At the beginning of the three-day BRICS conference in South Africa on Tuesday, neither Chinese President Xi Jinping nor Russian President Vladimir Putin were there.
The fact that Putin was still wanted by the International Criminal Court for the kidnapping of Ukrainian children made it difficult for him to travel to Johannesburg. His participation in the opening of the bloc’s first in-person meeting since before the COVID-19 pandemic came in the shape of a 17-minute prerecorded address. The bloc is made up of the member countries Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
Xi, who was in South Africa and had a morning meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa, did not attend the main summit venue’s economic forum with his host and the presidents of Brazil and India. Wang Wentao, the minister of commerce for China, read Xi’s address without providing an explanation for his absence.
Xi, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Narendra Modi of India, and Ramaphosa are slated to meet during the summit’s main session on Wednesday in Johannesburg’s Sandton financial sector as BRICS considers a potential expansion.
According to South African officials, more than 20 countries have sought to join the bloc, which currently accounts for more than 30% of the world’s economic output and is home to 40% of the world’s population. These countries include Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates.
Ebrahim Raisi, the president of Iran, and Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, intended to attend the summit.
Before any new members are admitted, the five incumbent members must agree on the criteria, however China and Russia are considered as being in favor of a larger BRICS due to their deteriorating relations with the West.
The group was founded by Brazil, Russia, India, and China in 2009. In 2010, South Africa was added.
Putin would actively participate in the summit from a distance, emphasized Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, while Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was representing Russia in Johannesburg.
Putin would “virtually” attend a welcome meal being held by South Africa on Tuesday, according to local officials. On Wednesday, he is scheduled to deliver a speech via video link, according to the agenda.
Over 40 heads of state were anticipated to attend parts of the summit discussions, according to Ramaphosa. In total, 1,200 delegates from the five BRICS countries and dozens of other developing countries are in South Africa’s largest city.
António Guterres, the secretary-general of the UN, was also anticipated to attend.
There were calls for greater economic cooperation and collaboration on Tuesday, reflecting a growing belief in some parts of the world that organizations seen as Western-led, such as the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, do not support developing countries.
Ramaphosa stated that he was looking for “Chinese support for South Africa and Africa’s call for the reform of global governance institutions, particularly the United Nations Security Council” when in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, earlier on Tuesday for his meeting with Xi.
Despite having approximately 2 billion inhabitants, neither Africa nor South America has a permanent seat on the Security Council.
Xi, who has gradually started traveling abroad again since his nation’s rigorous COVID-19 travel restrictions were lifted, went with Ramaphosa to the Union Buildings, the official residence of the South African government, to see a ceremonial military parade.
Xi delivered a few brief remarks during the occasion, stating that China was prepared for increased collaboration with the most developed economy in Africa “to take our comprehensive strategic partnerships to new heights.”
Officials from the BRICS have refuted claims that the group is turning anti-Western under the influence of China and Russia, claiming that the group is instead protecting the interests of the Global South.
However, the United States and its Western allies disagree with the BRICS position on a number of issues, not the least of which being Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It’s unlikely that Xi, Lula, Modi, and Ramaphosa will use this week’s gathering to denounce Russia and Putin for the war in Ukraine, despite the European Union’s request.
When the BRICS foreign ministers met in June, Lavrov used the occasion to criticize the West for its “hegemony” and use of “financial blackmail” to further its “selfish interests.” If anything, BRICS has provided a platform for Russia to spew its anti-Western vitriol.
In a public park more than 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from the summit site, a tiny protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was organized on Tuesday.
The BRICS bloc’s aspirations for a restructuring of the global governance structure appear to be striking a chord with many, as evidenced by the large list of nations queuing up to join it. The United States and the European Union will be keenly following developments in Johannesburg.