China wants BRICS to get bigger

Aug 21, 2023, 11:44am EDT
REUTERS/James Oatway
Karina Tsui/

China is eager to expand the BRICS bloc of developing economies — countries representing 40% of the world population — to rival the G-7.

Beijing’s agenda was reported ahead of a summit convening BRICS members and representatives from more than 60 states and governments in Johannesburg starting Tuesday.

Expanding the bloc will be a challenge for members with conflicting interests1 , the New York Times reports — especially when some states are keen to remain friendly with the West. China and Russia see expanding BRICS as a way to counter Western isolation, while New Delhi, which has territorial disputes with Beijing and has recently established closer ties with Washington, is hesitant to allow China to dominate the club. Brazil and South Africa, the other two members, want close ties with Russia and China, but fear isolation from the U.S.

The criteria for joining BRICS are ill-defined2 , and under China’s influence, appear to prioritize anti-West motivation rather than embracing the economic interests of developing states. Iran, Belarus, and Venezuela — China and Russia’s allies — are part of the group queueing up to join the bloc, The Financial Times reported. Saudi Arabia, Argentina, and Indonesia have also been vying to become members since South Africa joined the bloc in 2010. But a country's entry to BRICS has to be backed by all five member states. Some requirements, like a minimum population or gross domestic product, may also be part of the deliberations.

BRICS is more about optics and rhetoric than substance, and any organization that includes India and China — who “hate each other”3 — can’t be effective, opined Eric Olander of the China Global South Project on China in Africa podcast. But in the “world of diplomacy” optics are just as significant as the substance, argued Emmanuel Matambo from the Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg. The developing countries want to show that they “have alternatives to Western laid development perspectives and platforms” and look to BRICS members as offering a template to do that, Matambso said. The queue to get into BRICS reveals these countries’ lack of excitement and expectation when “dealing mostly with what the West has to offer one nowadays,” said Cobus van Staden, a researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs.


BRICS Leaders Summit Preview, The China Global South Project