The 15th summit of the BRICS held in Johannesburg elicited a momentous extension in its geopolitical landscape – six nations including Iran, Saudi Arabia, The United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Argentina were poised to join the ranks as its members from January 2024. This expansion, in essence, sheds light on the remarkable stride that BRICS has made, its influence now permeating across the strategic echelons of three continents: Asia, Africa and America – a feat that unquestionably signals a historical turning point for the BRICS collective. Evidently, these new entrants bestride across three key geographical swathes including West Asia, the North and Horn of Africa, and Latin America, fundamentally broadening the geographical outreach of the BRICS consortium.
BRICS, having established itself as an emblem for over 45% of the global populace and accounting for more than 30% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), presents an image of formidable power and diverse representation. Economic giants like China and India, the world’s most populous nations, underscore BRICS identity while the inclusion of the world’s four primary energy producers – Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE – bolsters its strategic might. The influence of other pivotal members like South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, and Ethiopia cannot be downplayed, their political and economic stature considerably amplifying the collective strength of the group.
The enactment of this expansion was hailed as “historic” by China’s president, Xi Jinping, further underscoring the unwavering commitment of the BRICS nations to a shared agenda of solidarity and progression. Despite his initial resistance, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi also acknowledged the merits of this move, recognizing its potential to bolster the faith of numerous countries in the multipolar world order.
The expansion at the Johannesburg summit, became a notable flashpoint between India and China. Numerous observers bought to light that such enlargement is congruent with China’s global policy portfolio. The member endorsements for addition primarily seemed to sway depending upon their unique political, economic and geopolitical agendas: Brazil opened the gateway for Argentina’s bridge to BRICS from Latin America, while Russia and China strongly advocated for the inclusion of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. South Africa welcomed the addition of Egypt and Ethiopia, thereby augmenting the African representation in the BRICS.
The 15th summit served as a platform for the BRICS leaders to voice their consensus against an international economic order that is predominantly governed by the US, advocating instead for a more multilateral global economic terrain with reduced American political influence. Despite the initial anticipation of setting forth clear BRICS membership criteria, one can conclude that this significant addition of six nations, evidently marks a quantum leap for BRICS, both on political and geographical fronts.
A few aspects notable in the compass of the newly inducted members include their geographical distribution, their influence in the energy sector and their political gravity. These elements act as a testament to BRICS’ political economic strategy.
Each nation brings in its own unique economic or political advantages. Take Ethiopia for instance – it sits at the Horn of Africa, enjoys an economic growth that is unparalleled across its African contemporaries and is cementing its engagement with several global associates and financial institutions after grappling with a ravaging two-year conflict. The International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s World Economic Outlook Report ranks Ethiopia as one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies. The report projected that Ethiopia’s GDP would grow by 13.5 percent to $126.2 billion in 2022. The nation sustains robust political and economic relationships with China, India, and Russia, making its inclusion in BRICS all the more meaningful in an era characterized by intensifying global competition for a stake in Africa.
Strategically poised at the juncture between Asia and Africa, Egypt, acknowledged as a transcontinental country, stands as Africa’s third largest economy. Furthermore, this country has carved its niche as a vital energy exporter to Europe, emerging as a supplementary source to Russia for the continent. Its role is speculated to dramatically influence the enduring developmental blueprint of Africa’s energy sector, not merely through the export of natural gas via pipelines, but also by expediting Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) supplies to saturate the European market. Yet, not overlooking the profound ties between Egypt and the duo of international powerhouses – China and Russia. Egypt, a long-standing ally of Moscow, is one of the prime consumers of Russian armament and a critical African base for the country.
In parallel, the significance of Cairo-Beijing relations surges in China’s Africa-engagement policy. China’s laser-focused long-term economic blueprint with Egypt is symbolized by the ‘China-Egypt TEDA Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone’, identifying Egypt as a key logistics hub across Africa. Positioned adjacent to the busy waters of the Suez Canal, this region serves as a manufacturing base for Chinese firms, enabling them to dispatch their products to African and European markets.
Despite grappling with domestic political turbulence and a deeply ensconced inflation issue, Argentina maintains its status as Latin America’s second-largest economy. Resisting US pressure, Argentina navigates its foreign policy by actively pursuing non-alignment and bolstering relations with China. Argentina’s ascension to BRICS membership was vouchsafed by close ally Brazil, although China’s role in this elevation cannot be overlooked. Do note that starting this year, Argentina commenced trading with China using yuan through currency swaps, displaying an adherence to the BRICS financial paradigm even before its official admission. According to BRICS’ geographical distribution strategy, no other Latin American nation could parallel Argentina’s appeal to the BRICS leadership.
In evaluating the BRICS inclusion of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, it is imperative to consider the political and geopolitical dimensions along with the energy-added value and enhancement of BRICS’ geo-economic strength. With these countries as primary global energy wellsprings, coupled with Saudi Arabia and the UAE being traditional allies of the United States in the Middle East and Iran being a regional and global critic of the United States’ policies, the BRICS political weight undeniably surges in an ever-evolving world.
China and Russia are recognized as the architects advocating for the admission of these energy-rich powerhouses into BRICS, but one cannot undermine the substantial value added by these countries for India, given their status as India’s political and economic partners in West Asia.
BRICS appears to harbor ambitions to augment the world energy producers within its realm in a bid to outmaneuver the anticipated shifts in global power dynamics. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed these sentiments by emphasizing the amplified capacity and capabilities BRICS has achieved with the inclusion of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, offering a preview into BRICS’ ambitious plans for the global energy market.
Essentially, the momentum for accreting new members into BRICS was born out of the considerable political and economic might these countries wielded. It appears an expansive queue of more than 15 countries, including nations like Turkey, Algeria, and Tunisia, are eagerly waiting at the BRICS precipice.
Ultimately, the conjectures surrounding BRICS’ aspirations to claim a more commanding role in global governance appear validated. The markers of geographical expansion and an escalating prowess in the energy market are indicative of BRICS’ increasingly dexterous management of global equations, potentially tipping the scales in their favor in the world’s political and geopolitical frays in the coming years.