The five nations in the economic bloc BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – will each push to further their agenda at the summit this week to achieve their foreign policy objectives and expand their influence within the group and across the globe.
According to experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), countries in the BRICS have specific goals for the summit.
These include South Africa’s plans to solidify its dominance in the continent of Africa; Russia hopes to garner support for its invasion of Ukraine, while China intends to promote further expansion of the group to assert its influence on countries in the Middle East and South Asia.
On the other hand, India aims to counterbalance Chinese sway in the group by maintaining its leadership in the Global South. And Brazil, under the leadership of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, will push to end the country’s global isolation and reinstate its position as a major world player.
South Africa is hosting the BRICS summit in Johannesburg.
Part of the significance of being the host nation is to assert its “position as the leader of the African bloc on the international stage” and showcase that it is one of “the most consequential economies on the continent,” said Mvemba Phezo Dizolele, the Director of CSIS’ African Program, in a panel discussion with BRICS experts last week.
He said South Africa would also remain “eager” to continue discussions on a common currency for cross-border trade among BRICS countries.
According to Dizolele, the summit comes as the country faces tensions with the United States over allegations that it is supplying Moscow with arms. The allegations arose after a Russian ship was seen in South African waters allegedly carrying weapons and at another event where a Russian plane was spotted landing in South Africa, reportedly picking up arms.
Meanwhile, the African country’s stance on Ukraine – abstaining from condemning Russia – will remain an important part of the discussions, given UN representatives are expected to attend the summit.
China views BRICS as a way to expand its influence globally, as the summit provides a unique opportunity to increase cooperation and boost trade relations among emerging economies.
“We have seen growing signs and statements from Beijing that they definitely want to see BRICS expand,” said Brian Hart, a fellow with CSIS’ China Power Project. “You know, from their (China) perspective, expanding the BRICS to include other developing countries will give China more of an opportunity to project its power and influence in key regions.”
According to Hart, China will also try to persuade BRICS members against the United States, especially on the issue of unilateral sanctions, a key focus for both China and Russia in their fight against American influence.
Beijing looks to BRICS as “an opportunity to gain some leverage globally in pushing back against the US,” he said.
An important part of the Chinese agenda will also be strengthening Beijing’s ties with South Africa and expanding the country’s presence on the continent.
China’s President Xi Jinping is slated to pay a state visit and meet South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on the sidelines of the summit.
Much of India’s agenda for the BRICS summit will align against China’s as both major economic players seek to establish dominance in the Global South.
“India’s going to be very unlikely to support any key proposal that’s going to really be too uncomfortable for the United States or our allies,” said Katherine Hadda, CSIS’ India expert.
As a result, India is also expected to hold a “lukewarm” stance on the idea of a common BRICS currency, she said.
As for the group’s expansion, experts expect India to stand behind statements at the summit relating to expanding BRICS. However, it will maintain a cautious stance to ensure the group “doesn’t tilt too much to China’s influence,” according to Hadda.
She said India is in a good position to negotiate any agreements at BRICS given its rising economy and close ties to the West.
“It (India) has some pretty good negotiating strengths on this round of the summit, as, unlike China, India’s economy is growing quite well,” Hadda said. “They (India) have alternate partnerships that the BRICS members, especially China and Russia right now, do not have, for example, with the United States and other regional partners.”
Instead of achieving challenging economic goals, such as a common currency, Russia will push for political goals that are “much more achievable and those may be simplified through the BRICS alliance,” according to CSIS’s Russia and Eurasia expert Maria Snegovaya.
“Russia will try to use it (BRICS summit) in its propaganda effort, trying to promote Russia’s stake on Ukraine, especially in light of the Ukraine-led summit in Jeddah, which focused in particular on outreach to Global South and finding a peaceful end to Russia’s war against Ukraine,” Snegovaya said at the BRICS panel discussion.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, filling in for Putin’s absence, is expected to garner support for Russia’s stance on the Ukraine conflict, especially from the African countries, many of whom have shown support for Moscow.
Russia is expected to support the bloc’s expansion to counter the rising US global influence.
A key topic on the Russian agenda will also be boosting trade relations with South Africa, by increasing investment in the African country, according to Snegovaya.
“There is still quite an active economic cooperation unraveling between Russia and some South African companies and societies,” she said.
For Brazil, the summit is an opportunity to re-introduce itself as a serious world leader and further an autonomous foreign policy independent of the US influence.
According to CSIS’ Americas expert Ryan Berg, Brazil is expected to create a serious push for a new BRICS currency and the bloc’s expansion.
“Lula has been on a diplomatic world tour, where in every stop in the global south, he seems to mention his desire to move away from dollar dominance and move into doing trade in other types of currencies,” Berg said.
When it comes to BRICS’ expansion, however, Brazil’s President Lula is behind it. Still, he added that the country’s foreign ministry is against it as they are afraid of losing out on membership benefits due to expansion.
In its quest to become a serious world player again, Brazil is also expected to position itself as a mediator in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, although it has little sway in that part of the world.
According to Berg, Brazil may position itself as an agricultural powerhouse at the summit after Russia pulled out of the grain deal.
Overall, the South American country’s stance on the summit is “sort of imagery and fitting well within the foreign posture that Brazil takes to the world, heralding a start to a new multipolar era,” the Americas expert said.