Historic expansion of BRICS – six new countries join BRICS in 2024

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Photo credit: Ricardo Stuckert/PR - CC BY-ND 2.0

BRICS, the coalition comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, has recently approved the inclusion of six additional member states into its economic organization. Starting from January 1, 2024, Iran, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will officially become part of BRICS, marking a significant move to expand the group’s global influence.

Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed this expansion as a historic development. Beijing took a lead role in advocating for this enlargement, and the decision made during the Johannesburg summit can be seen as a triumph for Xi Jinping’s efforts.

South African President Ramaphosa announced this milestone during a press conference where official invitations were dispatched. Ramaphosa and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva hinted that this expansion would likely continue.

Lula emphasized that the promises of globalization had faltered, calling for a revitalization of cooperation with developing nations due to the escalating tensions between Russia and the West over the Ukraine conflict, which raised concerns about the risk of nuclear war.

Initially, Brazil and India had reservations about the expansion, citing concerns about the criteria and the potential diminishment of their influence. However, China and Russia successfully persuaded members that the timing was opportune for enlargement.

Despite appearances, BRICS is not without its challenges. The Russian leader couldn’t attend the summit due to his potential arrest in South Africa over alleged war crimes. Additionally, India and China have an ongoing border conflict, while Beijing competes with the United States, and New Delhi maintains close ties with Washington.

China’s longstanding goal has been to expand BRICS, hoping to increase its influence, given that the group already represents around 42% of the world’s population, a quarter of the global GDP, and 18% of international trade. Russia also sought new members to counter its diplomatic isolation and international sanctions following its Ukraine invasion, with South Africa supporting the expansion.

On the contrary, India was initially against the expansion, fearing Chinese dominance and the possibility that BRICS might shift its focus towards Islamist states, as many of the potential new members are predominantly Muslim countries. India, which has border disputes with China and shares concerns about a rising China with the United States, was cautious about BRICS transforming into an anti-U.S. bloc.

Brazil shared similar concerns about losing influence within BRICS due to expansion. Brazilian representatives preferred a gradual approach, where new members would initially have observer status and, after meeting certain criteria, gain full membership.

China envisions BRICS as a formidable rival to the G7 through expansion. However, it remains uncertain whether BRICS will focus primarily on safeguarding the economic interests of developing nations or emerge as a political force openly challenging Western dominance.

Regarding the expansion of BRICS, each member state has its reservations and considerations. The topic was first raised during South Africa’s presidency in 2018 and was further explored after last year’s virtual summit organized by China. Some argue that an expanded BRICS may become less effective, with more diverse and conflicting positions among its members.

Countries seeking BRICS membership have various motivations, ranging from economic interests such as adopting local currencies to geopolitical considerations like challenging the United States. The inclusion of states openly hostile to the West, like Iran, could tilt the balance toward an anti-Western stance, according to experts.

Despite comprising around 40% of the world’s population and a quarter of global GDP, BRICS has struggled to establish a cohesive vision, limiting its potential impact on global politics and economics.

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