Why does China want more African countries to join BRICS?

The 15th BRICS summit took place 22nd to the 24th of August 2023 in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was one of the biggest economic events in the history of South Africa and the African continent as a whole. Known as the BRICS Africa Summit, it featured several topics on its agenda, one of which was the enlargement of the bloc to include a greater number of countries, particularly those located in the southern regions of the world. China and Russia have advocated for the extension of the bloc, but India and Brazil, although they support the expansion, have made it clear that a well-thought-out approach should be adopted in the process of admitting new members. 

The formation of BRICS

A Goldman Sachs economist, Jim O’Neill initially suggested the formation of the BRIC, an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India and China in November 2001. According to Goldman Sachs, the four BRIC economies will dominate the global economies by 20250. Jim O’Neill coined the word “BRIC” to describe the rapidly developing economies of Brazil, Russia, India, and China, whose real GDP growth would surpass that of the G7. He proposed that the G7 be modified to include these BRIC countries. A few years after the publication, when the leaders of the four countries gathered in 2006 in conjunction with the UN General Assembly, the external acronym worked as a catalyst to encourage them to capitalize on the economic optimism around them.

To give the BRICs an institutional structure, delegates from the four nations convened in Yekaterinburg, Russia, in 2009. The BRICs developed into an aspirational bloc with its internal dynamics during the initial period that followed. They convened yearly summits, had diplomatic goals, and pledged to undertake major infrastructure projects both domestically and internationally in their regions. Later, in 2010, the abbreviation was modified to BRICS when South Africa was included in the organization after formally accepting the invitation from China as the leading economy in Africa.

The five nations together account for more than 40% of the global population and have a combined GDP of more than $18 trillion. The organization was established in response to the shifting economic conditions around the world, which saw these nations acquire more and more influence on the political and economic fronts.

 This time for Africa?

The fifth and the fifteen conferences of the BRICS nations share one thing in common. That is, it shares themes of BRICS and Africa. The fifth conference held in Durban, South Africa, in March 2013, was considered a chance for Africa to forge closer connections with these significant growing economies. The summit’s theme, “BRICS and Africa: Partnerships for Integration and Industrialization,” sought to maximize the possibilities for collaboration between the BRICS and Africa.  This year’s theme, “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Multilateralism” is not so different from the fifth summit with both having Africa as a point of focus.

China and Russia in their speech at this year’s Summit openly encouraged African countries to join the BRICS. This can be attributed to the main theme which is inclusiveness. It is good to note that it was China who first invited the first African country, South Africa into BRICS. The invitation by China to South Africa to join the then BRIC was seen as a very big step to include a country from the African continent in the intergovernmental cooperation. South Africa’s position now as a prominent regional power and a gateway for other BRICS countries to the African market has surely been strengthened as a result of the strategic interest that BRICS countries have shown in Africa.  Inclusively, South Africa has taken up the post of leader of the BRICS organization, which was previously held by China.

“We want to use this opportunity to advance the interests of our continent, and we will, therefore, through the BRICS summit, be having an outreach process or moment where we will invite other African countries to come and be part of the BRICS because we do want BRICS in whatever BRICS does to focus on helping to develop our continent,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said before his country hosts the BRICS summit in 2023.

“Our continent was pillaged, ravaged, and exploited by other continents, and we, therefore, want to build solidarity in BRICS to advance the interests, of course initially of our own country, but also the continent as a whole,” he explained.

Why does Beijing want more African countries in BRICS?

China’s appeal for African countries to join BRICS can be seen as a way of China keeping with its larger aim of encouraging South-South cooperation. The goal of the BRICS group, which is an alliance of rising economies, is to challenge the G7 of Western countries’ hegemony in international affairs. In President Xi Jinping’s speech, he noted that many emerging markets and developing countries (EMDCs) have been able to develop into the prosperous nations that they are today after throwing off the shackles of colonialism.

According to Xi, there is one nation that is so intent on preserving its hegemony that it has gone to great lengths to weaken the EMDCs and whoever is rapidly progressing becomes the target of containment and whoever is rapidly catching up becomes the target of obstruction. He said such acts are pointless as “blowing out others’ lamps will not bring light to oneself”. 

The Chinese campaign is centred on the idea that hegemony is not in its DNA. China hopes that by incorporating African states in this alliance, it will be able to amplify the voices of developing countries and advocate for their interests on the international stage.  This action is consistent with China’s goal of establishing a world order that is more egalitarian and multipolar as it introduces the Global Development Initiative.

Another reason that could explain China’s call for African countries to join BRICS is to increase economic cooperation. China sees Africa as a potentially profitable market for its goods and services. The BRICS nations provide an opportunity for African countries to improve trade ties and promote economic cooperation among member countries by bringing African nations into the BRICS framework. In Africa, where the middle class is growing and the population is expanding, international businesses have a chance to increase their market penetration and gain significant advantages. African countries also have the chance to benefit from BRICS as China and other member countries have vast expertise and experience in the fields of manufacturing, technology, and infrastructure development. This could help African countries to grow their economies and create job opportunities for their people.

 Geopolitics and another decoy for Africa’s natural resources?

China’s geopolitical ambitions in inviting African countries to join BRICS could not be taken off the table. China’s endeavour to enhance its economic and political influence is a driving force behind its efforts to extend its geopolitical might through the BRICS alliance to encompass African countries. The Asian powerhouse has the world’s second-largest economy and is actively endeavouring to augment its global influence and construct international policies that align with its strategic goals. By expanding the BRICS membership to African nations, China may enhance its diplomatic influence and strengthen its global standing by garnering support from these countries in international fora.

Africa is known for its abundant natural resources, which include but are not limited to crude oil, minerals, and agricultural commodities. China’s decision to encourage other African countries to join the BRICS organization may be considered a strategic move aimed at ensuring its access to important resources and ensuring a steady supply to feed its developing economy. By strengthening its diplomatic ties with African nations inside the BRICS framework, China can forge long-term alliances for resource extraction, commercial operations, and investment in Africa. 

New members but what is in the future?

After the summit, six new members were added to the bloc. Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates along with Egypt and Ethiopia were welcomed to the five-member bloc, making it 11 with the potential to add more in the future. The two new entrants from African Egypt and Ethiopia have a combined GDP of approximately US$600 billion.  Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and its largest economy missed out on the first phase of selection even though it had formally applied.  

Also, the expanded BRICS now tilts the global trade influence in favour of BRICS with its US$83.5 trillion purchasing power parity nearly double the combined US$45.53 trillion from the European Union and the United States, per the Silk Road Briefing

In summary, it is evident that China’s interest in African countries joining the BRICS alliance is driven by a combination of economic, geopolitical, and strategic objectives. By expanding the alliance to include African nations, China aims to enhance economic cooperation, bolster its geopolitical influence, secure access to valuable natural resources, and promote collaboration among countries in the Global South. African countries stand to benefit from joining BRICS by leveraging the economic strength, technological advancements, and expertise in infrastructure development of the BRICS countries. As it stands now only three countries from Africa have been officially admitted into BRICS and there is hope for more as the Chairman of the recently South African hosted summit admitted that this was only the first phase. 

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