BRICS faces divisions over expansion, common currency off the table

China urges expansion, says hegemony is not in its DNA
BRICS faces divisions over expansion, common currency off the table
BRICS in reverse letters

Divisions resurfaced during the BRICS summit aimed at charting the future of the developing bloc, ahead of a lively debate about the group’s potential expansion aimed at boosting its global influence.

Escalating global tensions sparked by the war in Ukraine and increasing rivalry between China and the United States have added urgency to push China and Russia, whose President Vladimir Putin attended the meeting virtually, to seek to strengthen the BRICS.

The two countries have sought to use the summit, which began on Tuesday evening and runs until Thursday in Johannesburg, to have BRICS countries, including South Africa, Brazil and India, create a counterbalance to Western domination of global institutions.

Speaking on behalf of Chinese President Xi Jinping, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao  said: “At present, changes in the world, in our time and in history are unfolding like never before, taking human society to a critical juncture.”

“The course of history is shaped by the choices we make.” “Dominance is not in China’s DNA.” He said the Johannesburg talks were not aimed at “asking countries to choose one side against another or creating a collective confrontation, but rather to broaden the architecture of peace and development.”

“Regardless of any resistance you may face, the BRICS is a positive, solid force for goodwill and is constantly growing.”

“Within BRICS, we will have a stronger strategic partnership … We will push forward expansion of membership” and “help make the world order more just and equitable.” “China’s economy is solid, has enormous potential and great vitality,” he stressed.

Xi was absent from the forum despite the presence of his counterparts, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It was not immediately clear why Xi, who met with Ramaphosa earlier on Monday, did not attend to help push for the expansion of the BRICS group.

But Brazilian President Lula da Silva’s speech revealed differences of vision within the group, which political analysts say has long struggled to forge a coherent vision of its role in the world order.

Lula da Silva said during a social media broadcast from Johannesburg: “We don’t want to be a meeting point for the Group of Seven, the G20 or the United States. We just want to organize ourselves.”

In addition to the issue of expansion, the agenda of the summit also discusses promoting the use of member states’ local currencies in trade and financial transactions to reduce dependence on the dollar.
In a recorded speech, Putin said: “The goal of irreversibly getting rid of the dollar in our economic relations is gaining momentum.”

Russia’s economy is suffering from Western sanctions imposed over Moscow’s war in Ukraine. Putin is wanted under an international arrest warrant for war crimes in Ukraine and is represented at the summit by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Regulators in South Africa say there will be no discussion of a currency issue for BRICS, an idea Brazil put forward earlier this year as an alternative to relying on the dollar.

Read: BRICS nations enjoy higher combined GDP than the G7

Point of contention

BRICS includes a diverse range of countries ranging from China, the world’s second-largest economy currently experiencing a slowdown, to South Africa, which is facing an energy crisis that leads to daily power outages.

Russia is keen to show the West that it still has friends, but India is strengthening its rapprochement with the West, as does Brazil under its new leader.

India and China clash along their disputed border from time to time, making decision-making in a consensus-based group more difficult.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told a news briefing on Tuesday that the United States ruled out turning the BRICS into a geopolitical rival. “These are a variety of countries. It has a difference of views on crucial issues.”

Enlargement has long been a goal for China, which hopes to add more influence to a group of about 40 percent of the world’s population and a quarter of the global gross domestic product.

Russia is also keen on expanding the group, while South African President Ramaphosa expressed support for the idea in a meeting with the Chinese president.

But Indian Foreign Minister Vinay Kwatra said on Monday his country, wary of Chinese hegemony and warned against rushing to expand, but had “positive intentions and an open mind”. Brazil fears that BRICS’ expansion could weaken the group’s influence.

An Argentine government source involved in the country’s negotiations to join the BRICS told Reuters that new members of the group were not expected to be accepted during the summit. But the potential expansion of the BRICS remains on hold, and the group’s intention to become a defender of the developing world and offer an alternative to a world order dominated by wealthy Western countries is already echoing.

South African officials said more than 40 countries had expressed interest in joining the BRICS. Of these, more than 20 have formally applied for accession and others are expected to send delegations to Johannesburg.

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