BRICS Should Hasten Membership Expansion, Says China’s Xi Jinping

The Chinese leader has used the annual gathering of emerging market powers to call for more nations to join the five-nation group

Photo: Michele Spatari/Bloomberg
By Bloomberg News
August 23, 2023 | 07:20 AM

Bloomberg — President Xi Jinping called on the BRICS bloc of emerging markets to fasttrack a plan to expand its members at a summit in South Africa, as China leads a push to give the group more clout on the world stage.

“I am glad to see growing enthusiasm from developing countries about participating in BRICS,” Xi said in a speech at the event on Wednesday. The bloc should “accelerate the BRICS expansion process to bring more countries into the BRICS family,” he added.

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The Chinese leader has used the annual gathering of emerging market powers to call for more nations to join the five-nation BRICS group that currently includes Russia, India and Brazil, as well as the summit’s host South Africa. Some 20 nations have formally applied to join the grouping — these are reported to include Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Egypt.

Going into the summit, there was some disagreement over the plan, and how it should be executed. While South Africa and Russia backed the addition of new members, Brazil was worried about alienating the West. India was wary of the group becoming a mouthpiece for China, as the world’s second-largest economy tries to bolster the bloc to counter the Group of Seven nations and challenge the US-led world order.

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Xi’s push appeared to have made some progress after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he “fully supported” expanding the bloc, if all members agreed, during a speech at the summit on Wednesday. The Indian leader’s shift in rhetoric appeared to hand his nation’s neighbor and long-time rival a surprise win: Relations between Beijing and New Delhi have been tense since a deadly brawl on their shared Himalayan frontier in 2020.

“India fully supports the expansion of BRICS membership and we welcome moving forward based on consensus,” Modi said. Shortly after, Xi added that an expanded BRICS would “make global governance more equitable.”

Xi and Modi were expected to hold their first meeting since 2019 along the sidelines of the event in South Africa, but neither side had announced such an exchange by the time of their public comments on Wednesday.

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President Xi also used his trip to South Africa to sound an upbeat note on the country’s $18 trillion economy, despite its recent slowdown.

In remarks read out by Chinese commerce minister Wang Wentao at a BRICS business forum on Tuesday, Xi said China’s economy had “strong resilience, tremendous potential and great vitality.” The Chinese leader had been slated to deliver the comments in person, but skipped the event without explanation before appearing at a leaders’ dinner hours later.

China added to the confusion Wednesday by insisting Xi did give the speech. “Yesterday afternoon, President Xi Jinping delivered a speech to the business forum,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing in Beijing. “I just want to stress, the summit will be a complete success.”

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--With assistance from Sudhi Ranjan Sen.