Six Countries to join China and Russia in BRICS bloc

Iran and Saudi Arabia were among six countries invited to join the BRICS bloc of developing economies in a move that showed signs of strengthening a China-Russia coalition as tensions with the West spiral higher.

Key points:

  • More than 20 countries had formally applied to join BRICS ahead of this year's summit and more than 20 others had expressed interest
  • China and Russia have been pushing for expansion, while Brazil and India have been wary
  • The five BRICS leaders were in closed-door discussions for two days before announcing the expansion

The United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Egypt and Ethiopia were also set to enter BRICS from January 1, 2024.

They will join current members Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to make an 11-nation bloc, in the group's first expansion in 13 years.

BRICS leaders left the door open to future enlargement as dozens more countries voiced interest in joining a grouping they hope can level the global playing field.

The announcement came after two days of talks at a summit in Johannesburg involving Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Russian President Vladimir Putin participated in the discussions virtually, after his travel to the summit was complicated by an International Criminal Court arrest warrant issued against him over the war in Ukraine.

Mr Putin welcomed the six countries by video link.

He did not mention Wednesday's plane crash that left Russian mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin and some of his top lieutenants dead, according to Russia.

Bloc heavyweight China has long called for an expansion of BRICS as it seeks to challenge Western dominance, a strategy shared by Russia.

Other BRICS members support fostering the creation of a multi-polar global order.

Brazil and India have both also been forging closer ties with the West.

"BRICS has embarked on a new chapter in its effort to build a world that is fair, a world that is just, a world that is also inclusive and prosperous," Mr Ramaphosa said.

"We have consensus on the first phase of this expansion process and other phases will follow."

Three of the biggest oil producers may join
While there has been momentum for a BRICS expansion for months — pushed largely by China and Russia — the five leaders were locked in closed-door discussions for two days on Tuesday and Wednesday before emerging with an agreement on expanding and a list of countries on the last day of the summit.

BRICS is a consensus-based organisation that needs all members to agree on decisions.

The bloc was formed by Brazil, Russia, India and China in 2009 and added South Africa in 2010, making Thursday's announcement in the heart of Johannesburg's high-rise Sandton financial district its most significant decision in more than a decade.

Mohammad Jamshidi, the political deputy of Iran President Ebrahim Raisi, called joining BRICS a "strategic victory for Iran's foreign policy".

"Felicitations to the Supreme Leader of Islamic Revolution and great nation of Iran," Mr Jamshidi wrote on X, the social media outlet formerly known as Twitter.

However, economists also noted that Argentina and Egypt are the International Monetary Fund's two biggest debtors and have required bailouts.

Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous country with 120 million people, has been at odds with the US and European Union over their criticism of the recent conflict in the country's Tigray region.

Argentinian President Alberto Fernández said joining BRICS was "a new opportunity" that "strengthens us".

BRICS has a stated aim to amplify the voice of the Global South.

All five current members and dozens of other developing countries represented at the summit repeatedly called this week for a fairer world order and the reform of international institutions like the United Nations, the IMF and the World Bank.

Many in the developing world view those institutions as Western-led and unfair to them, and a stream of leaders made speeches on Thursday calling for change.

While that sentiment and challenging the current international order is useful for China and Russia's geopolitical aims, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a speech to the BRICS summit that the calls for reform were valid.

He quoted figures that said, on average, African countries pay four times more for borrowing from international financial institutions than the United States and eight times more than the wealthiest European countries.

Officials play down anti-West turn
More than 20 countries had formally applied to join BRICS ahead of the Johannesburg summit and more than 20 others had expressed interest, indicating how the bloc might resonate with many as an alternative.

"Cooperation is key to our collective survival," Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said.

South African officials pushed back against characterisations that BRICS was taking an anti-West turn under the influence of China and Russia.

Mr Putin and Mr Xi laced their speeches with criticism of the US and its allies earlier in the summit, although Mr Xi did also call for a "lowering of the temperature" in reference to the geopolitical climate.

Mr Putin used a 17-minute prerecorded address on the opening day of the meetings to lash out at the West over the financial sanctions imposed on Russia as punishment for its invasion of Ukraine.

The expansion of BRICS also appears to expand China and Russia's sphere of influence, especially in the Persian Gulf.

The entry of oil powers Saudi Arabia and UAE highlights their drift away from the United States' orbit and ambition to become global heavyweights in their own right.

Russia and Iran have found common cause in their shared struggle against US-led sanctions and diplomatic isolation, with their economic ties deepening after Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

"BRICS is not competing with anyone," Mr Putin said.

"But it's also obvious that this process of the emerging of a new world order still has fierce opponents."



Story first published on ABC News

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