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What Good Is China’s New BRICS For Brazil And India?

By funneling its own authoritarian friends into BRICS, China has made clear that it is in charge of the group. Brazil and India now have to ask themselves: What is the use of a club of autocracies that does so little for them?

The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi at the virtual Vesak Global Celebrations on Buddha Purnima, in New Delhi on May 26, 2021. SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – October 2, 2022: Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is running for office again during an event after general election polls closed. © YashSD, Marcelo Chello /

September 08, 2023 22:51 EDT

The main outcome of the 15th BRICS summit this August was the enlargement of the group.  Six new members — Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — will join BRICS in January 2024, a move that reveals the ambitions and limitations of a group that serves as a thermometer to the shifting global political order.

This first wave of BRICS enlargement was riven with tensions. While China favored the diffusion of its influence through the enlargement of the group, Brazil and India had pushed back against enlargement. They were more interested in deepening coordination between the existing members.

Although diplomatic coordination was never easy within BRICS, the group’s founding members used to share the objective of counterbalancing Western dominance. However, this shared objective has been shattered with the recent group’s enlargement.

China in charge

The manner and selection of countries for the enlargement of BRICS made clear China’s unchallenged ability to transform the group as an agent of an increasingly Chinese-led emerging global order. The selection of several autocracies as new members is telling of China’s view of how the global order should be shaped: an ad-hoc multilateralism that aids its own global ambitions.

With this autocratic turn of BRICS, the group’s previous rhetoric of reformism of global institutions is now replaced by a new narrative. China sees BRICS as a way to promote a global governance model that downplays liberal-democratic values and weakens the global rules-based order. As BRICS turns autocratic, the bloc is likely to start opposing US influence more emphatically, and Brazil and India will be isolated within the group.

Brazil and India’s acquiescence to the enlargement of BRICS has been possible with China’s support to the permanent membership of both countries in the UN Security Council. Brazil and India were never shy about their dream to permanently sit in the UN Security Council. However, neither country had imagined that China’s support for their entry into the UN’s selective club would result in their diminished influence in BRICS.

Two democracies in an authoritarian club

Unlike their autocratic fellow members of BRICS (both old and new), Brazil and India have a natural inclination to embrace the principles of equality and liberty both domestically and internationally. These principles, or the lack thereof, determine how democratic or autocratic regimes govern their countries, and, as a result, how they shape their foreign policies.

BRICS until now lacked an ideological or political orientation. What seemed to hold these countries together, apart from being large and prosperous emerging economies, was the shared experience (except for Russia) of colonialism and economic dependence. This experience is no longer enough to keep BRICS united. Brazil and India have made democratic governance part of their development as nation-states. The road towards democratic development has been tortuous, but Brazil and India have both succeeded in embracing democratic methods to guide their domestic governance and their international behavior.

Under democracy, Brazil and India have prospered greatly, achieving impressive levels of economic development. These countries increased their human capital with more educated populations and reduced poverty and inequality, although slowly, over the past decades. Indeed, democracy has given these countries the opportunity to shine globally.

As democratic reformers of the fragile liberal order, Brazil and India will continue their efforts to become more influential in international multilateral institutions. And if these institutions welcome both countries by giving them more relevance, Brazil and India’s level of commitment to the now-autocratic BRICS will wane. In the meantime, BRICS will become the dream group of autocrats who want to find political and economic support in an increasingly chaotic international arena.

[Anton Schauble edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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