A virtual meeting of BRICS+ foreign ministers was held on May 20 in which the ministers of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS) were joined by representatives from Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, and Thailand.
- BRICS is an acronym for the grouping of the world’s leading emerging economies, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
- The BRICS Leaders’ Summit is convened annually.
- It does not exist in form of organization, but it is an annual summit between the supreme leaders of five nations.
- The grouping was formalized during the first meeting of BRIC Foreign Ministers on the margins of the UNGA in New York in September 2006.
- The first BRIC Summit took place in 2009 in the Russian Federation and focused on issues such as reform of the global financial architecture.
- South Africa was invited to join BRIC in December 2010, after which the group adopted the acronym BRICS.
- South Africa subsequently attended the Third BRICS Summit in Sanya, China, in March 2011.
- The Chairmanship of the forum is rotated annually among the members, in accordance with the acronym B-R-I-C-S.
What are the factors leading to the expansion of BRICS?
- Ukraine war and hardened Western positions: The disruption in the international order, heightened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the hardening of Western positions, are leading to the making of competitive plurilateral fora.
- Russia and China have decided that this is an opportune time to expand BRICS and challenge the domain of the G7 by including members from the G20.
- China is challenging Western influence over countries and wants to use BRICS to that end.
- China is taking the lead and setting the agenda for BRICS expansion.
- The New Development Bank associated with BRICS, expanded membership in 2021, admitting Bangladesh, the UAE, Uruguay and Egypt
- This shows the Chinese determination for an expansion process on its watch.
Criteria and the process of inducting new members into BRICS and challenges
- Prioritise G20 members: The first likely criteria will be to prioritise G20 members.
- Among the recent guests of the BRICS+ virtual meeting, Argentina, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia would qualify for this category.
- From among Mexico, Indonesia, Korea, Turkey and Australia (MIKTA), only Indonesia was invited.
- Thus, China, backed by Russia, is creating cleavages to choose its friends from among the G20 and beyond
- Emerging economy: Another criteria which could come up would be an emerging economy status and adherence to BRICS objectives.
- The push for setting criteria is actually a battle to choose partners who are more amenable to the individual members of the current BRICs.
- Russia and China would prefer to have Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Argentina excluding Egypt since it is a close ally of the US.
- Brazil would have a say on including Argentina – the two countries have a longstanding rivalry in Latin America.
- If Argentina is excluded, it may unravel the G20 membership criteria for inclusion in the BRICS.
- South Africa has views on Nigeria and, particularly, Egypt. Being a member of G20 gives it leadership in Africa.
- Being in the BRICS gave it heft as the African representative.
- If Nigeria and Egypt are admitted, South Africa would no more be the African representative in the BRICS.
- New Development Bank membership: The UAE and Egypt could utilise their membership of NDB as a qualifier.
- There could be an easier consensus on Indonesia because India is unlikely to oppose it as its relationship has been improving politically, even if not economically.
- On Kazakhstan, the decision would be that of Russia and China and how they deal with the other Central Asian countries.
- China may also back Iran and Malaysia but then Indonesia may feel a loss of uniqueness.
- A consensus with Brazil and South Africa for members from their regions will be critical.
Way forward for India
- Membership of the UAE and Saudi Arabia: The UAE and Saudi Arabia are two countries with whom India has rapidly enhanced its engagement and are good contributors to development.
- Having them in the BRICS could be of advantage to India.
- Both countries have a longstanding relationship with the US, but seek to diversify and would not be averse to joining BRICS.
- Avoid BRICS expansion on Chinese terms: China, backed by Russia, is hastening the process of expansion of BRICS as part of its strategic challenge to the international order and to collect middle powers around them.
- India needs to ensure that expansion is not on Chinese terms and that the countries admitted are equally receptive to India.
- Bilateral engagement with them should see this perception built up.
- Consultations on criteria and members must be strong.
- Leverage ISBA: IBSA may act as a phalanx within BRICS to prevent China from running away with the expansion agenda over the views of other members.
Since Russia is simply with Chinese priorities, it’s time for the IBSA trilateral of democracies within BRICS to assert itself.
Back2Basics: What is the fundamental difference between ISBA, BRICS and BASIC?
- IBSA is between three democracies – India, Brazil and South Africa wanting to engage in deeper economic aspects and discuss security related issues.
- BASIC includes Brazil, South Africa, India and China.
- These three expressions of multilateralism steer clear from articulating the softer aspects of foreign policy like refugee rights or human rights invoking the ‘sovereignty’ clause with domestic political sanctity paramount.
- BRICS comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
- Russia is a democracy with its political spectrum anchoring around an individual.
- China is a socialist country, successful by implementing economic reforms that do not agree with the basic tenets of socialism/communism.