China will host the 14th BRICS Summit on Thursday in what analysts see as a chance for Beijing to promote its governance and development model at a time of global instability.
Chinese President Xi Jinping will join with the leaders of Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa via video link to discuss issues of mutual concern as part of the summit themed around ushering in a “new era” for global development.
Ahead of the summit in Beijing, Chinese state media have praised the BRICS – an acronym for the five emerging economies that together account for about one-quarter of the global economy – for boosting “multilateral cooperation with non-Western styles, forms and principles,” and stressed the importance of the bloc at a time when “the US (is) pulling its Western allies to ‘rebel’ against globalisation”.
In May, Xi called on the group to “reject Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation, and work together to build a global community of security for all”.
Despite their substantial differences, the leaders of the five countries maintain a certain distance from the United States-led liberal order.
None of the leaders of Brazil, China, India, or South Africa openly condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for his country’s invasion of Ukraine earlier in the year. Set against a complex geopolitical backdrop that includes war in Europe and growing economic decoupling between China and the US, the 2022 summit provides Beijing with a timely platform to promote its vision for how international relations should be conducted, according to analysts.
“BRICS is a kind of diplomatic counteroffensive by China to both the revival of NATO and the increase in Indo-Pacific mechanisms that are designed to keep its power in check,” Huang Yanzhong, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations said.
“Beijing is feeling increasingly isolated right now, as tensions with the US and its allies continue as a result of its tacit support for Russia’s invasion.”
Phar Kim Beng, former director of the Political-Security Community at ASEAN’s secretariat in Jakarta, said Beijing would use the summit to “highlight and criticise the ubiquitous nature of American sanctions that are imposed on thousands of individuals and entities around the world”.
“This is particularly relevant at a forum focused on the Global South,” Phar Kim Beng explained.
“Through BRICS, China continues to draw on its legacy of ‘always siding with the third world,’ as Deng Xiaoping famously said. So, I expect they’ll use this as another chance to critique American economic sanctions and to try to say ‘stop it’.”
Other than criticising the US, China is also expected to highlight its own role in the global economy. This year’s agenda covers a range of topics, but particular emphasis will be given to renewing multilateralism for global economic recovery, deepening coordination on climate action, and strengthening coordination on pandemics and public health.
“In terms of the issue area that’s most important for Beijing right now, I think it is about global economic recovery, and keeping markets open,” Stephen Nagy, an Indo-Pacific specialist and senior fellow at the MacDonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, Canada, said.
“China’s economy depends on international trade for its prosperity. What we’re seeing is states consciously diversify their supply chains away from China and form new standards-setting agreements such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, or proactively create coalitions that are trading with each other to ensure safe and reliable flows of energy-critical material, minerals, as well as rare earth materials,” Nagy said, referring to US President Joe Biden’s signature economic initiative unveiled last month in Tokyo.
“Beijing wants to stop this and I think any kind of momentum towards reversing China’s isolation from the global economy is a net plus from their point of view,” Nagy added.
Huang said he expects economic recovery to be the top issue, with public health coming a close second.
“China is being left out of some of the Biden administration’s initiatives on pandemic readiness, so I think vaccine diplomacy will also be key since other BRICS countries like Russia and India have strong vaccine development capacity,” he said.
China proposed expanding the BRICS grouping during a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in May. Though the suggestion was welcomed by other member countries, there have been no official announcements of who the new members might be.
“We can get a sense of which countries might be invited by looking at their position on Ukraine and their voting behaviour regarding the conflict at the United Nations,” Huang said. “Those developing countries who abstained or supported Russia may be recruited to join.”
Yet China may have its work cut out for it to make BRICS an attractive option as rivals compete with it for influence over emerging economies, according to some analysts.
“Much of what China is promoting through BRICS is attractive to emerging countries, but the challenge for Beijing is there is a growing number of alternatives for them … whether it is the free and open Indo-Pacific Vision with emphasis on infrastructure connectivity, standard setting, healthy infrastructure, tools for good governance, or alternative financing, as well as Japan-led and EU-led infrastructure connectivity projects,” Nagy said.
“There are a lot of different projects and initiatives that can allow emerging countries to drive development and make them less reliant on the Chinese,” he added.
“This competition could push China to be more transparent and more rules-based about its agreements along the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) and through the ADB (Asian Development Bank), which I think will be important in diluting their geopolitical influence from the outside.”