BRICS Summit: Emerging Divisions And Expansion – OpEd


Geopolitical rivalries having intensified in recent years between China and India was logically bound to affect the cohesive continuance of the five-member BRICS grouping with no ideological bindings and different strategic perspectives, but only an initial show of economic resurgence as a binding adhesive.. BRICS Summit 2023 held at Johannesburg in South Africa this week saw an initial emergence of China-India geopolitical rivalry and current indicators portending that these divisions are bound to intensify with the BRICS expansion to total 11 members from January 2024.

China had been pushing for expansion of BRICS ostensibly for eventual entry of Pakistan as it did for Pakistan’s entry into Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Towards this end, and to provide cover for Pakistan’s entry, it was advocating expansion behind the scenes by suggesting names of States either beholden to it or those in China’s perceptions could tend to turn against the United States.

India along with Brazil were expectedly against the immediate expansion of BRICS, moreso, when no modalities and credentials for membership of new Members had been publicly announced. In fact, the fact that India and Brazil were opposed to immediate expansion of BRICS was widely being circulated in global media right up to the second day of the Summit.

Noticeably, Indian PM Narendra Modi in his Opening Speech dwelt on his vision for future of BRICS and India’s readiness to assist BRICS Nations in space exploration and space technology coinciding with India’s Moon Mission. Contrastingly, the Chinese President solely dwelt on and strongly pressed the need to expand BRICS with inclusion of new Member States. China’s strategy on BRICS became abundantly clear in Chinese President’s exhortations for expansion of BRICS.

On the last day, surprisingly, it was left to Indian Prime Minister Modi to announce that BRICS had invited six Nations to join BRICS effective January 2024. The new six nations invited and who accepted the invitation were Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Ethiopia and Argentina. Obviously, it seemed China had its way backed by Russia and seconded by South Africa. Presumably, with a majority of three against two, the Chinese proposal was adopted.

Nothing is in the public domain as to when and by whom the list of these new six Members was proposed and finalised and what were the criteria adopted to select these six Nations. The Chinese authorship of this BRICS expansion plan is evident.

Presumably, some hard bargaining has taken place for India and Brazil to overcome their opposition. In case of India, my guess-estimate is that PM Modi with forthcoming G20Summit in September to be presided by India, offered face-saver escape route to Chinese President Xi Jinping to secure his attendance in New Delhi, including an informal brief discussion on the Border Issue on the side-lines of the Summit. China as is its wont asserted that it was India which had requested for informal talks but it was stoutly maintained in New Delhi that it was China which had requested the informal meeting.

Notwithstanding the above, what needs to be analysed is the geopolitical orientation of these six new members of BRICS in the geopolitical power-play with China and Russia on one side and the relationships of these new members with the United Sates and India.

Contextually, it must be highlighted that South Africa which till lately was more inclined towards United Sates and West, has veered off towards China and Russia. This includes Joint Military Exercises with Russia and China in South Africa and in its maritime domains.  

The overall complexion of BRICS can be summed-up briefly as under:

  • BRICS original four members have China and Russia as Major Nations, both adversarial to United States.  Russia economy is failing and China’s economy is sluggish recording a downward path.
  • India and Brazil as the other two founder-members of BRICS have buoyant economies. India has a robust Strategic Partnership with United States, in marked contrast to China and Russia. Brazil enjoys a good relationship with United States.
  • South Africa which was a later addition to BRICS, after years of good relations with United States, has lately chosen to tilt towards China and Russia. This includes Joint Military Exercises with China and Russia in South Africa which has significant geostrategic location.
  • Middle East which was earlier not represented in BRICS now with expansion has four members added with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iran. Egypt and UAE have good relations with United States. Saudi Arabia has lately cozied up to China and Russia petulantly. Iran is in United, States cross-hairs for decades now and adversarial relations exist between the two. China and Iran have signed a substantial 25year Strategic Alliance Partnership with both of them in marked confrontational stances with United States. China has equipped both Iran and Saudi Arabia with Missiles Arsenals.
  • With exception of Egypt, all remaining three Middle East entrants to BRICS are oil-rich nations.
  • Argentina is a major country in South America which now has the two largest countries represented in BRICS.
  • Ethiopia is a surprise inclusion though said to be having a good economy. 

China’s and Russia’s strategic aim of expansion of BRICS has been to somehow convert BRICS as a counterweight to United States predominance globally under the fig-leaf of “Multipolarity”. Their intentions in economic terms are to promote “De-dollarization” of the global economy to reduce US global economic predominance. Both of these underlying Chinese and Russian aims are decidedly anti-US and will be in conflict with those of India and Brazil eventually, and possibly those of new entrants like Egypt and UAE.

Analytically, the crucial question that then arises is whether Chinese and Russian aims of transforming BRICS into a “Counter-Pole”  to United States in a Multipolar World is achievable and also whether their plans for a single BRICS Currency aimed at “De-Dollarization” of global trade is workable?

My assessment is a “BIG NO.”

Concluding, one can foresee that BRICS despite doubled expansion of its membership carries inherently in its expansion seeds of division which with unfolding geopolitical parameters which do not suggest an upward trajectory for China and Russia is bound to remain just another “Wall of Loose Bricks”. 

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