BRICS: great power politics and the balancing act

By Dr. Aparaajita Pandey

Asia-Pacific is abuzz with political activity and as BRICS nations gather virtually for their fourteenth summit; it is natural that all eyes are on them. While the arbitrary conglomeration between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa has been repeatedly written off in obsolescence; it managed not only to survive but also to make progress in South-South cooperation. One could say that the BRICS goal was to provide an alternative narrative to global institutions like the IMF and World Bank which are dominated by Western nations and can often be seen as less than fair in their dealings with the developing world.

Most certainly, the BRICS are not the most obvious grouping and have enough internal obstacles that impede their collaboration, and this session of the BRICS session comes with additional geopolitical pressure. The proverbial big-power politics is alive and well; Russia, the United States and China are involved in different permutations and combinations; and as India tries to maintain its strategic autonomy, a massive diplomatic balancing act must be skillfully executed. The BRICS summit itself, however, is more than just a geopolitical balancing act towards broader momentum. The objectives of the fourteenth BRICS summit are themed to usher in a “new era of global governance”.

As US global dominance fades, the indicators that the world is preparing for the assimilation of new systems of global trade and governance are clear, and the BRICS countries are poised to be the forerunners of this change. As the ruble has become the strongest of the BRICS currencies, discussions are underway to steer trade deals towards alternative financial systems. Explore paths that are not dominated by Western countries and the United States mainly.

More importantly, the BRICS are an opportunity for Beijing and Moscow to control the narrative and combat their growing isolation. After the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Russia saw the imposition of sanctions from the west but found some support in continuing strategic relations with India and implicit support from China. For China, the BRICS are a forum to counter the growing presence of Western countries in Asia-Pacific. China had shown its distrust and dislike of the QUAD when it dubbed it Asia – NATO, even though the QUAD is nowhere comparable to the collective military alliance. At the same time, Beijing has also grown weary of the recent IPEF or Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. The recently launched IPEF came under scrutiny as upon review it was found that although the IPEF was presented as a primarily economic forum for Asia Pacific and some Latin American countries; the financial and commercial terms of the framework are not quite close to those of economic networks and it is becoming increasingly clear that the logic of IPEF is much more strategic than economic. Asia-Pacific is gradually becoming a geographic hotspot for multilateral forums of all kinds; with QUAD, AUKUS, and now IPEF; China was waiting for an opportunity to project its own “team player” qualities and the BRICS provided such an opportunity.

BRICS has also proven to be a tricky situation for India. As India tries to maintain a difficult balance in its external relations; he had to abstain from voting against Russia at the UNSC and UNGA, host foreign ministers and prime ministers from a plethora of countries, be part of the QUAD summit and now be part of the BRICS; all in quick succession from each other while maintaining strategic autonomy. While India was clear not to engage in anti-Russian dialogue during the QUAD, it also made it clear that India would protest against any anti-American dialogue during the BRICS summit. Such adherence to realpolitik is laudable and difficult to maintain when juggling countries like the United States, Russia and China.

BRICS summits attract criticism every year from academics who think the BRICS is a redundant forum on the verge of extinction; however, every year it keeps up. Argentina’s growing interest in becoming a member of the BRICS, possibly transforming them into the BRICSA, should be taken as an indication of the growing confidence of the Global South in the BRICS itself or in the scenario of a reality post-dollar multipolar.

(The author is an independent political strategist and holds a PhD in Latin American Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University. The views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproduction of this content without permission is prohibited).

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