The Sun (Malaysia)
BRICS set to grow more clout
THE five-nation BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) met in South Africa on Aug 23 amid Western media disparagement of the grouping and aspersions cast on whether the “hodgepodge” of nations it represents would amount to any kind of force in international economy and politics.
The fact that its two prominent members, India and China, have been in a protracted frontier dispute has long provided grist for Western media to play up the scenario that the two nations would never be able to work together and to argue as to why BRICS would fail.
Doubts still exist
However, BRICS 15 was not only a success despite the cold water poured on it by the West and supporters from a few non-West countries.
Today, BRICS is the hottest geopolitical club in the world, with six countries now joining the pioneering five, and more members in the pipeline to make it the most important economic and political group since the days of the Non-Aligned Movement.
The six new members are Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Argentina and Ethiopia.
Meanwhile, another 16 countries have applied to join the economic bloc. They include Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Honduras, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Nigeria, Palestine, Senegal, Thailand, Venezuela and Vietnam.
Further, at the time of writing, Afghanistan, Angola, Comoros, DR Congo, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Uganda, Uruguay and Zimbabwe had expressed interest in BRICS membership.
The economic clout of the current 11 current members can be seen in their combined weight in the global economy. Amounting to US$30.76 trillion (RM143 trillion) in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) terms or close to one-third of the world’s total GDP, the enlarged grouping includes several key stake players and stakeholders in international trade, commerce and economics.
The inclusion of Saudi Arabia, Iran and the UAE is a potential game changer in the oil and natural gas industries, which play a key role as the world’s leading source of primary fuel and byproducts ranging from pharmaceuticals and healthcare to fertilisers, detergents and plastic.
It has been estimated that the enlarged BRICS will control 80% of world oil production.
Aside from its role in influencing oil economics, the enlarged BRICS is likely to play a role in reshaping the geopolitics of the Middle East and beyond.
The economic and geopolitical reverberations of the enlarged BRICS can already be seen in the new attention given to its impact on the US dollar and currency markets, the possibility of de-dollarisation, alternatives to current development financing and developments in other economic sectors.
Attraction to new members
New members from small developing countries are applying to join BRICS for two reasons:
1. The first relates to their inability to make progress in their economies, especially under the International Monetary Fund and World Bank economic reform regimes. BRICS is seen as providing more generous financing, access to larger markets and freer economic policy-making that would spur economic growth and reduce poverty more effectively. These potential gains are especially alluring to developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America that have suffered from the “small carrot and big stick” approach of the IMF’s structural adjustment and austerity programmes.
2. The second relates to the metamorphosis of BRICS from an economic platform, which was its initial objective when the bloc first emerged, to the one now in which restructuring of the world’s political and governance structure has become an equally, if not, more important objective.
Its ambitions were crystallised 10 years ago, in 2014, in a declaration issuing that: “We are ready to explore new areas towards a comprehensive cooperation and a closer economic partnership to facilitate market interlinkages, financial integration, infrastructure connectivity as well as people-to-people contacts.” (Fortaleza Declaration)
Today, although not fully articulated in the official communique at the Johannesburg Summit, the enlarged BRICS is driven by a common vision of a more equitable, balanced, just and representative global political, economic and financial system.
The fact that politics and economics are more inextricably intertwined now than before has been brought home in the recent wars waged by the US and its allies in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan.
US-led Western dominance and interference in the internal affairs of countries continues as can be seen in the economic war and sanctions waged by the US and the West against Russia,
China, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela and other nations not subscribing or agreeing with the current system of US devised self-defined “rules-based international order”.
Current developments in Niger, Gabon and other African nations are a reminder that Western neocolonialism is the biggest threat to the true independence of many developing nations.
The bloc and alliance the enlarged BRICS is putting in place is not simply one to help each other economically and technologically.
It is one with a complementary objective to counter and fight the richer nations of the West and allies and their hegemony of the world system and control exercised over small nations that have to rely on their resources.
This explains the continuous attempts by the US and its allies through the media to denigrate BRICS.
In the near future, we can expect the opponents of BRICS to not only look for openings to exploit its frailties but also to dissuade new members from joining and attempt to undermine it through covert and underhand means.
Malaysia and Indonesia’s stance
There is little doubt that the enlarged BRICS will welcome participation by Asean member countries to provide it with greater economic heft and make for a stronger multipolar grouping. For now, Thailand and Vietnam have applied.
Malaysia has remained on the sidelines and is holding a watching brief on whether it is to its national advantage to join. This position appears to be similar to Indonesia’s.
President Jokowi, who attended the meeting, has stated that Indonesia will be studying the membership as it did not want to rush into it.
At the same time, Jokowi, during the BRICS-Africa Outreach and BRICS Plus Dialoguet, urged developing nations to unite and assert their rights.
He highlighted countering trade discrimination, removing hindrances to industrial downstream and promoting equitable and inclusive cooperation as crucial aspects to work on, and emphasised that the current unfair global economic order resulted in a growing disparity between developing and other nations.
According to Jokowi, “BRICS has the potential to lead in promoting development justice and reshaping a more equitable global governance”.
Should Malaysia and Indonesia join the enlarged BRICS, this could be a game-changer in not only regional but also global economics and politics.
“Today, BRICS is the hottest geopolitical club in the world, with six countries now joining the pioneering five, and more members in the pipeline to make it the most important economic and political group since the days of the Non-Aligned Movement.