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Foreign Policy

Is Expanded BRICS an Anti-West Club?

Sep 08, 2023
  • Zhang Yun

    Associate Professor at National Niigata University in Japan, Nonresident Senior Fellow at University of Hong Kong

The highlight of the BRICS summit in South Africa was the admission of six new members — Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates — in the group’s first expansion since accepting South Africa in 2010.

Some international commentators sees this as the rise of a camp against the G7 that will result in further division and polarization in international politics. Still others believe the inclusion of countries such as Iran will add a thicker anti-American color to BRICS.

Does the BRICS expansion mean the emergence of an anti-West club? I don’t think so. Instead, it reveals the growing role of intermediate countries in international affairs and a great awakening of international political awareness.

First, as its combined economic size grows conspicuously, the BRICS grouping has become an important force in international politics, which is why it appeals to developing countries. Rather than worrying that an expanded BRICS might shock the international order now dominated by Europe and the United States, the West should ask why more than 20 countries are so eager to join. The total GDP of BRICS countries was only 8 percent of the world economy in 2000 but reached 26 percent in 2022. In contrast, the G7’s GDP dropped from 65 percent to 44 percent, and BRICS members now account for 40 percent of the global total. In PPP terms, BRICS GDP will account for 37 percent of the world total after bringing in the six new members — surpassing the G7.

From a population perspective, the G7 accounts for 10 percent, while the expanded BRICS will account for nearly half the global total. Meanwhile, developing countries’ dissatisfaction with climate change caused by emissions from developed nations, as well as with the protectionist policies and double standards they have employed since the dawn of the economic crisis, are also important reasons.

BRICS expansion does not mean the formulation of an anti-U.S. club, or the overthrow of the current global governance regime. Instead, BRICS wants reforms. As President Xi Jinping stressed in his speech at the summit, international rules should be written and preserved by all countries in accordance with the purpose and principles of the UN Charter, and BRICS countries should practice real multilateralism. The foreign minister of South Africa said it’s wrong to take BRICS expansion as an anti-West move.

Second, Iran’s becoming a BRICS member is another major development in international politics following its joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which gives the important Middle Eastern country a new identity in multilateral diplomacy.

For a long time, and for various reasons, Iran has had only limited opportunities to participate in multilateral diplomacy. It has never been a member of any regional multilateral organization except for the United Nations. Also, because of the long-term economic sanctions and political and diplomatic isolation imposed by the West, Iran has in a sense become an orphan in international politics, resulting in a stalemate in which the more the West isolates it, the more forcefully it pushes back.

The international community needs to provide such a country with more international platforms so that it has an opportunity to integrate, participate more in multilateral diplomacy, speak out and communicate and let various levels of Iranian officials and personnel have more opportunities for international exchanges.

Third, five of the six new members are located in the Middle East and North Africa. Of those, the memberships of Saudi Arabia and the UAE are especially important. They are traditionally steadfast U.S. allies, and their participation in BRICS does not mean they will forsake this traditional position. However, it does foreshadow more balanced stances as they edge toward breaking with the U.S. strategically.

Saudi Arabia hosted an international forum on Ukraine in Jeddah in August, with many Global South nations participating. This demonstrated the country’s ambition to become an intermediate country of influence. Neither of the two followed the U.S. desire that they forsake ties with Russia. Instead, they see Russia as an important member of OPEC. The UAE leader also attended the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. 

This round of BRICS expansion is further proof of the great awakening of major Middle East powers’ international political awareness, which will also further inspire Global South nations to get involved more deeply in international politics.

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