Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Jul 21, 2022 Updated 26 Days ago
China’s purpose to expand BRICS is to promote its agenda and grand strategy more forcefully through the BRICS mechanism and stage and diplomatically ease the containment of the US.
Why China wants to expand BRICS The recently concluded 14th BRICS Leaders’ Meeting in Beijing has once again brought the issue of BRICS expansion into the limelight. This is the second time since the 2017 Xiamen Summit that China has expressed its interest in expanding the group of emerging economies. There have been reports that Iran and Argentina have also announced their interest in formally joining the group. At a time when China and India are locked in a deadly stalemate at the Line of Actual Control, the Chinese proposal to expand BRICS has raised concern in New Delhi. As India determines its stance on this contentious issue, it is important to look into the factors driving China’s BRICS strategy.

Chinese analysts are of the opinion that the economic distress in these countries has been causing domestic political changes, which, in turn, is weakening the BRICS countries' common identity, position, and enthusiasm to continue promoting the cooperation mechanism.

The growing chorus in China is that of late, BRICS has started showing signs of weakness, has been in retreat, and is lacking coherence in actions. Therefore, by replenishing fresh blood—attracting new members—China plans to inject new impetus into its development. As per the Chinese assessment, the economic performance of BRICS including China, in the past seven or eight years, has deteriorated. In other words, “golden BRICS” has turned into “stone BRICS” (金砖变成石砖). The era of rapid growth of BRICS seems to have passed, most strikingly for member countries like Brazil, South Africa, and Russia. While Brazil's economy grew at an average annual rate of 1 percent in 2017, South Africa's average annual GDP growth has been around 1.2 percent during the same time. Meanwhile, Russia’s GDP grew 0.7 percent in 2014, -2 percent in 2015, 0.2 percent in 2016, and 1.8 percent in 2017. Chinese analysts are of the opinion that the economic distress in these countries has been causing domestic political changes, which, in turn, is weakening the BRICS countries' common identity, position, and enthusiasm to continue promoting the cooperation mechanism. For example, Brazil and South Africa, which have poor economic performance and unstable domestic political situations, are unwilling to prioritise the BRICS agenda, which they believe will weaken their foreign policy flexibility, and thereby, jeopardise their national interests.<1> Now, with the pandemic and the Russia–Ukraine war, the situation has turned grimmer with the original international competitiveness of the BRICS countries clearly losing traction. On the contrary, the economies of developed countries, represented by the United States (US) and the West, are gradually showing signs of recovery. Still occupying a leading position in a new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation, the US has begun to try and regain its leadership of the global economy.<2> At a time when the overall strength of the BRICS countries has been declining and facing heightened competition from traditional developed country-led cooperation mechanisms, China feels that limiting the BRICS mechanism to its original five members will further reduce its overall global influence and right to speak at global platforms. Hence, China’s interest in further expanding BRICS members.

Still occupying a leading position in a new round of technological revolution and industrial transformation, the US has begun to try and regain its leadership of the global economy.

The second reason is the intensifying China–US competition. Chinese observers note how in the Obama era, the G2 proposition had weakened the significance of BRICS for Chinese foreign policy. However, under the Trump presidency, as the meaning of G2 quickly turned from high-level cooperation to high-decibel confrontation, a larger, better coordinated BRICS became China’s priority. It was also in 2017 when China, for the first time, proposed the concept of an expanded BRICS. Now, with Biden in power, Chinese observers believe that the ‘new Cold War’—initiated during the Trump era—has been taken to a higher level. For instance, in the backdrop of the Russia–Ukraine war, Europe has been dragged into a new Cold War environment, wherein a cohesive western bloc has been formed, comprising the US and Europe, like the old Cold War era. The Russian–Ukrainian war, they note, has become an excellent glue between the US and Europe. On the other hand, it is argued that in Asia, the US is driving more and more countries—Japan, Australia, India, New Zealand, and South Korea—into ‘smaller circles’ like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, AUKUS, and even into North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Of particular concern to China is how amidst heightened geopolitics, trade conflicts, the impact of the epidemic, and industrial upgrading, the global industrial chain is being restructured at an accelerated pace and efforts are being made to replace the existing ‘US+West+China’ industrial model by newer models, particularly a ‘US+West+India’ model. This, they argue, is aimed at isolating China and delivering a blow to China’s power and position in the upcoming fourth wave of industrialisation. It is against this background that China wants to expand BRICS, promote “ a community of supply chains interests,” and get more and more emerging economies from all over the world to join the BRICS (read China’s) supply chain. By deeply embedding these countries in a China-led supply chain, potential competitors like India can be neutralised, and any effort of excluding or replacing China in the current round of reorganisation of supply chains can be thwarted.

Of particular concern to China is how amidst heightened geopolitics, trade conflicts, the impact of the epidemic, and industrial upgrading, the global industrial chain is being restructured at an accelerated pace and efforts are being made to replace the existing ‘US+West+China’ industrial model by newer models, particularly a ‘US+West+India’ model.

To sum up, for China, the purpose of the new round of BRICS expansion is to diplomatically ease the containment of the US and promote China's agenda and grand strategy more forcefully through the BRICS mechanism and stage, while preventing existing BRICS members, particularly India, from drifting too far into the US/western camp.<3>
<1> Li Yiping and Fu Yuheng , “国际合作中的领导权竞争:以“一带一路”倡议与金砖国家合作的战略对接为例”, Southeast Academic Research, 2019, (03), 118-129+248 <2> Zhao Chunzhe, “China's thinking and path design for improving BRICs cooperation platform”, 全球化 2018, (11),81-93+134-135 <3> Wang Zhuo, “Study on Sino-Indian Relation from the Perspective of BRICS”, Journal of Changsha University of Science and Technology (Social Science Edition), 2022,37(03):98-107
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Author

Antara Ghosal Singh

Antara Ghosal Singh

Antara Ghosal Singh is a Fellow at the Strategic Studies Programme at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. Her area of research includes China-India relations, China-India-US ...

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