BRICS expansion, food security, health and cooperation likely to top 15th Summit agenda - analysts

President Cyril Ramaphosa has rolled out the red carpet for Chinese President Xi Jinping ahead of the 2023 BRICS Summit and a State Visit by China to Pretoria, hours before the summit. Picture: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa has rolled out the red carpet for Chinese President Xi Jinping ahead of the 2023 BRICS Summit and a State Visit by China to Pretoria, hours before the summit. Picture: GCIS

Published Aug 22, 2023


It was a mark of China’s increasing influence on South Africa which saw President Xi Jinping receive a grand reception at the OR Tambo International Airport, say geo-political experts.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and a delegation of Cabinet ministers including Presidency Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor, personally received Jinping and braved the Joburg winter cold on Monday night. He also received a 21-gun salute in Pretoria. during the state visit.

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva arrived around midday on Monday, and was received by Pandor.

Heads of State from Africa also arrived Monday.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to arrive on Tuesday, while Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov arrived on Tuesday morning, leading a Russian delegation after President Vladimir Putin agreed to not attend in person.

Putin is expected to participate virtually.

Wits University’s Patrick Lukusa Kadima, who specialises in international law, international cooperation and multilateralism, said BRICS expansion was likely the biggest issue on the table for the summit.

“The dynamics at play currently is the issue of the expansion of BRICS, we have seen there are different views on the matter as South Africa, China is leaning towards expansion, we have seen India resist this expansion, while Brazil wants to see a proper formulation of procedure on how member states will be admitted,” he said.

“It is going to be one of the more bigger talking points,” he said.

South Africa will present BRICS leaders with a proposal to expand its membership and a decision on the matter is expected at the summit's close.

Jannie Rossouw, a professor of global political economy at the University of the Witwatersrand said the issue of BRICS expansion was divisive, particularly among its two most powerful members, China and India.

At least 40 countries have expressed interest in joining including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh and Argentina.

"In my view, possible further extension will be considered during the course of this year and not decided at the summit to allow for more time," said Rossouw.

Jakkie Cilliers, founder of the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS) think tank, said because BRICS operate on consensus, this presented "a major obstacle" to decision making.

"In the long term, my view is that the inevitability of China-India rivalry is probably the major challenge that BRICS will eventually be confronted with”.

Meanwhile, as Modi makes his way to Johannesburg, Kadima said China's influence was clear in South Africa, shown by the expansion of Confucius Institutes at South African universities. The Confucius Institutes are public educational and cultural promotion programs funded and arranged currently by the Chinese International Education Foundation.

“We have seen also seen China build roads and hospitals in Africa, they are our largest trading partner and we saw when President Xi Jinping arrived that it was an important occasion, he was received by the President himself, this just shows how significant his presence is,” said Kadima.

“President Xi Jinping has traveled just twice this year, the other time was Russia. For him and the Chinese government, it is an opportunity to strengthen ties with Africa.

“This is a vital diplomatic exercise by Pretoria and you have to consider the invitations to other African states,” said Kadima.

Kadima said he believed the might not be any resolution on the matter of BRICS expansion as he expects there to be a lot of back and forth on the issue.

He said matters of food security, health and cooperation would also feature, and he predicted that BRICS in future, will venture into matters of security.