The BRICS countries Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa want to become an alternative to the G7 group. Beijing and Moscow, in particular, want to accept new members.
Frankfurt/Cape Town – The foreign ministers of the five BRICS countries have spoken out in favour of more influence on world affairs and an expansion of their group. Currently, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are part of the group. But more than a dozen countries want to join, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Argentina, Algeria, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia. Several representatives of these states were on site on Thursday. Above all, the representatives from China and Russia were in favour of enlargement. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov did not seem like a shunned marginal figure in the group - but like a normal member. And so the meeting shows once again that Russia is by no means isolated in the Global South.
China's Vice Minister Ma Zhaoxu said his country expects more countries to join the "big family" of the BRICS. This is unfortunate because it increases the bloc's influence and gives it more power to represent the interests of developing countries. The two-day meeting in South Africa must send a "strong message that the world is multipolar and that old approaches cannot solve new situations," said Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at the start of the meeting. The BRICS countries are a "symbol of change".
Arrest warrant against Putin: Will Russia's president be allowed to travel to the BRICS summit in the summer?
But first, everything in Cape Town revolved around Vladimir Putin. Because the BRICS are facing a dilemma. Host South Africa has invited Putin to the August summit. However, an arrest warrant has been issued against the Russian president by the International Criminal Court in The Hague in connection with the Ukraine war. South Africa, as a member of the court, would have to arrest him immediately upon entry.
Reporters bombarded South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor with questions about Putin upon arrival at the site of the foreign ministers' meeting. "Our government is currently looking at what legal options there are in this matter," she said. President Cyril Ramaphosa will announce South Africa's final position on the matter. "At this stage, an invitation has been issued to all heads of state (of the BRICS countries)," Pandor said. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warmly welcomed them.
The matter is delicate. Much to the annoyance of the West, South Africa does not want to damage its good relationship with Moscow. At the beginning of the week, the government granted blanket immunity to all summit participants, including Putin. But even South African officials insisted that it was completely unclear whether this immunity would override The Hague's arrest warrant. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had recently stressed that Russia would participate at the "appropriate level"; so far, there has been no commitment from Putin. Neither South Africa nor the other BRICS members have condemned Russia for invading Ukraine. They all behave more or less neutrally.
BRICS: From a loose association to a club with economic power
"The BRICS are positioning themselves as an alternative to the West and as a way to create space for emerging powers," Reuters quoted Cobus van Staden of the South African Institute of International Affairs as saying. Once ridiculed as a loose, largely symbolic association of unequal emerging economies, the BRICS have adopted more concrete structures in recent years, largely at Beijing's instigation. China is the group's economic and political heavyweight. Its gross domestic product is more than twice that of all four other members combined.
And China needs allies for its goal of replacing the Western-dominated world order with a multipolar world. Others also have reservations about the West, as evidenced by the neutrality of many emerging economies in the Ukraine war.
"The BRICS have gained a very high status in the world, and many countries on different continents of our world want to be part of it," South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in Cape Town on Wednesday. Naledi Pandor had already stressed in April that the bloc could be "transformative" and represent those nations "that want to play a role in world affairs to ensure that this also benefits the Global South".
BRICS: The greatest success is a joint bank
The history of the group began with the then chief economist of the US investment bank Goldman Sachs, Jim O'Neill. He invented the acronym BRIC in 2001 to refer to the booming economies of the four countries. This gave rise to the idea of merging: Brazil, Russia, India and China created the BRIC in 2009, and a year later the club became BRICS with the admission of South Africa. Today, the five countries account for more than 42 percent of the world's population and represent 23 percent of global economic output. But as a political force, they have so far remained pale.
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So far, the greatest concrete successes of the BRICS have been financial. In 2015, they founded the New Development Bank, also known as the BRICS Bank, based in Shanghai, following the example of the World Bank. It has since provided more than $30 billion in loans to members for projects such as water and transportation infrastructure. South Africa also took out a loan of one billion US dollars in 2020 to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2016, the four countries also pooled $100 billion in foreign currency that they can lend to each other in emergencies. At the summit in August, the members want to discuss the creation of a common currency.
After all, with the start of the Ukraine war, the BRICS bank froze all Russian projects. The BRICS also blocked access to the US dollar via the common currency system, fearing Western sanctions. It's not all the same as always.