BRICS announces 'historic' admission of six new members
August 24, 2023 08:11 PM
BRICS leaders announced on Thursday the "historic" admission of six new countries from next year as the club seeks to reshape the Western-led global order and expand its geopolitical influence.
The BRICS -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- agreed at their annual summit to make Argentina, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates full members from January 1.
"This membership expansion is historic," said Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose nation is the most powerful in the group of large and populous non-Western economies.
"The expansion is also a new starting point for BRICS cooperation. It will bring new vigour to the BRICS cooperation mechanism and further strengthen the force for world peace and development".
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed hailed what he called "a great moment" for his country, the second-most populous in Africa.
In Iran, senior presidential advisor Mohammad Jamshidi described the move as a "historic development and a strategic success" for Tehran's foreign policy.
Egypt and the UAE also broadcast their readiness to work with the loosely-defined group that represents billions of people on four continents and a quarter of the world's wealth.
While the announcement indicated all six countries would join, the Saudi response was non-committal on Thursday, with Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan telling Al-Arabiya television that Riyadh was "awaiting details" about the invitation and would "take the appropriate decision".
'Strength in diversity'
Calls to enlarge the BRICS dominated its annual summit in Johannesburg and exposed divisions over the rules for entry.
But the group, which makes decisions by consensus, agreed on the six nations after approving criteria for entry that were not made public following three days of bilateral talks and closed-door meetings.
It paves the way for future expansion of a disparate group of big and small economies that encompasses both the world's largest democracy and its largest authoritarian state.
"BRICS will continue to open to new members," said Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who personally advocated for the admission of Argentina.
Nearly two dozen countries had formally applied to join and about the same number have expressed interest from non-Western nations across the so-called Global South.
Some 50 world leaders attended the summit, underscoring what BRICS leaders say is the attractiveness of its message and growing relevance on the world stage.
Founded in 2009 and expanded the following year to include South Africa, the BRICS has risen to prominence at a time of intense geopolitical rivalry and analysts foreshadowed that its 15th summit could be pivotal.
China had been campaigning to rapidly grow the BRICS into a counterweight to the G7 group of wealthy democracies amid growing strategic competition with the United States.
US officials have played down the likelihood of BRICS emerging as a geopolitical rival, describing the bloc as a highly diverse grouping of both friends and rivals.
But despite differences, BRICS leaders expressed a shared belief that the Western-dominated global system did not serve developing nations, and an alternative was needed.
"Our diversity strengthens the fight for a new international order," said Lula.
BRICS leaders championed its New Development Bank as a fairer lender for emerging economies than US-based institutions like the World Bank, and advocated that local currencies replace the US dollar in trade among its members.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said an overhaul of the world's "outdated, dysfunctional, and unfair global financial architecture" was necessary "but it won't happen overnight".
"For multilateral institutions to remain truly universal, they must reform to reflect today's power and economic realities... In the absence of such reform, fragmentation is inevitable," he told leaders in Johannesburg.
Analysts said Brazil, South Africa and India would need to balance their proximity to China and Russia without alienating a strong trading partner in the United States.
The admission of oil-producing giants Iran, Saudi Arabia and UAE would boost the BRICS economic clout but some observers said Tehran's inclusion risked colouring the bloc an anti-American hue.
"Iran is a contentious addition, but I certainly think it was a demand from Russia," said Gustavo de Carvalho, senior researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs.
The summit in Johannesburg also underlined divisions with the West over the war in Ukraine, and the support Russia enjoys from its BRICS partners despite its global isolation.
South Africa, China and India have not condemned Russia's invasion while Brazil has refused to join Western nations in sending arms to Ukraine or imposing sanctions on Moscow.
Russia President Vladimir Putin, who is the subject of an international arrest warrant, was the only leader not present in Johannesburg and addressed the summit via video link.