multipolar global community where we have fairness and justice in terms of how we conduct ourselves.” Anil Sookal, South African Ambassador to BRICS. The much awaited 15th summit of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) ended in Johannesburg with mixed results. On the last day of the summit on August 24, the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and UAE will become full members of BRICS on 1st January 2024. Hence, the club representing emerging economies will rise from 5 to 11. BRICS, which has more than 40% of world’s demography and a quarter of global economy, is a major forum of diversified countries representing primarily global south. The growing importance of BRICS in the recent past prompted several countries like Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Argentina and Iran to apply for membership of that forum but not all the members are supportive for the expansion of BRICS. On the first day of BRICS summit on August 22, the Chinese President Xi Jinping however supported the expansion of that forum and made it clear that, “hegemonism is not in China’s DNA. The talks taking place in Johannesburg were not aimed at asking countries to take sides, or creating bloc confrontation, rather to expand the architect of peace and development.” He further stated in his speech that, “whatever resistance there may be, BRICS, a positive and stable force for goodwill continue to grow. We will forge a stronger BRICS strategic partnership, actively advance membership expansion and help make the international order more just and equitable.” His speech was read out by Chinese Commerce Minister which generated speculations that why Xi, despite his presence, didn’t address the summit.. On the issue of expanding the membership of BRICS, Professor Harsh Pant, an international relations expert at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank in Delhi, said: “India is looking to ensure that this platform doesn’t just drift off into being an openly anti-western platform, and there is a danger of that with both Russia and China having a certain agenda. Brics was conceived as a geo-economic platform but is drifting into a geopolitical role and India is not likely to be comfortable with that. India and least of all Modi have no interest in shaping India’s foreign policy in an anti-western direction. Brics was conceived as a geo-economic platform but is drifting into a geopolitical role and India is not likely to be comfortable with that.”
Certainly, China is a core member of BRICS like Russia and India and favors that the forum plays a leadership role to provide an alternate to the U.S dominated world order. As the world’s second largest economy and having strategic partnership with Russia, Beijing is determined to challenge Western led global order but is also mindful of divisions within BRICS because of India’s association with pro-American QUAD and its resistance for the expansion of that forum. War in Ukraine leading to growing conflict between Moscow and NATO is another issue engulfing BRICS because South Africa, China and India didn’t condemn Russia’s invasion against Ukraine whereas Brazil refused to impose sanctions on Moscow. The Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t show up at Johannesburg summit because of international arrest warrant for alleged war crimes in Ukraine and addressed it via pre-recorded message.
Putin in his address “condemned the imposition of sanctions on his country terming it as augmenting global economic crisis and violating all basic norms and rules of free trade and economic life.” The reality of global order reflecting apartheid type system run by the West as narrated by Anil Sookal is just one side of the story. To a large extent post-colonial states failed to ensure vibrant economy, good governance, rule of law, accountability, providing basic necessities to their people like clean and safe drinking water, quality education, better health facilities, housing and public transport. Whereas, majority of developing countries accumulated billions of dollars of debt from IMF, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other multilateral organizations including Asian Infrastructure Bank. Blaming global north is not the solution of dealing with predicament of global south because the leadership of developing countries has utterly failed to meet the aspirations of their people.
BRICS, which was originally called as BRIC was established on June 16, 2006. In September, 2010 BRIC was expanded by awarding full membership to South Africa and was renamed as BRICS. Since then BRICS is termed as a powerful bloc with Russia and China as permanent members of UN Security Council and India as the most populous country and fifth largest economy. How far the summit of BRICS held in Johannesburg will make a difference in transforming world order and how the expansion of that forum will help alleviate economic predicament of developing countries? How Sino-Indian conflicts and U.S-Indo strategic partnership will have an impact on the smooth functioning of BRICS? These are the questions which are raised by those who are seriously monitoring the performance of BRICS in today’s world and needs to be analyzed from two angles.
First, BRICS has a potential to emerge as a global power house provided it maintains unity and take plausible steps to play a leadership role in order to mitigate Western pre-eminence in world affairs. Institutional arrangements made by BRICS member countries to augment their economic clout took practical shape in 2012 when BRICS bank under the initiative of India was launched. It was renamed as New Development Bank in 2015 with a sole purpose of financing sustainable and infrastructure developmental projects particularly in global south. Johannesburg summit ended with a positive note to provide level playing field to all the major stakeholders of global order and to strive for sustainable development. Second, proposals to expand BRICS and admit new members will be a challenge and an opportunity at the same time. India is firm to maintain the present shape of BRICS but majority of members are in favor of expanding the forum. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing BRICS summit supported expansion of forum subject to consensus among the members. Host of the summit, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa revealed that more than 40 countries were interested in joining BRICS and 20 countries were making formal requests.
The implications of 15th BRICS summit need to be gauged from the firmness of Russia and China not to derail that forum and augment its role in re-shaping global order. Countries like India and Brazil oppose giving the impression that BRICS pursues an anti-West agenda whereas, Russia and China favor an assertive leadership role. Since 2024 BRICS summit will be held in the Russian city of Kazan, it is yet to be seen how the U.S-NATO strategic moves to isolate Moscow following war in Ukraine will render positive results.
The author is Meritorious Professor of Int’l Relations and former Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi.