Expanding bloc to overcome global dominance

Former President of Brazil Michel Temer, Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Cyril Ramaphosa, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi during the 10th BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg in 2018. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Former President of Brazil Michel Temer, Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Cyril Ramaphosa, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi during the 10th BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg in 2018. Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jul 30, 2023


By Dr. André Thomashausen

The BRICS summit meeting on August 22-24 in Johannesburg will be the most demanding international meeting that South Africa has accepted to host.

Besides the five BRICS member states, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, a number of 30 aspirant members plus most, if not all, 55 African states are invited.

The emergence of a new regional bloc could, in terms of numbers of states and population, surpass any other international organisation except the United Nations. This new BRICS euphoria is driven by the rejection in most parts of the world of perceived Western righteousness. The USA, the EU and what is also known as the “white commonwealth” (UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand), in the words of Josep Borrel, EU Minister of Foreign Affairs, on October 16 2022, consider themselves as “the garden of this world”, whilst the rest of the world is described as the “jungle” that “could invade the garden” if it is not protected.

What Borrel referred to as the ”jungle” watched helplessly how “the garden” spiralled a Russian minority conflict in the Ukraine into a danger zone of a third World War rather than commit to peace.The manner in which the West bypassed the United Nations' role as the global guarantor of peace and security frightened the excluded governments and their peoples. There is a clear drive to assemble a counterweight in and around the BRICS.

Not surprisingly, security is busy overtaking other BRICS objectives, such as cooperation politics, economy and finance, as well as culture. The future BRICS+ is seeking to establish new safety barriers against military conflicts widening and consuming large shares of globally disposable funds. Many billions of dollars have already been diverted into a new arms race, throwing back the fight against poverty and climate change.

The vision of the BRICS becoming a global political counterweight is encouraged by the lack of any identifiable economic, social or developmental synergies among the BRICS members.

India, just a month ago, signed the most comprehensive economic cooperation plan with the USA. It envisages the production in India of the most modern military jet engines, drones, naval shipbuilding, space exploration, mineral supply chain establishment, semiconductor manufacturing, artificial intelligence development, cooperation in the US “rip and replace” plan (to remove and replace Chinese made telecommunications infrastructure), development of hydrogen-based energy and “digital pathology” for medical research, all together possible worth over $100 billion in investments.

Brazil openly voted against Russia in the UN Security Council regarding international access to Syria’s Idlib region. Both Brazil and India do not want to include in the expansion of BRICS economically failing states, such as Argentina, Bangladesh or Zimbabwe.

The much-anticipated new BRICS gold-backed reserve currency will no longer be announced at the South Africa summit. Instead, a new mechanism for the settlement of payments between BRICS member states will be considered. Proposed under the new acronym “R5”, it considers that all current BRICS currencies start with an “R”: renminbi (yuan), ruble, real, rupee, and rand.

“R5” will facilitate intra-BRICS trade by allowing for direct settlements in national currencies in order to bypass the US dollar and thereby help preserve national US dollar reserves. Uneven trade balances within the BRICS may limit the practical relevance of the “R5”, if at all it comes into being, considering the challenges posed by larger numbers of new members.

An expanded role for the BRICS Bank, the NDB (New Development Bank), is on the agenda. The NDB will grant loans denominated in BRICS gold. BRICS exporters will then be encouraged to sell their goods using BRICS gold instead of the US dollar, and this should force non-BRICS importers to pay in BRICS gold. China, by far the largest producer of gold globally, would then assume a key role.

China’s steadily growing Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will strengthen BRICS cooperation. Chinese trade with BRI nations increased by 9.8% in the first half of 2023 as against same period in 2022. That contrasts with the 4.7% overall reduction of trade between China and the West, less by 4.9% with the EU, and less by 14,5% with the US.

China’s trade with Russia, alongside exports to South Africa and Singapore, grew by 78%. This was made possible by the new Arctic freight shipping route between China and Russia, since 2017, a new “Arctic Silk Road” as part of the BRI.

In Russia, the completion of a new 7,200km long, multi-modal International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) is expected by 2030. It will operate as an alternative to the Suez Canal and will cut shipping costs by some 50% and 20 days of travel. The new INSTC will be a North-South corridor linking Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, India, and Central Asia, eventually establishing a 573km long Trans-Afghan Railway connecting Central and South Asia to ports on the Arabian sea for the immediate benefit of East and Southern Africa.

The steady growth of the BRI will strengthen the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in his “Vision 2030”, sees in it “the future of Asia.” Significantly, Saudi Arabia is almost certainly going to emerge from the August summit in Johannesburg as a dynamic new member of the BRICS.

Security challenges within BRICS will encourage new military, security and anti-terrorism synergies. In order to assist members as well as third countries, an integrated BRICS private sector security capability is a possibility. A growing number of vulnerable states are threatened by the spread of Islamic terrorism and international organised crime. Global criminal, and drug, and human trafficking networks increasingly out-gun national police forces.

The political culture of BRICS is characterised by its flexible and pragmatic consensus rule and uncompromisingly equal respect for the sovereignty of each BRICS participating state. The BRICS will continue to stay away from formalised treaty obligations and stifling procedures. It will continue to gain traction as a counterweight to the conflict laden “exceptionalism” that the Western alliances have projected far beyond their legitimate areas of interest.

The BRICS are the building block of a fairer world in which a single nation’s might is tamed by the multi-polarity of all the greatest but still distinct civilisations on this planet.

Thomashausen is Professor Emeritus of Comparative and International Law at Unisa

The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL