Great power conflict fuels BRICS expansion spurt – The Diplomat

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Shortly after Chinese President Xi Jinping highlighted the acceleration of the BRICS expansion process at the 14th BRICS leaders’ meeting in Beijing in late June, Iran and Argentina announced that they had submitted their official applications to join the group. Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, Senegal, United Arab Emirates, Thailand and other invited countries attended the BRICS foreign ministers’ meeting for the first time in May. All of these positive actions are clear indications that BRICS expansion is accelerating.

The main reasons for the expansion of the BRICS can be attributed to the following three points: first, the intense East-West confrontation; second, the deepening of “BRICS Plus” cooperation; and third, the demands of the “node” countries.

In the new context of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the intensification of Sino-American competition, the confrontation between East and West has become increasingly important. Both parties therefore want to expand the network of friends and partners, thus consolidating their camps. As emerging economies and major powers in the region, BRICS countries have a strong incentive to absorb other “node” countries with key strategic locations and booming economies to join the camp. The more intense the East-West confrontation, the stronger the impetus for BRICS expansion.

At the beginning of the creation of the BRICS, the meeting of foreign ministers was the main attraction, after which a declaration was issued. Although the BRICS was later transformed into a leaders’ summit, the practice of issuing statements after the meeting continued. It wasn’t until 2017, when China successfully hosted the BRICS summit in Xiamen and proposed a “BRICS Plus” cooperation mechanism, that the connotation of BRICS as something that could go beyond its five members has gradually become richer and clearer.

Another significant event was China’s donation of reserve funds to the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB). Subsequently, BRICS Plus cooperation gradually extended to areas such as economic and trade exchanges, political security, and people-to-people and cultural exchanges. Especially after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the BRICS countries launched a vaccine research and development center on March 22, 2022, leading BRICS Plus cooperation to a thorough development path.

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However, the continued expansion of BRICS Plus cooperation is inseparable from the support of regional states, especially “node” countries with considerable influence and important strategic positions in the region. Without the active participation of these node countries, BRICS Plus cooperation will lack a vast hinterland, which will make it difficult to sustain or become bigger and stronger. Therefore, many of the guest countries mentioned above are hub countries with clear national strengths and obvious locational advantages, such as Argentina and Indonesia. For these countries, being able to enjoy the rapid development of BRICS with the help of BRICS Plus cooperation is simply good business with big profits. Therefore, these countries are also willing to join the BRICS “family”.

Compared with the expansion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the BRICS expansion process seems to be taking bigger steps at a faster pace. For example, the SCO was very cautious when it started the expansion process, with only Iran, India and Pakistan becoming observer states at first. However, nine invited BRICS countries attended the foreign ministers’ meeting at the same time. Although an invited country is not yet an observer country, there is only one step to take.

Nevertheless, the road to BRICS expansion will not be easy. For example, it took 12 years for Iran, India and Pakistan to grow from SCO observer states in 2005 to India and Pakistan eventually becoming member states. in 2017. Iran will not start the acceptance process until 2021. Based on the timeline of India and Pakistan joining the SCO, Iran will not become a full member until 2023 at the earliest . It also reminds us that there are selection procedures and sequences in the evolution from observer states to full member states. Therefore, some of the invited countries mentioned above will definitely be given priority to enter the sequence of observer countries, and then the current BRICS members will select some countries from the observer countries to become member states. It will be a long journey that will require a lot of time and effort.

Moreover, the BRICS have not yet published regulations or legal procedures for expansion, and these heavy rules must be adopted by consensus. Only after all legal and transactional systems and procedures have been prepared at an early stage can expansion members be considered. It took six years for the SCO to accept the first observer state in the process of accepting new members. The BRICS don’t even have observer countries at present, so it will take more time.

It should be noted that the BRICS expansion may not be as complicated and time-consuming as the SCO expansion, as the BRICS NDB has already accepted countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Bangladesh and Egypt as members. Therefore, if the expansion process is carried out with reference to the acceptance procedures and existing members of BRICS NDB, the expansion of BRICS will be faster. Moreover, as Iran and Argentina have already applied for membership, the BRICS will have to unveil the procedures of the expansion process as soon as possible.

In general, BRICS expansion is supported by strong momentum and will progress gradually, but it will not happen overnight.

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