The presence of PM Modi at the 2023 BRICS Summit proved to be an effective counter to what was expected to be the overwhelming influence of Xi Jinping.
It is a relief that there has not been a demand from the G-7 that President Zelenskyy be invited to the BRICS Summit that has just concluded in Johannesburg. It would be a measure of diplomatic finesse on the part of the G7 were such a demand to also remain unsaid where the forthcoming G-20 Summit is concerned. Given the South Africa precedent, President Vladimir Putin will join the forthcoming summit only virtually if at all, given that his physical presence would convert the conference into a cacophony of recriminations. The British delegation, in particular, has from the start of the Ukraine-Russia conflict in February 2022 been particularly anxious to demonstrate a complete absence of the calm and understatement that so many in the UK claim as their special trait. In the UNSC, the British delegation has been even more “frank” (to use diplomatese) than the US side, although neither can compare with the histrionics of that perpetual Special Invitee, the Ukrainian delegation. If there was ever a time when the UNSC was taken to be a serious and significant forum, ever since the repeated meetings on Ukraine, its proceedings have taken on the characteristics of a circus. Along the way, the G-7 has lost much of the goodwill that countries within the group had accumulated in the populations of those countries that are not situated on both sides of the North Atlantic. There is a perception that all that the Europeans and the Europhiles on the other side of the North Atlantic care about is themselves. Or in other words, about those who are either European or of European ethnicity, specifically Ukraine. After a hiatus, the perception that the world is divided into the West and the Rest has returned, with practically the entire “Rest” unable to understand the fixation of the West on a country in Europe that is of strategic value only in the advent of a kinetic war with the Russian Federation. Small wonder that the Kremlin has become obsessed about the worry that NATO was going to do what it had avoided doing throughout the period when the USSR was around, which was to launch a war with Russia. The more the western resources and manpower that gets thrown into the quagmire that the Ukraine conflict had from the start been for the West, the greater the sense of a double standard in the rest of the world. In the US, a new crop of Republican leaders has been making their presence felt, of which Vivek Ramaswamy has been the most forthright. If elected President of the US, he says his first mission would be to go to Moscow and try and wean the Russian Federation away from the primary danger to the democracies, which is the People’s Republic of China. As the 2024 Presidential election comes closer, the rising popularity of such a stand within US voters may perhaps even seep through the doors of the White House, which is presently throwing in a substantial amount of taxpayer dollars into the all-consuming fire that the conflict on Russia’s borders has become for NATO, an organisation that in its present form at least, has outlived its utility. The memo that the PRC is, in a much more potent form, the challenge to the US that the USSR was until the 1980s seems to have been misplaced on its way to the Oval Office. Included in the collateral damage that this has caused is a sharp diminution in the trust and therefore loyalty of several countries that the US had previously firmly had in its corner.
Several of converts to mild or serious strains of Westphobia have indicated their desire to join BRICS, a group in which neither side of the North Atlantic plays any role. Indeed, the effort by Putin and Xi is to refashion BRICS as a counter to the numerous post-1945 structures that continue to be dominated by the West. Had the two been successful in bringing Brasilia, Pretoria and New Delhi to their point of view, BRICS would have expanded not by just six additional members but by more than a dozen. Smuggling in bloc politics in the name of moving away from such games has been the PRC effort, but given the convention of unanimity, Xi joined by Putin was not able to get their way except on members that were approved for inclusion in January 2024 by the other three members of BRICS. The three, India, South Africa and Brazil ( unlike Russia and ) are part of the Global South, as are four of the six new BRICS members, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE by virtue of their wealth being part of the Global North, in contrast to Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina and Iran. Of the six, only Iran is Westphobic, partly out of its clerical rulers and partly out of the reaction caused by the tearing up of the Obama-era pact between Iran and the US that set guardrails on that country’s nuclear program. It was an agreement that was more generous to the other side than to Iran, but for the “All or Nothing” President Trump, it was not good enough to retain. Instead of his subsequent “Maximum Pressure” policy cutting back Iran’s nuclear program, it has expanded to a level that the Obama-era agreement was designed to delay, if not avoid. Given that none of the new members of BRICS are within the PRC sphere of influence (except Iran by default), it is unlikely that Beijing would be able to exercise the degree of control over an expanded BRICS that Washington has long had over the World Bank and the IMF. Even as debts to accumulate to unrepayable levels, the nightmare facing Beijing is that several countries may simply repudiate that debt, especially if they were able to garner support from countries opposed to PRC expansionism in such a move. In the past, the PRC poured money into the pockets of influential US citizens through various channels in order to ensure policies suitable to itself, only to watch that investment go up in smoke once President Trump calculated in 2017 that taking measures against was not a vote loser but a vote enhancer.
The presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the 2023 BRICS Summit in Johannesburg proved to be an effective counter to what was expected to be the overwhelming influence of Xi Jinping. With the possible exception of Iran, which is still smarting over the cutting off by India of oil purchases as a response to the Trump sanctions, the other five countries that will in four months become members of BRICS (or BRICS Plus, as the group has been renamed) are friends of India, especially the UAE, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with Indonesia expected to follow soon. Despite the presence in the group of Russia, and Iran, BRICS Plus cannot be termed anti-West or Sino-centric. Often in diplomacy, something that does not happen is equally if not more significant than something that has happened. BRICS in its new form will not change, it will remain a bloc-neutral platform. At the same time, inspired untruths (such as that India was opposed to BRICS expansion) were promptly shot down by the MEA. All in all, the 2023 BRICS Summit has been a win for India and the rest of the Global South.