Brics expansion will be the focus when leaders of the 17-year-old grouping meet for a summit in South Africa next week, and the five member states have yet to agree on the issue. China is the main proponent of an aggressive push to expand the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to make the grouping a counterpoint to Western dominance in world affairs. It is supported in these efforts by Russia, which is currently facing diplomatic isolation due to the war in Ukraine.
BRICS: The introduction of a common currency
With the exception of Russian President Vladimir Putin, other Brics leaders will meet in Johannesburg from August 22-24 for the 15th Brics summit, which is also expected to address the contentious issue of the introduction of a common currency. There are gaps between the five members. Putin, who faces an international arrest warrant for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, is scheduled to take part in a video conference.
The Indian side’s biggest concern about the expansion is that Brics should not become a China-centric grouping, especially at a time when relations between Delhi and Beijing are at their lowest point due to the military standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
As talk of Brics expansion gained traction over the past year, the Indian side sought to focus on changes that would give the grouping more weight and cohesion. “There was a need to streamline Brics processes and work on certain existing mechanisms that lead to duplication. Unlike other groupings, Brics still does not have a fixed secretariat,” the second person said.
Working on those issues would put the basic building blocks in place before any expansion, the people said. They added that it is also unclear what process is used to identify countries interested in joining Brics.
“There have been cases where a country has sent an inquiry to join Brics and this has been considered a request,” the second person said.
External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi recently said “India was approaching the issue with a very positive mind and a positive framework while rejecting suggestions that the country was opposed to Brics expansion, discussing the main principles, standards, criteria and procedures for the Brics expansion process through full consultation and consensus”.
The creation of a common currency, which was first discussed in April by the Deputy Speaker of the Russian Parliament, Alexander Babavov, is also seen as a non-starter, especially since the trade settlement in the national currencies of the member states is yet to take off. In addition, there are concerns that the common currency is being dominated by the yuan, the people said.
Harsh V Pant, vice president of foreign policy at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), said India was walking a fine line in the expansion process. If the expansion is driven by China, it will reinforce the perception in India that Beijing’s interest is not in working together to find a bigger voice for emerging players, but rather in making Brics a platform that is anti-American in orientation and shape.