Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed the “historic” expansion of the BRICS club of emerging economies at a summit in Johannesburg this week. But behind the fanfare, deep divides lurk within the bloc’s diverse membership.
The addition of six new states – Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Egypt, Iran, Turkey and the UAE – promises to boost BRICS as a counterweight to Western dominance, according to Xi. Yet the last-minute wrangling before the announcement betrayed tensions over how far the countries’ interests truly align.
Amid cancelled press conferences and a no-show by Brazilian President Lula, the hosts scrambled to broker a deal on new members. The surprise inclusion of a sixth nation, Iran, suggest backroom bartering until the final moments.
In his remarks, a video-linked Vladimir Putin took explicit aim at the U.S., decrying the threat posed by Western “neo-liberalism” to developing values. But none of the new member states are seen as fundamentally anti-American.
“This is not a group of anti-American states,” said expert Sarang Shidore. While the expansion marks a shift from U.S. dominance, “much more of a complementarity than a replacement” may emerge between the blocs.
So was the summit a triumph or a compromise? The artful diplomacy means all players can claim some victory. China expanded its club. Brazil keeps hopes of a BRICS currency alive. India balanced its U.S. ties. And South Africa hosted without a hitch.
But behind the handshakes and photo ops, wide gulfs remain on issues from Ukraine to human rights. If BRICS ultimately rips at the seams, leaders this week successfully plastered over the cracks. For now.