By He Jun
On August 24, during the 15th BRICS Summit at Johannesburg, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates had officially joined the BRICS group, and this membership would take effect on January 1, next year. This marks the second expansion of the BRICS group since South Africa’s inclusion in 2011 and is the largest expansion to date. Consequently, the “BRICS Five” (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) have now become the “BRICS Eleven”.
Following the BRICS Summit, one piece of information that has garnered increasing international attention is that Indonesia did not join the BRICS bloc. As a major Southeast Asian nation and the most populous Islamic country globally, Indonesia has made significant achievements in economic development and social stability in recent years. If Indonesia were to join the BRICS group, it would have been a substantial boost for this multilateral organization. Researchers at ANBOUND believe that, given the current complex geopolitical situation in the world, whether Indonesia joins or doesn’t join the BRICS group is a significant and impactful event.
There have been different speculations as to why Indonesia did not join the BRICS. One explanation claims that Indonesia applied for membership, but India and Brazil opposed it, fearing that this Southeast Asian country might pose a threat to their geopolitical status. Another explanation suggests that Indonesia’s non-membership in the BRICS is related to the United States. The BRICS organization is thought of by some as “anti-American” and supports “de-dollarization”, and Indonesia had deep engagements with the U.S. during the BRICS Summit, resulting in missing out on joining the BRICS.
These speculations are, after all, speculative. One can turn to the Indonesian media and official statements for a better view of this.
On September 4, the Jakarta Post published an article by the Indonesian think tank Tenggara Strategics, analyzing the reasons behind Indonesia’s decision not to join the BRICS at this time. The analysis states that the country, given its size as the 16th largest economy in the world, is fully eligible to join the BRICS. Indonesia shares many common goals with the BRICS, including establishing a more equitable global economic order and reducing overreliance on the U.S. dollar.
According to the article, the Indonesian government discussed the possibility of joining the BRICS in July of this year. However, both the Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Finance Minister Sri Mulyani opposed this idea. Sources cited in the article indicate that these ministers believed that there was a lack of unity among BRICS member countries, citing conflicts like the border tensions between India and China and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. They also saw joining a group alongside Russia as a potential burden and felt it might align Indonesia with specific political blocs, contradicting Indonesia’s emphasis on a “free and active” foreign policy.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo confirmed the previous reports in a video statement released after the BRICS summit. From August 22 to 24, President Widodo attended the 15th BRICS Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa. Addressing previous reports suggesting that Indonesia sought BRICS membership but was not accepted, President Widodo stated that there was no application from Indonesia to join the BRICS. He mentioned that he had attended the summit to “boost solidarity among the world’s developing nations”, though Indonesia had “not formally expressed interests in joining”.
Researchers at the ANBOUND think tank noted that unlike Indonesia’s refusal to join the BRICS, the country has expressed significant interest and expectations in joining the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). According to the analysis by Tenggara Strategics, Indonesia is charting its own path distinct from other emerging economies, and currently, joining the OECD aligns best with its national interests. The OECD consists of 38 affluent countries, primarily from the Western world. If successfully joining it, Indonesia will become the third Asian member after Japan and South Korea. It is crucial to note that Indonesia’s aspirations in this regard provide Western developed countries with new leverage to influence and engage it through the OECD.
From Indonesia’s perspective, its diplomatic decision to decline joining the BRICS aligns with its national interests and geopolitical strategy. As a rising developing giant, it must consider its choices carefully in an era of heightened geopolitical competition and prioritize its long-term national interests.
Open information reveals that following the expansion of the BRICS organization, the BRIC Eleven countries have a total population of 3.68 billion people, constituting 46% of the world’s total population. The total land area is 48.18 million square kilometers, accounting for 36% of the land area of the world’s 197 countries. Its GDP for 2022 was USD 29.2 trillion, representing 29% of the global total. However, even with increased population and economic influence after the expansion, the BRICS remains a multilateral organization with a strong emphasis on “South-South cooperation”, and all participants are developing countries. Its economic impact on member countries remains limited. Furthermore, in a world dominated by geopolitics, even multilateral organizations that aim to remain non-aligned still bear the mark of geopolitical considerations to varying degrees.
In this context, despite having many shared goals with the BRICS, Indonesia still has concerns that the BRICS might be evolving into a “pro-Eastern, anti-Western” group led by China and Russia, which adds uncertainty. Additionally, BRICS member countries each face significant economic challenges, and there are doubts about whether the bloc can drive global economic reform. Indonesia’s decision highlights that even with significant expansion, the BRICS still lacks comprehensive influence, and its attractiveness remains limited, even for developing countries.
China, as a founding member of the BRICS organization, may face even more challenges within the global geopolitical and geoeconomic framework that the BRICS operates in. If it wishes to significantly strengthen the influence and attractiveness of the BRICS organization, this task could be even more challenging and uncertain than the challenges faced by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Given the shift of the U.S. in national security priorities towards containing China’s rise, the latter will certainly make the most of both multilateral and bilateral platforms to counter such containment efforts. However, China needs to realize that in the global political and economic landscape, policies primarily based on confrontation often struggle to achieve their goals, whereas strategies based on openness tend to be more competitive. It cannot aim to remain within the camp of developing countries forever, nor can it exclusively engage with “South-South” nations indefinitely. It must tread the path of openness and extensive international cooperation to align with the development trends represented by globalization.
Final analysis conclusion:
Indonesia’s decision to abstain from BRICS membership is a noteworthy international development. It underscores the idea that in a global arena shaped by geopolitical strategies, emerging major nations will shape their involvement in international multilateral organizations according to their self-interest. Furthermore, this situation also indicates that the BRICS organization’s impact, representation, and allure are somewhat modest and delicate in the broader international context.
He Jun is a researcher at ANBOUND