China’s bid to expand group under its leadership unrealistic

China is clearly using its economic aid and investment in a bid to create an “axis of rivalry” against the United States, Europe and Japan, by getting a wide range of emerging and developing countries to join the framework. However, the leadership and unity involved are not as strong as China thinks.

China is actively working to expand the membership in BRICS, a group that currently comprises the five emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

At the BRICS summit held online in late June, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, “Bringing in fresh blood will inject new vitality into BRICS cooperation and increase the representativeness and influence of BRICS.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin also agreed to China’s move, stressing the role that BRICS plays in promoting the world’s multipolarity.

At China’s initiative, an expanded summit was also held among 18 countries, including Algeria, Egypt and Indonesia, after which Iran and Argentina applied for membership.

The countries that participated in the expanded meeting have kept a certain distance from Western nations and have not joined them in concerted efforts to impose sanctions on Russia for its aggression in Ukraine. This may be primarily because they hope for greater economic cooperation with China and for loans from financial institutions led by BRICS.

Nevertheless, there is a faint possibility that, as China hopes, BRICS will develop into a solid framework to counter the United States, Europe and Japan.

BRICS started primarily as a group of rapidly growing emerging economies in the 2000s. The five countries together account for about 25% of the world’s gross domestic product, but China’s GDP is by far the largest.

If Russia’s prolonged invasion reduces its national strength and increases other BRICS members’ dependence on China, Beijing’s influence will further increase.

In contrast, India, which has been at odds with China over territorial disputes, is seen as negative about the expansion of BRICS, due to concerns that BRICS will be taken over by China and thus strengthen its anti-U.S. stance.

Reflecting India’s concerns, the written agreement at the latest summit also included the need to clarify the procedures for expansion and to require unanimous support among the members.

The situation with BRICS, in which autocratic and democratic countries are mixed together in a far-from-monolithic organization, is hardly comparable to that of the Group of Seven advanced nations and the European Union, which are united by common ideals and values.

The United States, Europe and Japan need to provide generous assistance to emerging and developing countries that are suffering from food crises and soaring energy prices so that they will not side with China and Russia.

It is important to maintain amicable relations with these countries not only by advocating the philosophy of democracy, but also by emphasizing the transparency and credibility that economic transactions with China cannot provide. Japan must take the initiative in playing such a role.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 13, 2022)