China’s Xi unexpectedly skipped a key BRICS event. No one is saying why

China’s Xi unexpectedly skipped a key BRICS event. No one is saying why

India, Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa form one of the world’s most formidable economic blocs.
Now the BRICS Heads of States and Government Summit in South Africa’s Johannesburg
seeks to widen its influence and push for a shift in global geopolitics.
Now yesterday the Indian Prime Minister and the Chinese President flanked the South African
President Cyril Ramaphosa for a family photograph at the leader’s retreat. However now the question
is this, will the Indian Prime Minister and the Chinese President hold talks on the sidelines of
the summit? In recent years the border between India and China has become a site of growing
tensions. The Chinese aggression has also sparked clashes along the mostly rugged mountainous border
that is known as the line of actual control. And Xi Jinping’s irrational territorial ambitions,
both sides have increasingly militarized their border policies and have shown no indication
of backing down. The situation along the border remains very tense due to China’s violation of
norms and Beijing and New Delhi are hardening their positions on either side of the line of
actual control. Now India is pretty firm that peace and tranquility in the border areas is
absolutely essential. New Delhi has said that it is fully prepared and is committed to protecting
sovereignty and dignity. Now Xi skipped a BRICS business forum meeting despite the presence of
counterparts Cyril Ramaphosa, the Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the
Indian Prime Minister. The Chinese Commerce Minister read Xi Jinping’s message which stated
that emerging countries are being blocked and suppressed. At the BRICS business summit,
Prime Minister Modi described India as a welcome destination for global investment.
Discussions are dealt with the substance of the business forum.
The Putin, of course, decided against attending the summit in person as he’s the target of an
international criminal court arrest warrant that South Africa is in theory bound to enforce.
Addressing the business forum, the Russian President said that BRICS works for a global
majority. He also said that Russia will remain a reliable food supplier to Africa and is in talks
on providing free grain to a group of African nations as he had promised at the summit in
Saint Petersburg last month. The promise, of course, came after Russia pulled out of a deal
that had enabled Ukraine to export grain from its Black Sea ports. After the grain deal exit,
it repeatedly bombed Ukrainian ports and grain stores leading to Kiev in the West of accusing it
of using food as a weapon of war. The BRICS was founded as an informal club in 2009 to provide
a platform for its members to challenge a world order dominated by the United States and its
Western allies. Its creation was initiated, of course, by Russia and as per the United Nations
data, the BRICS grouping represents more than one quarter of the global GDP and also represents 42%
of the world’s population. Significantly, the BRICS have also seen their economic influence
increase over the past decade. As drivers of global growth, trade and investment, the bloc
operates by consensus. Now, all the BRICS nations are part of the G20 nations as well. Some 50 other
leaders who are not BRICS members, including the Iranian President, Ibrahim Raisi, and the
Indonesian President, Joko Widodo, are attending the South Africa talks. At least about 40 countries
have shown interest in becoming members, with 23 having formally submitted their applications.
The Saudi countries who are aspiring to be the BRICS members include the likes of Argentina,
Bangladesh, Bahrain, Cuba, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria, and even Saudi Arabia.
The bloc aspirants view BRICS as an alternative to global bodies.
Viewed as dominated by the traditional Western powers, they are hoping for membership
that could unlock benefits including development, finance, and also increased trade and investment.
Dissatisfaction with the global order among the developing nations has been exacerbated by the
COVID-19 pandemic, when life-saving vaccines were hoarded by the rich nations.
Is this a big moment in geopolitics? Does it signal a shift in terms of
how the world order that presently exists and what is expected to come? Because quite clearly,
the BRICS nations now pack a punch, both in terms of economy and also in terms of geopolitics.
This is clearly a significant moment, not least because it’s coming at a time when geopolitical
questions have really come to the fore for a number of countries in the wake of the conflict
in Russia and Ukraine. And that’s driving a lot of what’s going on within the summit this week
in terms of Russia’s engagement there, particularly asking questions around a
de-dollarized global economy, particularly asking questions around greater trade in local currencies
and the expansion of the block. So global geopolitics has accelerated some of the
drivers that brought the initial BRICS countries together. And for those countries who are looking
to join, they do see this as an alternative model of global governance. So it isn’t just a case of
Western hegemony and the so-called global South, but actually giving a space and a voice for other
countries to sit at the same table as some of these big partners. Absolutely. In this moment,
the BRICS nations in fact constitute 25% of the global GDP. They are more than 40% of the global
population. The question that I want to ask you is the United States and the Western powers in
the aftermath of the Second World War, they’d come together and they’d constituted what was
known as the rules-based order to run the geopolitics of the world. Is that what is now
under challenge because none of these BRICS nations are a part of the West?
I think that a lot of the countries who are asking to be part of BRICS still want to be part of a
global integrated economic system. They just see the BRICS as being a way of engaging in more
constructive group diplomacy, being part of a body of like-minded partners to be able to challenge
some of the dominance of Western powers within what has been set up as that rules-based
international system. But it is challenging for many of them. So I’m here in South Africa at the
moment. And South Africa itself has to answer this question because it isn’t Russia, it isn’t China,
it isn’t India. It doesn’t have the same economic weight as some of these others. But at the same
time, it does want to be part of a body that challenges particularly American and European
global economic dominance, but still has to engage with them in an economic term. So it’s
about finding partners that can say, look, we’re part of the rest, we do have some strength, we do
have a voice and we’re able to challenge. And in terms of Western perceptions of this, it’s very
difficult because here is a group that is broadly aligned on these grounds of wanting to do
something differently, wanting to challenge that. But in terms of the material structures and
organisations and deliverables from BRICS, they’re actually relatively thin, there’s not a huge amount
to engage with as yet, beyond this kind of grand idea. Absolutely, indeed. My last quick question
to you is, you know, the BRICS nation also includes India and China, the two big heavyweights in this,
and there is friction between India and China. Do you think this is likely to impact the BRICS grouping?
I think that there’s the tension between India and China, the tension between, or the awkward
relationship between Russia and China, the fact that China is so economically dominant for some
of these other smaller partners, in terms of trade, these are a number of the frictions
that I think are preventing a much more consolidated political bloc. And this is why a lot of the talk
is around economics, how can we promote trade, how can we move to a less dollarised world economy,
and so on. So they want to keep the conversation there, rather than have to deal with some of the
political realities that exist even within those members. Absolutely, indeed. Christopher,
thank you very much indeed for joining us and getting us all those insights there.
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