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BRICS Plus Six : Challenges And Potential Amidst Complex Expansion

BRICS, the bloc that was initiated by Russia and emerged in 2009, consists of developing nations and serves as a platform for member nations to counter the dominance of the United States and its Western allies. The term BRIC was first introduced by an economist from Goldman Sachs in 2001 to describe the growing influence of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, later South Africa was added, making it BRICS. The heads of state and government from member countries of BRICS gather annually with each nation assuming a one-year rotational leadership of the group. 


However, The 15th BRICS Summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa from August 22-24, 2023, was a significant summit in the history of BRICS as it led to the expansion of the group, for the second time. Initially, in 2010, only South Africa was added to the group. Now in 2023, Six new members, i.e Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have joined the existing five members. The summit was the largest summit ever hosted by BRICS, with over 60 countries participating alongside the member nations.


This year, South Africa, currently holding the group's chairmanship, organised a gathering in June known as a "Friends of BRICS" meeting. During this event, numerous countries expressed their keen interest in becoming part of the BRICS alliance, including Mexico, Indonesia, and Turkey. However, this membership expansion presents significant challenges to BRICS in its quest to rival the G-7.


The foremost challenge is conflicts and disputes among member nations. China and India's relationship is known to be not very friendly, with ongoing border disputes, but steps have been taken to tackle these bilateral disputes.  Additionally, the expanded BRICS membership brings its own set of bilateral disputes. Among the new members, conflicts exist between Egypt and Ethiopia, Iran and the UAE, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) constructed by Ethiopia on the Nile River has been a source of tension between Ethiopia and Egypt, while Iran and the UAE have been entangled in a territorial dispute since 1971.


Moreover, BRICS has been now allegedly very China oriented, with the expansion. China was the one that proposed the "BRICS plus" initiative in 2017. China's original preferences for membership in BRICS were Turkey, Mexico, Nigeria, and Indonesia. China has more enthusiasm about this expansion than other member countries like Brazil or India as experts say this allows China to build a more Beijing centric order.  Xi Jinping, in his summit speeches critical of US dominance, celebrated this expansion as a "historic" and "fresh beginning for BRICS cooperation." China's leadership in non-Western forums and among Global South nations, which often express dissatisfaction with US-led institutions, is likely to enhance China's role as a counterbalance to the US and the prevailing US-led global order.


Additionally, BRICS in recent times is percieved as an anti-Western Platform, as both Beijing and Moscow aim at transforming this loose economic alliance into a geopolitical bloc opposing Western powers and institutions like the G7. But this stance doesn't align with the foreign policies of some of its members, including India and new members like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt. Also Brazil's Lula rejects the notion of BRICS becoming a rival to the United States and the Group of Seven (G7) economies. 


Furthermore, where China and Russia are eager to push ahead with expansion, the other members, particularly Brazil, are cautious about rushing the process. Brazil is concerned that the group's stature may diminish with the inclusion of additional nations. A spokesperson from Brazil's government mentioned that the Government will argue for a gradual expansion that preserves regional balance and maintains prominent roles for the five permanent members. He added that some new members might be admitted as partner countries participating in summits, similar to other international organisations. Brazil is also concerned about dilution of their membership's power in an organisation that includes global powers like China. On top of it, India did not respond to requests for comment, but an Indian government official noted reservations about expansion, suggesting that any such move should happen through consensus.


Lastly, There has been a controversy surrounding the criteria for countries to become a member of BRICS. The decision to include Iran transforms BRICS into a group with a more anti-Western and non-democratic character, as aspired by China and Russia in contrast to the stance of other members who prefer to project the group as non-aligned. Also, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa mentioned that BRICS members have established a framework for the expansion process, with guiding principles, standards, criteria, and procedures. However, No specified criteria for the inclusion process was made official, sparking debates around potential countries like Indonesia being a significant player in Asia with a population of 274 million was not granted membership.


Though, Not to forget that BRICS expansion has extreme potential too like BRICS' member nations have pledged and see themselves as prominent advocates of the "Global South." This commitment, even with a lack of quick and visible outcomes, has motivated more than 40 countries to show interest in joining BRICS, with nearly 24 countries formally applying to become the members, despite BRICS being a loose economic group of developing nations.


Additionally, the selection of these six countries can be attributed to specific reasons. Argentina was invited to enhance representation from Latin America. Egypt, with its strong connections to China and India, was a logical choice. Ethiopia's inclusion was unexpected but settled upon as a compromise between Nigeria and Kenya. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were included to contribute to the recapitalization of the New Development Bank, bolstering its capacity for funding development projects. Iran's participation reaffirms its strategic positioning as a bridge between West, Central, and South Asia. 


Furthermore, BRICS 2.0 encompasses six of the world's top 10 oil-producing nations, including Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, the UAE, Brazil, and Iran, marking a significant global power shift independent of Western influence.


Overall, Many Challenges and hindrances are clearly visible in the way of the BRICS expansion like China's growing influence in BRICS, Members like India and Brazil showcasing their discontent on its expansion, the group's shifting character towards anti-Western and non-democratic tendencies and controversial inclusion criteria. However, some potential is also being foreseen. The expansion, which includes six new countries, has the potential to strengthen the voice of the "Global South" in global affairs and usher in a power shift away from Western influence, especially given the inclusion of major oil-producing nations.


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