THE 15th BRICS summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from August 22-24, was on everyone’s radar. To expand or not to expand was the question and soothsayers were pitching China and Russia on one side with India on the other.
The twain’s desire to bring more countries in the group which were aligned with its anti-West agenda was hardly a secret and India was, therefore, automatically expected to oppose the expansion. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi sprang a surprise on everyone when contrary to expectations, he supported the expansion of the grouping, with the caveat that it be done with consensus of all members. Subsequently, six more countries – Argentina, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt – have become permanent members of BRICS. The expansion was proposed by China, but PM Modi managed to make it a victory for India by saying that India has always been in favour of BRICS expansion and is even in favour of giving a permanent seat to the African Union in the G20.
In 2009, when Brazil, Russia, India and China had come together to form a grouping for promotion of trade and investment, the acronym BRIC had sounded too attractive to resist or think of any other name. A year later when South Africa joined it, BRIC got expanded to BRICS and the name naturally progressed to the plural. But being married to the name meant forever keeping the group closed and limited to those whose names could justify the five alphabets. Since 2010, no other country had joined the group. The interest though has increased. There are about 40 nations which are vying for the membership of BRICS.
PM Modi gave a solution to this also when he reminded the members that during India’s chairmanship in 2016, BRICS was defined as ‘Building Responsive, Inclusive, and Collective Solutions’. He said that BRICS will break barriers, give a new dimension to economies, inspire innovation, create new opportunities, and, through all this, shape the future. All the members of BRICS must actively contribute to making this new definition of BRICS meaningful, he said. Through this definition, PM Modi also conveyed the message that India sees the relevance of BRICS in terms of the future and it should not be affected by the expansion. Through this, he also gave a message to China and Russia that in any exercise of expansion, it is also necessary to take care of this definition.
Highlighting the importance of BRICS, PM Modi also talked about its role in dealing with global challenges. He explained how to strengthen BRICS by increasing cooperation among the member countries. To achieve this, he also gave five suggestions: increased cooperation in the field of space; cooperation in education, skill development, and technology; skill mapping; suggestions regarding big cats, such as tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, and snow leopards; and focus on traditional medicine. During the actual summit, ways to promote trade were discussed though the issue of a common currency remained off agenda. There was emphasis on simplifying trade in local currencies at various levels. For instance, China and Brazil signed an agreement this year that both will do business in their own currencies.