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Monday, October 2, 2023

BRICS member expansion a natural course


Su Yi, host, CGTN Radio

Expansion of the BRICS group will be high on the agenda of the bloc’s summit in South Africa. At least 20 countries, including Saudi Arabia, Argentina, and Egypt, are willing to join this group of developing countries and emerging economies. Although existing members may have different opinions over details, it is a natural course unlikely to reverse soon.

It is an inevitable trend because world politics and international relations are evolving in a manner that has not been seen since the end of the Cold War. The world today often reminds me of the days when I was a UN correspondent in New York City. Once you witness the cafes, canteens, computer rooms, and the rose garden filled with diplomats exchanging positions, one can assume that some complicated issues challenging the status quo are on the agenda of UN bodies.

This bears a resemblance to today’s world. The era defined by the expansion of multinationals and cross-border capital is ending. The changing landscape can be ultimately attributed to the dim prospects for global productivity growth. It has been argued that human society is in a transition phase between technological revolutions, and it could take 15 to 20 years before the current round of technological advances championed by artificial intelligence can boost productivity in scale. Countries that find it increasingly difficult to make the cake larger have resorted to protecting their shares and grabbing others. The global financial crisis in 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic have accelerated the downward spiral.

Consequently, primarily driven by their domestic troubles, the champions of the globalization drive since the late years of the Cold War, particularly the United States, are proactively retreating from the process they have led for decades. They are pulling back overseas investment, rekindling the manufacturing sector, creating near-shore supply chains, and hyping bloc confrontation to edge out competitors. Developing countries have borne the brunt of this decoupling and de-globalization tendency. The fluctuating U.S. dollar is holding back post-pandemic recovery. Developing countries also lack sufficient development aid. Their traditional trade routes are disrupted. Their technological advances and green transformation are impeded by weaker global cooperation.

All this has left the less-developed members of the international community not much choice but to take care of their interests. They either try to protect the traditional economic modes by loudly advocating the status quo centered on multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund or rush to find alternatives, including new trade routes, new trade partners, and new settlement currencies. This explains the unexpected events in the global arena in recent years, including Saudi Arabia hosting mediators of the Ukraine conflict, an increasing number of developing countries taking a neutral stance on the Ukraine crisis, and the re-shuffling of major powers and alliances in the Middle East.

All in all, an actual multipolar world is unequivocally taking shape. Pretty much like my observations at the UN headquarters, it is only natural for medium and large-sized developing countries and emerging economies to find a platform to exchange ideas, coordinate their policy stances, and forge new partnerships.

What’s better than BRICS? In the short term, BRICS can provide alternative trade routes and development opportunities. The BRICS has its own development bank – the New Development Bank. Apart from founding members Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, it has been joined by Bangladesh, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. Uruguay is in the process of joining the NDB, while Saudi Arabia is in talks to become a member.

In the long run, the group advocates multilateralism, globalization, and better representation of the Global South in global governance. The group comprises countries that usually face similar development issues; thus, it is easier for them to pool wisdom over emerging challenges such as the ones from digital technologies and climate change. Besides, the group never intended to replace established bodies like the G7. Honestly, BRICS lacks the institutional arrangement and political will to be a power bloc. The interests of member states are diverse geopolitical-wise. It is a long tradition for the major countries of the Global South to adopt a nonalignment and non-interfering foreign policy. BRICS will not cause an either-or dilemma for potential members.

No one can stop the expansion of BRICS. The bloc’s growth is a simple matter of when and how.

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