Brics leaders were weighing rules for admitting new members to the bloc of developing countries at a summit on Wednesday even as splits over its future direction risked undermining its ambition to give the “Global South” more clout in world affairs.
Bloc heavyweights China and Russia — whose President Vladimir Putin is attending the meeting virtually — want to reinforce Brics amid heightened tensions resulting from the Ukraine war and Beijing’s growing rivalry with Washington.
They are seeking to use the August 22-24 summit in South Africa’s commercial capital Johannesburg to forge the grouping, which also includes Brazil and India, into a counterweight to the West.
But longstanding divisions re-emerged on the first day of talks on Tuesday, notably voiced by Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who said the grouping should not seek to rival the United States and Group of Seven wealthy economies.
Lula and counterparts Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met for dinner and a mini-retreat on Tuesday evening.
The question of enlarging Brics has topped the agenda at the summit and exposed the kinds of divergence of vision that have long plagued the grouping.
China and Russia are keen to expand Brics to give the bloc more global clout. South Africa’s Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that his country’s stance was similar to China’s
Brazil, meanwhile, is concerned that expanding Brics will dilute its influence, though it wants to see neighbour Argentina join the bloc.
An Indian official familiar with the Tuesday evening discussions between the leaders said Modi indicated his country was open to expansion but “there have to be ground rules about how it should happen and who can join”.
Leaders discuss membership criteria
More than 40 countries have expressed interest in joining Brics, say South African officials. Of them, nearly two dozen have formally asked to be admitted.
While no new members are expected to be admitted to Brics during the summit, leaders are weighing a framework and criteria for joining, details of which could be included in a joint declaration due to be finalised on Wednesday.
Brics remains a disparate group, ranging from South Africa, a relative minnow which is nonetheless Africa’s most developed country, to China, the world’s second biggest economy.
Russia’s Putin, who is wanted under an international arrest warrant for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, is keen to show the West he still has friends. But India, wary of Chinese dominance, has increasingly reached out to the West, as has Brazil under Lula.
Beyond the enlargement question, boosting the use of member states’ local currencies in trade and financial transactions to lessen dependency of the US dollar is also on the summit agenda.
South African organisers say there will be no discussions however of a common Brics currency, an idea floated by Brazil as an alternative to dollar-dependence.