By Erika Gimenez *
On Thursday, June 1, the BRICS Foreign Ministers Summit was held in Cape Town. South African Minister Naledi Pandor met with her counterparts, Vice Minister MA Zhaoxu of China, Minister Mauro Vieira of Brazil, Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia and Minister Subrahmanyan Jaishankar of India. The strategic association between the BRICS, the institutional evolution of this association and the preparations for the XV summit of the quintet to be held between August 22 and 24, were the topics discussed.
The BRICS are an alliance for trade and financing made up of countries that, in addition to China as a global power, are regional powers. Taking into account the importance and growth on the international stage, countries such as Argentina, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Türkiye and 15 other countries expressed their interest in joining the bloc.
Taking into account this stage of growth and expansion of the group, a meeting of “BRICS friends” was also held with the participation of authorities from Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Comoros, Gabon and Kazakhstan, Egypt, Argentina, Bangladesh, Guinea-Bissau and Indonesia.
As expected, the war in Ukraine was present among the discussed issues, although from a very different position from what was expressed at the last Group of Seven (G7) summit. The latter, in addition to demonstrating political decadence, proposes sanctions targeting only an “enemy”, but these sanctions are inapplicable given the new geopolitical world map. With Moscow being a founding partner of the BRICS, it is clear that India, China, Brazil, South Africa and China were not going to support sanctions against Russia. In principle, because they do not consider that this is a way out of the Ukrainian conflict and, and also, because the commercial and strategic ties of these countries with Moscow are essential.
West against Moscow
One of the Western speculations in South African territory is the role of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which in March of this year issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, accusing him of deporting Ukrainian children in the framework of the Special Military Operation in Ukraine. Similar to various countries around the world, the Russian government does not recognize the ICC. Hence the decision was considered null and void. Although South Africa adheres to the International Court, it requested immunity for the BRICS leaders during the meeting next August, understanding that the ICC was only an intention to condition the next BRICS meeting.
It is important to point out that an organization like the ICC in the African territory has a specific importance due to its intervention in causes such as the genocide in Rwanda, apartheid in South Africa, among others. On the other hand, it is not only Russia that does not adhere to the said court. China, the United States and 60 other countries take the same stance.
Among the most outstanding statements by the South African authorities was the interview on the BBC with the Secretary General of the African National Congress, Fikile Mbalula, because the Atlanticist media wanted to impose the narrative of the danger of Putin’s freedom in South Africa during his visit in the next BRICS meeting. The official’s response was: “We will welcome President Putin. We will welcome him to come here as an integral part of the BRICS, but we know that we are constrained by the ICC in terms of doing so. Putin is a head of state. Do you think a head of state can be arrested anywhere, how many crimes has the UK committed in Iraq?” Mbalula said.
Regarding this issue, the ministers closed the summit in Cape Town with a document stating that they observe “the negative influence that unilateral positions contradicting International Law have on the world economy”. And they noted, “the situation is getting more complicated more with the application of unilateral measures of economic coercion, specifically, sanctions, boycotts, embargoes and blockades”.
Brazil and Argentina in the BRICS
At the same time as the summit of Foreign Ministers was held, a meeting was held in Shanghai, China between the Argentine Minister of Economy, Sergio Massa and the head of the New Development Bank (NDB), Dilma Rousseff due to the interest of Argentina that the entity grants it financing to face its currency crisis.
It is true that Brazil and Argentina have certain similarities in terms of productive potential in what they can propose to the group, although the Brazilian government is currently stronger and also shows significant representation within the bloc: It is a full member, since its creation and it is one of the 10 most important economies in the world due to the volume of its GDP.
Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was elected in March as head of the BRICS development and promotion entity. Currently for China, Brazil is also the largest trade partner in Latin America, representing 35.3% of its trade with the region. Exports from China to Brazil reached 412,810 million Yuan in 2022, which represents a year-on-year increase of 19.3%.
Brazil supports Argentina to join the BRICS bank first, as confirmed by Dilma Rousseff to Sergio Massa, since at the next meeting in August the entity enabled the possibility of voting for Argentina’s entry into the financial institution. An incorporation that will be defended by Brazil, China and India.
In addition to the word of Brazil, during the tour the Argentine entourage had the support of China. The president of the People’s Assembly, Zhao Leji, told Cecilia Moreau, president of the Chamber of Deputies and Máximo Kirchner, deputy, that the Asian giant will promote Argentina’s entry into the BRICS.
On the other hand, Ambassador Dinesh Bhatia spoke on behalf of India, who maintained that “regarding Argentina’s desire to join the BRICS, India has extended its support” and added: “Once they make a decision and define parameters, countries wishing to join the BRICS will surely be invited to the debate”.
For Argentina, entering the bank would be important to have a possibility of alternative financial assistance, because like other countries interested in joining the bloc, the BRICS represent a counterweight to the adjustment system of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). So, in times of crisis, the peripheral economies may not depend only on the World Bank or the IMF.
The Argentine case is one of the examples to analyze what the BRICS mean today in the world: An alternative to the prevailing inequality. Will the bloc be able to meet expectations? Beyond hopes, this is something that only history will assess.
Erika Gimenez has a degree in Social Communication from the National University of La Plata, a Diploma in Chinese Strategic Studies from UNDEF. She is part of the PIA Global team.