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Expansion of BRICS to boost China’s influence? Here’s what expert says

Reports have indicated that the China proposed the expansion of the BRICS is on the agenda and countries like Argentina and Indonesia are likely to be present virtually.

BRICS summit, BRICS Leaders
The focus of this year’s summit is going to be on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, its fallout on the Indo-Pacific, the impact of economic sanctions imposed by countries across the globe and most importantly the expansion of BRICS.

Later this month the 14th edition of BRICS Summit is scheduled to take place under the presidency of China. Dates have yet to be officially announced by Beijing for the virtual summit where leaders of all the member countries including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Presidents of South Africa and Brazil are expected to participate.

The focus of this year’s summit is going to be on the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, its fallout on the Indo-Pacific, the impact of economic sanctions imposed by countries across the globe and most importantly the expansion of BRICS. Reports have indicated that the China proposed the expansion of the BRICS is on the agenda and countries like Argentina and Indonesia are likely to be present virtually.

Karin Costa Vazquez, Assistant Dean, Executive Director of the Center for African, Latin American and Caribbean Studies at OP Jindal Global University and non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Center for China and Globalization and Fudan Scholar at Fudan University, speaks with Huma Siddiqui on what to expect from the summit and issues related to the expansion of the grouping.

Following are excerpts

There are talks of expanding BRICS by including Argentina and Indonesia- how will it help the grouping?

The BRICS engagement with non-BRICS countries has taken two different formats over the past decade: the BRICS regional outreach and the BRICS Plus. It is of utmost importance to understand these two formats before drawing conclusions on the possible expansion of the grouping.

It will be recalled that South Africa initiated the BRICS regional outreach during its first chairship of the BRICS in 2013. The BRICS regional outreach consists of networking with the respective rotating presidency’s sub-regions. Under the rotating presidency, BRICS takes its geopolitical advantage by strengthening institutional links with its sub-regions and enhancing South-South dialogue.

Facing criticisms on BRICS as an exclusive club and going beyond outreach with the respective sub-regions, the BRICS Plus was introduced under China’s 2017 presidency to strengthen dialogue and cooperation between BRICS countries and other emerging economies and developing countries, promote the establishment of broader partnerships, and facilitate common development and prosperity on a larger scale.

The BRICS Plus is now broadly echoed under China’s 2022 presidency.This is because while a BRICS Plus outreach has been held before on the margins of the Summit, this is the first time that non-BRICS countries are invited to the BRICS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and the leaders’ Summit. The fact that neither the BRICS regional outreach nor the BRICS Plus has taken place since 2019 draws even more attention to the talks this year.

It is also important to note that not only Argentina and Indonesia, but also Egypt, Kazakhstan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates were invited to the BRICS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and leaders’ Summit this year.

Why the expansion? How does it help and impact India as it is also negotiating expansion of the MERCOSUR Trade Agreement with Argentina?

Participating in the BRICS Foreign Ministers’ Meeting and leaders’ Summit does not equal to expanding the grouping. China proposed to initiate the expansion of the BRICS, explore common criteria and procedures, and gradually forge consensus among the existing members. But there is no clarity on whether all the other four members fully embrace the expansion let alone its criteria and process.

Considering China’s wider global strategy, India’s concern is that the expansion would boost China’s influence while potentially eroding that of the other members. Brazil is also reticent about having its UNSC reform bid and relative importance in the region diluted, while Russia is unlikely to support the inclusion of countries favorable to Ukraine and Western-imposed sanctions.

These same countries are also aware that the expansion of the BRICS could be an antidote to the fractious India-China relations and Russia’s isolation in the world. It will ultimately depend on weighting pros and cons on a case-by-case basis.

Argentina is part of the Chinese BRI project. How will this impact the New Development Bank (NDB)?

NDB membership is open to members of the United Nations and is not conditioned to BRICS membership. Bangladesh, Egypt, UAE, and Uruguay, for example, have recently joined the NDB and are not part of the BRICS.

Finally, the summit comes amidst the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.  As an expert what are your expectations from the  summit?

Every year, the BRICS Summit takes place well into the second semester and is preceded by more than 100 high-level preparatory meetings, working groups, and academic/think-tank fora. It is difficult to expect any groundbreaking initiative to be announced this year considering the short time China had to prepare the Summit, on the one side, and the attention channeled to fighting the pandemic domestically and the 20th Party Congress, on the other.

Besides the expansion of the BRICS, the use of national currencies for export-import operations among the BRICS, the integration of payment systems, and the creation of a BRICS financial messaging system will be revisited amid the war in Ukraine and Russia’s attempt to escape Western sanctions. Politically, however, these proposals are difficult to take off considering the malaise they would create and alsoBrazil’sown aspiration to accede to the OECD.

The recent launch of the BRICS Vaccine R&D Centre in a virtual format was an important milestone. Challenges remain in terms of operationalizing the center and ensuring vaccines are an accessible and affordable global public good. To this end, the issue of patents and technology transfer must be clarified among the five countries.

On the trade front, there is consensus on the need to strengthen intra-BRICS supply chains, for example, fertilizers. The issue of trade preferences will likely remain pending in the absence of bilateral agreements among the BRICS countries.

This being said, the main outcome of this year’s Summit should be political. By signaling favorably to the expansion of the BRICS (or at least the intent), the bloc combats its main critics and strengthens its position as a platform for a fairer and more equitable global governance system. It is a win-win for the BRICS and China.

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