Did the South African BRICS summit achieve its goals?

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Last Friday, the curtain fell on the meetings of the 15th edition of the BRICS group, which South Africa hosted from 22-24 August.

Before the summit, discussions were about an agenda that included 3 main elements:

  • Expanding the BRICS circle.
  • Breaking the dominance of the US dollar in trade payments between member states.
  • Strengthening an emerging international system to break the hegemony of the Western world order.

Despite divisions among BRICS members over geopolitical issues, there is an emerging consensus that the international order isn’t functioning according to the aspirations of the countries of the South, and that a new order is needed.

The recent BRICS summit was noticeable on three levels;

First, the gathering gained significant new momentum with the invitation of six new members, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

BRICS achieved one of the most prominent points on its agenda, but so far it doesn’t seem that all the countries invited to membership have actually agreed to join.

Saudi Arabia, for example, has said that it will consider the issue of its invitation.

In a report, on Saturday, the American Institute for Peace Research, said in an analytical study that the BRICS summit achieved its goals, but it’s ignorant of the consequences of these goals on the future of the bloc, especially with regard to expanding membership and the dispersion of geopolitical consensus among members.

This expansion pushes the BRICS further from its region of origin as a group of major emerging economies, and builds on the recent interest in the Global South, as a potential cohesive bloc in international affairs.

However, the BRICS has added geographic, economic and ideological diversity that may make it more divided.

Especially since each member has its own interests with the West, while other members, such as China and Russia, are looking to break the hegemony of the West and strengthen the clash with it.

China and Russia see BRICS as leverage for an alternative world vision of the transatlantic order, but India and Brazil are more interested in an updated version of non-alignment.

India and Brazil don’t want to take sides in a new competition with the West.

With the exception of Iran, most potential new members will have no interest in weakening their economic and security ties with key Western partners.

Although it wasn’t officially included on the agenda of the summit, “de-dollarization” was a priority issue for many BRICS countries and dozens of other countries present.

The most prominent leader who stressed ending the dominance of the US dollar during the summit, was Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was most affected globally by this hegemony, especially after the war on Ukraine.

Russia has been banned for a year and a half from accessing the global transfer Swift system, amid Western restrictions on entering the US dollar as a currency for payments in Russia, thus undermining its efforts to pay its dues abroad in US currency.

On two occasions during the summit, Putin said, “Abandoning the dollar as a global currency is an irreversible process,” adding that the BRICS countries are discussing the transition to dealing in local currencies in all areas of economic cooperation between them.

Some member states have suggested that the BRICS group create its own currency to reduce dependence on the US dollar, but most observers believe that this isn’t viable.

What is more likely than what was discussed during the summit is that they continue the trend of trading in their local currencies rather than using the US dollar.

The BRICS Bank already lends in Chinese yuan and announced last week that it would also do so in South African and Brazilian currencies to provide these currencies for trade payments.

In the context of the “anti-hegemonic” struggle that Chinese President Xi Jinping is openly talking about, BRICS is playing an increasingly important role in initiating a new world order.

This may be one of the most discussed issues, both by China and Russia, and even by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres.

However, it’s not the case for other economies such as Brazil, and the majority of invited members, such as Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt, who have their own interests and strong alliances with the West.

The invited members are aware that their choice wasn’t a mere coincidence to join, as each country is important in favor of the inauguration of a new world order, but the most important question is, do the current and new members carry this goal with the same determination?

For Beijing, this shift isn’t just about legitimacy and leadership in the developing world.

In part, it’s about assembling an alliance that rejects Western and US leadership in the international system, rhetorically and in practice, and marshalling financial and diplomatic resources behind it.

It’s also partly about building a global economic and security framework for Chinese interests that is flexible in the context of the set of conflicting relations with the Group of Seven that Beijing expects.

However, countries such as Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt are looking to strengthen their economies away from any clash with the West, particularly with the Group of Seven, because that means that they may pay an exorbitant bill.

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