China urges BRICS expansion at Summit of emerging economies

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to leaders from the BRICS group of emerging economies at the start of a three-day summit in Johannesburg, South Africa via videoconference from Moscow, Aug. 22, 2023. [AP Photo]

China on Tuesday threw its weight behind plans to expand the loosely defined BRICS club of large emerging economies, which is seeking to assert its political and economic clout on the global stage.

The BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which represent a quarter of the global economy, are meeting for three days, and interest in joining the group has surged.

In a speech read on his behalf by his Commerce Minister Wang Wentao at the start the BRICS summit in South Africa, President Xi Jinping said "hegemonism is not in China's DNA."

He said the talks taking place in Johannesburg were not aimed at "asking countries to take sides, or creating bloc confrontation, rather to expand the architect of peace and development."

"Whatever resistance there may be, BRICS, a positive and stable force for good will continue to grow," he said. "We will forge a stronger BRICS strategic partnership, … actively advance membership expansion," and "help make the international order more just and equitable."

China is the BRICS most powerful economy, and Xi's state visit to South Africa, just his second international trip this year, comes as Beijing pushes to rapidly expand the group's membership.

Divisions over Ukraine war

But the U.S. does not see BRICS "as evolving into some kind of geopolitical rival to the United States," said Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser.

Washington will forge ahead with "strong positive relationships we have with Brazil, India and South Africa," he said adding "we will continue to manage our relationship with China, and we will continue to push back on Russia's aggression."

The summit in Johannesburg has underscored divisions with the West over the war in Ukraine and the support Russia enjoys from its other BRICS partners at a time of global isolation.

South Africa, China and India have not condemned Russia's invasion, and Brazil has refused to join Western nations in sending arms to Ukraine or imposing sanctions on Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is the target of an international arrest warrant over alleged war crimes in Ukraine, did not attend in person and addressed the summit via pre-recorded video.

He blamed sanctions for seriously affecting the global economic situation through the "violation of all the basic norms and rules of free trade and economic life."

'Equal footing'

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva are also at the talks where some 50 other leaders have been invited.

Representing 40 percent of the world's population, and democratic and authoritarian states at varying levels of economic growth, the BRICS nations share a common desire for a global order they see as better reflecting their interests and rising clout.

BRICS is also championing its own development bank as an alternative to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, and proposals to reduce the use of the U.S. dollar in global trade.

"We want to sit at the negotiating table on an equal footing with the European Union, the United States or any other country," Lula said in a social media post on Tuesday.

The theme of its 15th summit is "BRICS and Africa" and comes as the continent emerges as a renewed diplomatic battleground with the United States, Russia and China jostling for influence.

The bloc began as four nations in 2009 but expanded the following year with the addition of South Africa.

Officials say more than 40 countries have shown interest in joining from across the Global South, a broad term referring to nations outside the West.

Like the BRICS themselves, these countries run the gamut and include traditionally non-aligned nations like Indonesia and others that are openly hostile to the United States and its allies, like Iran.