The BRICS accelerate the race to establish themselves as a counterweight to the West | International

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Whether the BRICS ever discussed at the Johannesburg summit what the club will be called when it expands from five to 11 members next year has not been reported. The Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, believes that it is best to keep the current name. "It's nice," he said in the South African city. The acronym was invented almost 20 years ago by a Goldman Sachs analyst to label an informal group of countries that were growing at breakneck rates, becoming engines of world GDP, and offering promising opportunities to the global investor. Brazil, Russia, India and China formalized their relationship as a geopolitical pole in 2009, when the financial crisis in the US and Europe increased the attractiveness of the periphery. In 2010, with the accession of South Africa, they added the final S. The bloc begins a new phase with the announcement that six new partners will enter on January 1 (Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia and Iran).

The club accelerates its career towards a fairer and more balanced world order. "Global governance must represent current power and economic relations, not those of 1945," UN Secretary General António Guterres proclaimed at the summit. Current and future members want more voice, more prominence, more power; end Western hegemony, but that doesn't mean the same thing for everyone. Brazil defends its neutrality, it has always worked to get along with everyone; Iran wants nothing to do with the great satanthat is, the US. And for China and Russia, this is a leap forward in their desire to forge a broad alliance that acts as a counterbalance to the G-7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States). ), the club of rich countries.

The Brazilian Maiara Folly, specialist in international relations and executive director of CIPO (a research center on international relations, governance and climate), explains from London that "enlargement is something very natural for the BRICS, a group that is very critical of the G -7 because it considers it an exclusive club that does not reflect the distribution of political and economic power in the world today”. Chinese President Xi Jinping greeted the decision with the adjective of great occasions: "This enlargement is historic." Another push to his global ambitions.

Bringing in new partners "is a victory for China, which was looking for an expansion years ago," explains Moritz Rudolf, an analyst at the Chai China Center at Yale University, from the US. He argues that the enlarged BRICS "will be more Sinocentric." For a long time, India and Brazil were reluctant to open the door because it dilutes their presence.

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Specialist Moritz stresses that the issue is “how effective are the BRICS going to be in serving as a coordinating force for these countries, some of which are fed up with US and Western domination. If they are going to manage to defend common positions and, for example, transfer those ideas to the agenda of the G-20”, the club of the most developed. That is the great unknown: what the powerful political message sent to the West by this blow to the table of the BRICS, which seeks to consolidate itself as the leader of non-Western countries and the so-called global south, will translate into in the medium term. This Yale sinologist maintains that “there are many obstacles, mainly the geopolitical misgivings between China and India”, those that from time to time lead to a border skirmish.

With the expansion, the BRICS will account for 46% of the world's population and 37% of the GDP in purchasing power figures from 2024, according to Lula. And another piece of information that the Brazilian president did not mention, but also key in the current situation of energy crisis in Europe due to the war in Ukraine: the entry of Saudi Arabia, the world's leading oil producer, and other oil powers such as the Emirates and Iran. greatly increases its power over the world's oil supply.

The host, the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has already warned that the expansion to 11 is the beginning: "We have agreed on the first phase of this expansion process and other phases will follow." Some 40 countries had requested to join this amorphous bloc that since its creation has produced the New Development Bank, based in Shanghai, an alternative entity to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that has financed development projects in four countries. continents for 33,000 million dollars (30,500 million euros), two thirds of them in US currency. Now, the sanctions against Russia complicate his work. And reducing dependence on the dollar is an early goal, but there the results are modest for now, although the initiatives to use the yuan are multiplying.

Thanks to the BRICS, relations between member countries became closer at all levels, but economic growth was driven by internal markets, not by massive incorporation into global value chains. They gained visibility as an alternative pole to the West —in the sweetest years they hosted World Cups and the Olympic Games— but at no time did they achieve a compact cohesion. And with 11 it will be even more difficult.

The BRICS—with China leading the way because its economy alone is bigger than the rest combined—will continue courting to attract new allies. The growing rivalry between Washington and Beijing has given new strength to this group because those who live in places far from the centers of power of the last seven decades have multiple reproaches towards the West in general, and the US in particular. And the war in Ukraine does not strike a chord with Africans and Latin Americans, who face multiple crises that are also serious in their own neighborhoods.

Furthermore, the national interests of the BRICS are divergent and sometimes even antagonistic. The main common demand is the reform of the institutions created by the winners of World War II: the UN, the IMF and the World Bank. India, Brazil and South Africa have been calling for United Nations reform for years. They consider it fair to sit in the Security Council. Most observers agree that the United Nations has a representativeness problem. The question is to press from outside through parallel entities without rules or clear purpose or to undertake the reform from the United Nations itself.

The writer and ambassador of Spain in India, José María Ridao, defends the second option because the first one contributes to emptying the UN of content, with the dangers that this entails: "The problem posed by this proliferation of multilateral initiatives is what is their relationship with a universal system like the UN, which is the only one that generates universal rules”.

The Brazilian Folly believes that both the new BRICS and the G-20 are forums that "could be useful spaces for coordination for a reform of the UN system that is urgent" because, it insists, "the current world order, in addition to being unfair , is dysfunctional to address emergencies such as security crises, climate change or poverty”.

Lula and Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister, obtained a commitment from Xi at this summit to support them in obtaining a permanent seat on the Security Council. But the sinologist Rudolf warns that it is a more rhetorical endorsement than a real one. No one among the quintet with the right to veto has any intention of a far-reaching reform that alters the current distribution of power in the UN.

The Russian Vladimir Putin participated in the BRICS summit, but he had to do it from a distance, by videoconference. Because if he set foot in South Africa, a signatory country to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the Russian president risked being arrested for the international arrest warrant issued against him last March as allegedly responsible for the illegal transfer of Ukrainian children from occupied territories in Ukraine to Russia. He is likely to hold up the BRICS enlargement as a sign that, despite Western sanctions and diplomatic isolation, he has plenty of friends.

The final cast of upcoming partners has surprised many observers. Indonesia fell at its own request at the last minute. Algeria and Nigeria are out... Ethiopia is in and, with it, four countries in the Middle East, a region in which Beijing is quickly filling the void left by the US after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The father of the BRICS acronym, Jim O'Neill, who was chief economist at Goldman Sachs when he coined it, spoke after the expansion announcement with the Brazilian newspaper State. He is convinced that the expansion is not beneficial because it will make agreements more difficult. He also wonders about the criteria used to invite those six countries.

For analyst Oliver Stuenkel, from the Getulio Vargas Foundation, in São Paulo, "the inclusion of Tehran, a regime that supplies Russia with drones for the invasion of Ukraine and is subject to extensive economic sanctions, risks consolidating the perception of that the BRICS bloc is, in fact, an anti-Western alliance led by Beijing and Moscow,” he writes in Americas Quarterly magazine.

Joining the BRICS gives the Saudis, Emiratis and Egyptians a boost on the global stage, “but that does not mean they are abandoning their strategic security relationship with the United States. They are building coalitions issue by issue based on their national interests,” warns analyst Hasan Alhasan, of the Bahrain International Institute for Strategic Studies, in an article published by Bloomberg.

Maria Figueiredo, who was Brazil's ambassador to the Ivory Coast and Malaysia, is one of those who believes that "the more members the BRICS have, the better, the stronger the group will be." She adds, in a conversation in São Paulo, that "the greatest interest is to achieve multipolarity, not to depend on a single power or two."

It is also striking that two petromonarchies and an economy in tatters have been chosen for what was born as a club of emerging economies. Argentina — plunged into painful negotiations with the IMF to alleviate the very serious economic crisis — was Lula's endeavor, but the result of the October elections may prevent the announced landing in the BRICS. The current president, Alberto Fernández, enthusiastically received the yes, but the truth is that the two candidates best placed to succeed him do not even want to hear about it. The far-right libertarian Javier Milei, winner of the recent primaries, was clear and forceful, faithful to his style: "I am not going to promote business with communists who do not respect the basic parameters of free trade, freedom and democracy." The candidate of the classic right, Patricia Bullrich, also refuses to enter.

When the BRICS were born, the common denominator was the performance of their economies and the excellent prospects thanks to the enormous Chinese demand for raw materials. In these fifteen years, the evolution of partners has been uneven. China has become a superpower, the world's second largest economy, but its extraordinary trajectory in recent decades has slowed down. Russia has gone from reset with Washington to pariah to the West. Neither Brazil nor South Africa have reached the levels predicted. India is growing at a good pace, it has surpassed China in population and this week it has reached the Moon, its most hostile area, just days after Russia failed in the attempt to get ahead in that same mission; her probe crashed.

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