/ 22 August 2023

Brics leaders talk expansion amid ‘Cold War’

Brics Summit In Johannesburg, South Africa August 22 24, 2023
The Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi attend the Brics Business Summit on August 22, 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The Brics summit is held in South Africa between (Photo by Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images)

Brics leaders have underlined the importance of the alliance’s growth as it navigates trade tensions in the wake of a second “Cold War”.

The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa addressed delegates attending the 15th Brics Summit, taking place in Sandton this week, where they are expected to discuss the bloc’s expansion and deepening intra-alliance trade.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech, delivered by his minister of commerce, Wang Wentoa, addressed global tensions and changes in the world order that are bringing human society to a “critical juncture”. 

China is far and away the biggest force in the bloc. The country’s economic power puts it in direct competition with the United States as the world superpower seeks to maintain its primacy.

“Should we pursue cooperation and integration or just succumb to division and confrontation? Should we work together to maintain peace and stability or just sleepwalk into the abyss of a new Cold War? Should we embrace prosperity, openness and inclusiveness? Or allow hegemony and bullying to throw us into depression? Should we deepen mutual trust? Or allow hubris or prejudice to blind conscience? The course of history will be shaped by the choices we make,” the Chinese president’s speech said.

China hopes to see more countries joining the Brics cooperation mechanism, Xi said.

“The gathering between Brics countries and more than 50 other countries in South Africa today is not an exercise of asking countries to take sides nor an exercise of creating bloc confrontation. Rather, it is an endeavour to expand the architecture of peace and development. I’m glad to know that over 20 countries are knocking on the door of Brics.”

Some of the countries that want to join Brics are Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Algeria, Bolivia, Indonesia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Comoros, Gabon and Kazakhstan. 

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, who is also the target of US ire, called for a Brics currency to navigate sanctions imposed by the West on the bloc’s members. 

“The international economic situation is also seriously affected by the illegitimate sanction practice and illegal freezing of assets of sovereign states, which essentially amounts to trampling upon all the basic norms and rules of free trade and economic life,” said Putin, who is attending the summit virtually because the International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for his arrest for the forced deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia.

Putin also noted that sanctions against Moscow have affected trade ties with Brics members, particularly in relation to grain exports.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, the standing Brics chair, made note of the alliance’s growth since its formation in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis. “The changes that have taken place in Brics economies over the past decade have done much to transform the shape of the global economy,” he said, adding that today the Brics countries make up a quarter of the global economy and account for a fifth of global trade.

But, the South African president noted, “the new wave of protectionism” threatens to undermine global economic growth and development. 

“We therefore need to reaffirm our position that economic growth must be underpinned by transparency and inclusiveness. It must be compatible with a multilateral trading system that supports a developmental agenda,” Ramaphosa said.

He also acknowledged discussions about the Brics alliance’s possible expansion, noting that a number of countries have expressed their interest in joining the bloc. “It goes to show that the Brics family is growing in its importance and its stature and also in its influence in the world,” he said.

Brazil’s President Lula da Silva also underlined the building relevance of the Brics bloc, suggesting this would grow even more with the admission of new full members.

Da Silva also noted that the financing needs for developing countries remains high in the wake of inadequate financial reform. He said the Brics New Development Bank “must be the global leader in the financing of projects that address the most pressing challenges of our time”.

“At the multilateral level Brics has stood out for being a force that works in favour of a fairer, more predictable, equitable, global trade.”

Da Silva also decried “green colonialism”, which he said imposes trade barriers under the guise of protecting the environment.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasised his country’s growing economic might. 

“Despite volatility in the global economy, India is the world’s fastest growing major economy. Very soon, it will be a $5 trillion economy. There is absolutely no doubt that in the coming years, India will be the growth engine of the world.”

Modi noted the importance of building resilient and inclusive supply chains. “For this, mutual trust and transparency are extremely important. By bringing our strengths together, we can make a significant contribution to the welfare of the world, especially the global south.”