BRICS Expansion: A Lack of Unifying Principles Means A Lack of Real Influence

Without common policies and principles, no matter how many member countries are included, it will be difficult to demonstrate a strong presence as a multilateral cooperative body. Instead, it will probably expose a lack of equal footing.

The group of five emerging economies known as BRICS, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, held a summit meeting in South Africa and decided to increase the number of member countries by six.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia and Argentina are said to be joining the grouping next January. Apart from Argentina in South America, five of the countries are located in the Middle East or Africa.

Why were those six countries chosen out of the 40 or so countries that are said to be interested in joining? There is no clear explanation as to the specific criteria. For the time being, the current members are likely expecting economic benefits from the membership of oil-producing and resource-rich countries in the Middle East.

At a press conference in South Africa, Chinese President Xi Jinping, who led the expansion efforts, expressed his strong desire to promote “solidarity and cooperation with other emerging markets and developing countries.” The aim is clear: To win the emerging and developing countries over to their side to compete with the developed countries of the United States, European nations and Japan.

Iran has an anti-U.S. stance, and Saudi Arabia has been conspicuously distancing itself from the United States. It is true that developing countries that wish to join BRICS are dissatisfied with the climate change efforts led by developed countries and the current situation in which the gap between rich and poor countries has not narrowed.

However, it is inconceivable that the expanded BRICS will become an axis of opposition to the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations and lead a restructuring of the international order — a situation that China and Russia intend to create.

The G7 members share the values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, but the BRICS countries are a mix of authoritarian states like China and Russia and democratic states like India and Brazil.

India is also strengthening its security cooperation with the United States. If China forcefully pursues BRICS expansion, its discord with India and Brazil will certainly grow.

Behind China’s growing influence within BRICS lies Russia’s declining international standing. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court on suspicion of war crimes, did not attend the summit meeting in person and participated online.

The leaders of Brazil and South Africa called for an end to the war in Ukraine at the BRICS meeting. In September, there will be a summit meeting of the Group of 20 (G20) economies in India. This must be used as an occasion to reinforce international public opinion to press Russia to stop its aggression in Ukraine.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 30, 2023)