BRICS Summit in Johannesburg reminds of the natural aspiration of all peoples

by Karl-Jürgen Müller

From 22–24 August 2023, the representatives of the five BRICS countries have met in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the XV Summit. Up to 600 members of delegations from the five states Brazil, India, China, and South Africa have been led by their presidents or prime ministers, with Foreign Minister Lavrov taking over for Russia. To spare South Africa the dilemma caused by an ICC arrest warrant, Russian President Putin had agreed with the South African government not to travel to the summit. However, Vladimir Putin was connected to the summit via video and spoke several times.
  In addition to the five BRICS states, representatives of 61 other states were present, including 46 from Africa with 20 presidents or prime ministers, as well as UN Secretary-General António Guterres – but no NATO or EU state. The three-day summit was followed by other BRICS forums.

Comprehensive final
declaration and concrete results

The comprehensive final declaration of the summit ( has 26 pages covering 94 points. After a preamble, there are declarations on a “Partnership for Inclusive Multilateralism”, on the “Promotion of an Environment conducive to Peace and Development”, for a “Partnership for Accelerated Growth” and a “Partnership for Sustainable Development” (the two largest chapters of the final declaration), for a “Deepening of Peoples’ Relations” and finally for the “Further Development of Institutions”.
  All BRICS decisions must be taken unanimously.
  Important results of the summit were

  • the agreement on accession criteria (more than 40 states have signalled interest in joining and 23 states have submitted a formal application for membership) and the invitation to six states (Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) to become full members of the BRICS on 1 January 2024, which will then be called BRICS plus;
  • the unanimous demand for a reform of the UN, the UN Security Council, the Bretton Woods Institutions (IMF and World Bank), the WTO etc. towards an increased international representativeness, equality and “democracy”, especially to promote equality and more say for the Global South;
  • the further development of international transport routes (for example, the “New Silk Road” initiated by China and the “North-South Corridor” initiated by Russia) to facilitate and promote trade among the BRICS countries, but also the trade of the Global South in general;
  • the strengthening and expansion of the BRICS-plus Development Bank to promote lending to the BRICS-plus countries, but also generally to the Global South, and for more independence from the IMF and the World Bank;
  • the intention and the mandate to the responsible bodies of the BRICS-plus countries to work out concrete plans by the next summit in October 2024 in Kazan, Russia (Russia will take over the chairmanship next year) on how international trade and in particular the trade of the BRICS plus countries can become less dependent on the US dollar.

Reports and comments
of varying quality

The reports, commentaries, and analyses of the past three weeks on the BRICS summit and the judgements contained therein from all over the world are wide-ranging. In mainstream Germany, for example (but similarly in Austria and Switzerland), there is no support at all for BRICS, BRICS plus and their concerns. Here, an explicit or implicit “friend-foe” thinking dominates. There, the headlines range from “BRICS gets more members: Why the alliance should be taken seriously” (Wirtschaftswoche), to “World political caesura: How the expansion of BRICS challenges the West” (“Merkur”), to “USA and Germany see no major changes” (“Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”) or (implicitly also revealing, as far as Western goals are concerned): “Why even ‘BRICS plus’ cannot break Western dominance” (Focus). A press conference by the German Foreign Minister prompted the “Handelsblatt” to write the “astonishing” title “Baerbock: Talks also with BRICS accession countries”. And the highest-circulation German “Bild” newspaper took the biscuit: “BRICS expansion: How dangerous will this bloc of tyrants be for us?”
  If you want to read other voices, you have to turn to the media of other, non-Western countries. These are not storms of enthusiasm, but differentiating analyses, certainly also with different emphases, judgements, and critical questions. This multitude of voices cannot be adequately reproduced here.

Voices of the actors on the ground

Instead, here the direct actors on the ground and the results of their work should have their say. They are meant to stand on their own, uncommented, stimulating reflection – and perhaps also to warm up for what is going on beyond the Western world.  •

The “BRICS spirit”

The chair of the conference, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, concluded by saying:
“We shared our vision of BRICS as a champion of the needs and concerns of the peoples of the Global South. These include the need for beneficial economic growth, sustainable development and reform of multilateral systems. We reiterate our commitment to inclusive multilateralism and upholding international law, including the purposes and principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter. We are concerned about ongoing conflicts in many parts of the world. We stress our commitmen to the peaceful resolution of differences and disputes through dialogue and inclusive consultation. […]
  We encourage multilateral financial institutions and international organisations to play a constructive role in building global consensus on economic policies. We have noted that there is global momentum for the use of local currencies, alternative financial arrangements and alternative payment systems. As BRICS, we are ready to explore opportunities for improving the stability, reliability and fairness of the global financial architecture. […]
  Through this summit, BRICS has embarked on a new chapter in its effort to build a world that is fair, a world that is just, a world that is also inclusive and prosperous.”

A civilizing meeting

Brazilian President Lula da Silva is quoted as saying in a press release from his government:
“This is a civilising meeting. Poor countries can also speak, they also have the right to do so, they also have the desire to do so. What we want is to express what we wish to bring to our people. It’s time to better share our daily bread. I am reborn in politics and in hope. I leave South Africa with the certainty that I can finally tell the people who are listening to me that another world is possible – a world that seemed impossible a while ago. […]
  I think this is a historic moment for humanity – in which, for the first time, countries from the South may use their strength. I think things will evolve; it will now be easier to sit down and talk. Who knows, maybe the BRICS bloc will meet with the G7 bloc to discuss trade, scientific and technological advancement – and to discuss democracy.”

Creating opportunities
and shaping the future

The website of the Indian Prime Minister Shira Narendra Modi states, among other things:
During his address, Prime Minister called for a strengthened BRICS that will be:

B - Breaking barriers
R - Revitalising economies
I - Inspiring Innovation
C - Creating opportunities
S - Shaping the future

In his various interventions, Prime Minister highlighted the following:

  • Called for setting defined timelines for UNSC reforms
  • Called for reform of Multilateral Financial Institutions
  • Called for reform of WTO
  • Exhorted BRICS to build consensus on its expansion
  • Urged BRICS to send a global message of unity and not polarisation.”

“It is time everyone
starts building equal relations”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, representing his president, said in a press conference after the summit:
  “The difference between BRICS and the G7 or other West-centric associations is that in those associations, everybody looks up to the United States. There may be small differences and some parties may try to push other decisions in addition to the strategic course determined by Washington – but the United States dictates the general course.
  Our association takes a completely different approach. […] Every participant is equal to the others. If somebody is not satisfied with a decision, there will be no consensus. If somebody feels uncomfortable, the other parties will do their best to come up with a wording or decision to ensure our unity. This is how we reach consensus instead of obeying the big boss. Consensus takes more time but agreements achieved through this process are significantly more stable, lasting and fruitful.
  This summit raised to a qualitatively new level the discussion about justice, maintaining that one cannot go on forever draining resources from developing countries. Africans remember only too well the colonial times and what they fought for. Having gained independence, they realised the West was again trying to use them only as suppliers of low-cost resources, while appropriating all the added value and its advantages. They are not happy about this. […]
  It is time everyone starts building equal relations, respecting each other, seeking a balance of interests. It is time nations stop dictating things to others, and all governments follow the requirements that are fully consistent with the UN Charter, which stipulates the sovereign equality of all states, large and small. If at least once the West tries to pursue a policy that is in line with this requirement, which it signed and ratified when the UN was established, perhaps common sense would have a chance.”

Fairness and justice
in international affairs

Finally, Chinese President Xi Jinping. He said:
  “We gather at a time when the world has entered a new period of turbulence and transformation. It is undergoing major shifts, division and regrouping, leading to more uncertain, unstable and unpredictable developments.
  BRICS is an important force in shaping the international landscape. We choose our development paths independently, jointly defend our right to development, and march in tandem toward modernisation. This represents the direction of the advancement of human society, and will profoundly impact the development process of the world. Our track record shows that we have consistently acted on the BRICS spirit of openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation, and taken BRICS cooperation to new heights in support of our five countries’ development. We have upheld fairness and justice in international affairs, stood up for what is right on major international and regional issues, and enhanced the voice and influence of emerging markets and developing countries. BRICS countries invariably advocate and practice independent foreign policies. […] We do not barter away principles, succumb to external pressure, or act as vassals of others. We BRICS countries share extensive consensus and common goals. No matter how the international situation changes, our commitment to cooperation since the very beginning and our common aspiration will not change. […]
  The Cold War mentality is still haunting our world, and the geopolitical situation is getting tense. All nations long for a sound security environment. International security is indivisible. Attempts to seek absolute security at the expense of others will eventually backfire. The Ukraine crisis has evolved to where it is today because of complex reasons. What is pressing now is to encourage peace talks, promote deescalation, end the fighting, and realise peace. No one should add fuel to the fire to worsen the situation.”

The final declaration

The second paragraph in the preamble of the final declaration fits in with all these interventions:
  “We reaffirm our commitment to the BRICS spirit of mutual respect and understanding, sovereign equality, solidarity, democracy, openness, inclusiveness, strengthened collaboration and consensus. As we build upon 15 years of BRICS Summits, we further commit ourselves to strengthening the framework of mutually beneficial BRICS cooperation under the three pillars of political and security, economic and financial, and cultural and people-to-people cooperation and to enhancing our strategic partnership for the benefit of our people through the promotion of peace, a more representative, fairer international order, a reinvigorated and reformed multilateral system, sustainable development and inclusive growth.”

(Selection by Current Concerns)

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