South Africa BRICS Presidency: Challenges And Future Perspectives – Analysis


Next year 2023 South Africa, as per stipulated approved guidelines and rules, will hold the rotating presidency of BRICS, the organization of five emerging developing countries made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. This implies that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has a lot more at hand, especially with the current global geopolitical changes to drum home, to consolidate the growing support underway for few others to join BRICS.

Ramaphosa has already reminded that South Africa will hold the BRICS rotating-presidency in 2023. “That BRICS summit next year under the chairship of South Africa, the matter of expanding BRICS is going to be under serious consideration. A number of countries are consistently making approaches to BRICS members, and we have given them the same answer that it will be discussed by the BRICS partners and thereafter a collective decision will be made.” the president said this December.

Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov told the gathering at the Primakov Readings forum held this early December that the quintet of BRICS economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) may turn into an organization of 15-17 countries, not just enthusiasm but if those wishing to join it are granted membership based on two principles: have the necessary conditions and the collective decision of the organization.

Lavrov, in his presentation, traced the historical establishment and development of the organization. “We all know that this format [RIC – Russia, India, China] paved the way for the BRICS Five, which currently enjoys great publicity and many countries line up seeking a full-fledged membership,” Lavrov said.

“If we meet all bids then the ‘five’ will turn into about 15-17 countries as the BRICS summit in June, which was organized in a video conference format by our Chinese colleagues, showed us,” the foreign minister noted, and further stressed that the RIC remains an operational format and not only foreign ministers, but ministers of economy, energy and economic development as well, are meeting within the framework of this format.

“The RIC keeps thriving today and not many know that this ‘trio’ continues holding meetings at the level of foreign ministers,” Lavrov continued. “Just a couple of months ago we held such a meeting in the on-line format and it was the 20th meeting of this kind since [ex-Foreign Affairs Minister] Yevgeny (Primakov) proposed to keep developing this format.”

“Besides the meetings of foreign ministers, there are meetings of energy, trade and economic development ministers as well as of numerous industrial members of the corresponding governments,” the Russian foreign minister added.

“We have real partners – BRICS, the SCO, the EAEU, and the CSTO, regardless of what is written about it,” Lavrov stated. The top diplomat stated that the RIC structure (Russia, India, China), a Primakov initiative, “spawned the BRICS five, which currently receives enormous attention.” Several states are lined up for full membership, and the five could expand to roughly 15-17 countries, Lavrov added.

Russia’s local Vedomosti reported that the number of BRICS members may triple during the Primakov Readings forum. According to the report, organizations, such as BRICS, are becoming an alternative against the backdrop of the weakness of the European Union. The emphasis on cooperation with non-Western states appears to be even more warranted in light of Europe’s current problems. The United States and its closest allies’ unjust policy toward key EU members.

Berlin and Paris do not have complete autonomy in international politics, thus they deliberately cede some of their foreign policy functions to Washington, according to Alexander Kamkin, Senior Researcher at IMEMO. The expert admits that the European countries are capable of taking the initiative in a few circumstances, but on the whole, they follow Washington’s lead.

According to Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, BRICS can provide countries with an alternate partnership path to the EU that does not require a high admission threshold. According to him, the group is now developing along two avenues: by admitting new members and by strengthening cooperation.

In the second case, additional countries will not be admitted to BRICS, but each organization’s partner will be able to choose a convenient mode of cooperation within the BRICS+ structure. Kortunov noted that the EU is unwilling to seek strategic autonomy from the US not only due to the Ukrainian crisis, but China’s ascent.

The possibility of expanding membership in the organization is still under discussions within the BRICS framework. Noteworthy to reiterate here that a decision was made at the five BRICS members summit on June 23-24 to launch a discussion for purposes of determining the principles, standards, criteria and procedures of this process. 

China and Russia have been pushing for the expansion of BRICS, soliciting support for the multipolar system of global governance instead of the existing rules-based unipolar directed by the United States. Often explained that a bigger BRICS primarily offers huge opportunities among the group members and for developing countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a plenary session of the Valdai International Discussion Club held October 27 reaffirmed Russia’s unshakable support Saudi Arabia joining BRICS. “Yes, we support it, but this requires a consensus of all the BRICS countries,” he said.

According to him, Saudi Arabia is a rapidly developing country, which is due not only to its leading position in the hydrocarbon market. “This is also due to the fact that the Crown Prince, the government of Saudi Arabia have very big plans for diversifying the economy, which is very important. They have entire national development plans designed for this goal,” the Russian President said.

He expressed confidence that, given the enthusiasm and creativity of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, these plans will be implemented. “Therefore, of course, Saudi Arabia deserves to be a member of major international organizations, such as the BRICS, and such as the SCO. Most recently, we determined the status of Saudi Arabia in the SCO and will develop relations with this country both bilaterally and on multilateral platforms” Putin added.

With the current global unstable and volatile situation creating skyrocketing uncertainties in global economic recovery, China have unreservedly shown its contribution for strengthening BRICS. For 16 years since its inception, China offers the largest financial support for the BRICS National Development Bank,  contributed tremendously to other directions including health, education and economic collaboration among the group. 

That is why BRICS has gained extensive recognition. More and more countries are willing and interested to become members of the organization, make joint efforts to overcome difficulties and challenges, and realize common development and prosperity. BRICS activities have expanded during the past few years. Countries participated in the Outreach and BRICS plus segments of the organization. But now with the emerging new global order, BRICS seeks to expand its membership, consolidate its platform as an instrument for pushing against the existing rules-based order unipolar system.

BRICS activities have expanded during the past few years. Countries participated in the Outreach and BRICS plus segments of the organization. There are also a number of African countries including Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Senegal have also shown interest. Egypt has already been involved for a fairly long time. Last December 2022, Egypt, the decision on its accession to the New Development Bank was made by BRICS. 

Russia has consistently advocated for deepening organization’s interaction with the African continent, the diplomat stressed. In particular, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin mentioned this at an expanded meeting of leaders of the five BRICS member-states in the BRICS plus format on June 24. It is, however, expected that this avenue of efforts will get an extra impetus during the presidency period of South Africa in 2023.

On May 19, China’s State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi chaired a video conference dialogue between foreign ministers of BRICS countries and their counterparts from emerging economies and developing countries. It was the first BRICS Plus dialogue at the level of foreign ministers. Participants in the dialogue came from BRICS countries as well as invited countries such as Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, Senegal, United Arab Emirates and Thailand.

According to Wang Yi, the dialogue’s importance was to further expand cooperation between the BRICS countries and other emerging economies and developing countries. In addition, Wang Wenbin during his weekly media briefing on October 20, explained that as the BRICS chair for this year, China has actively supported the BRICS in starting the membership expansion process and advanced the BRICS Plus cooperation. 

During the 14th BRICS summit successfully held in June 2022, President Xi Jinping noted at the meeting that BRICS countries gather not in a closed club or an exclusive circle, but a big family of mutual support and a partnership for win-win cooperation. At the summit, BRICS leaders reached important common understandings about BRICS expansion and expressed support for discussion on the standards and procedures of the expansion. 

“This has been well received in the international community and many countries have expressed interest in joining the BRICS. China supports and welcomes this. Going forward, China will work with fellow BRICS members to steadily proceed with the BRICS expansion process and enable more partners to join this promising endeavor,” Wenbin said at the media briefing.

Despite its large population of 1.5 billion which many have considered as an impediment, China pursues an admirable collaborative strategic diplomacy with external countries and that has made it attain superpower status over Russia. A careful study and analysis monitored by this author vividly show that muscle-flexing Russia largely lacks public outreach diplomacy, Russia contributing towards its own ‘cancel culture’ policy, and this is seriously detrimental to the emerging new global order.

South Africa was a late minor addition to the group, to add a bridgehead to Africa, says Charles Robertson, Chief Economist at Renaissance Capital. All the BRICS countries are facing economic challenges that need addressing urgently. The BRICS is keenly aware of the importance of contributing to Africa’s development agenda. 

“Therefore, it could expand because the BRICS are under-represented in the global financial architecture. Europe and the United States dominate institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and to some extent many others,” explained Robertson in an emailed query.

According to him, “Russia and others in the BRICS would like to see larger power centres emerge to offer an alternative to that Western dominated construct. That is reasonable enough – providing there are countries with the money to backstop the new institutions, such as China supporting the BRICS bank, and if the countries offer an alternative vision that provides benefits to new members.”

South African Ramaphosa has repeatedly said that BRICS as a dynamic group would usher in a new global development era that promises a system of more inclusive, sustainable and fair principles. BRICS group, in an expanded form, can support a sustainable and equitable global economic recovery.

For South Africa, Ramaphosa further believes that the BRICS is simply a highly-valuable platform fixed to strengthen ties with partner countries in support of South Africa’s economic growth and for discussing global economic problems and challenges, and above all for strengthening the role of developing countries.

After his official visit to Saudi Arabia mid-October, Ramaphosa, said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud had expressed the desire to join BRICS. “The Crown Prince did express Saudi Arabia’s desire to be part of BRICS. They are not the only country seeking membership in BRICS,” according to the local radio station ABC. That report said Argentina, Iran, Turkey and the UAE also voiced their intention to join the organization.

The BRICS embody a synergy of cultures and are a model of genuine multilateral diplomacy. Its structure is formed in compliance with the 21st century realities. Efforts within its framework are based on the principles of equality, mutual respect and justice. 

Historically, the first meeting of the group began in St Petersburg in 2005. It was called RIC, which stood for Russia, India and China. Then later, Brazil joined and finally South Africa in February 2011, which is why now it is referred to as BRICS. The acronym BRICS is derived from the member-countries names in English. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) collectively represent about 26% of the world’s geographical area and about 42% of the world’s population

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.

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