Brics, the group which owes its name to the initials of its five member states - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - has just held its annual summit in Beijing, China. It gave out one message loud and clear that although the West has closed its door on Russia, it is still in business with the rest of the world, especially Brics countries.
The group's importance cannot be overstated. Currently, Brics countries represent 40% of the world population, account for 25% of the global economy and 18% of world trade, and contribute 50% to the world's economic growth, and their combined GDP stands at more than $23tn.
This year's summit is also somewhat special as it is the first major international forum Vladimir Putin joined since he invaded Ukraine in February this year, subsequently leading to the near isolation of Russia from the US and its western allies, bringing back memories of the Cold war.
Of course, this is what sets Brics apart from other multilateral forums in the first place. The alliance serves as a counter to the US-led West, which has been dominating global economics, politics and development for a long time.
The Brics summit is important for a few other reasons as well. Brics is a unique trans-continental multilateral forum that brings together five major countries — one each from Eurasia (Russia), Africa (South Africa), Latin America (Brazil) and two Asian powerhouses (China and India).
Brics also provides a platform for voicing the concerns and aspirations of developing countries. Chinese state media have praised the Brics for boosting "multilateral cooperation with non-Western styles, forms and principles."
Following Putin's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the US, UK, EU, and several other nations sanctioned Russian businesses and entities, with the US and EU banning imports of Russian oil. The EU is set to ban almost 90% of Russian oil imports by 2023.
Since then, Russia has been successfully redirecting its trade flows to Brics nations and other "reliable international partners". China and India had been rushing to snap up Russian oil at low prices as Western importers pulled out, with Russia's oil export revenues jumping by 11% in May.
As Putin stated in the summit, trade within the group increased by 38% in the first quarter of 2022.
Faraway but nearer
This year talks are being held in a virtual format, for the third consecutive year, in contrast to Quad, an informal strategic forum comprising India, Australia, Japan and the US - whose leaders met in person in Japan last month.
This might be partly because the Brics hasn't lived up to expectations over the years. When the group was formed back in 2009, it was expected to reshape the global economy and create a new financial order to help the developing world. its success can be described at best as moderate.
Brics' biggest achievement so far has been establishing the New Development Bank (NDB). The bank is focused on assisting the member countries in dealing with the crisis and following economic recovery.
Some speculate the virtual nature of the summit could also be a result of Putin's recent practice of maintaining physical distance from other global leaders. The Russian premier has not been meeting even his generals face to face since the Ukraine invasion.
Nevertheless, this year's summit apparently brought the group's leaders even closer.
Despite their substantial differences, the leaders of the five countries usually maintain a certain distance from the United States-led liberal order.
Only Brazil voted against Russia's invasion of Ukraine at the United Nations earlier this year. China, India and South Africa all abstained from condemning the invasion. Plus, none of the leaders of Brazil, India, China, or South Africa openly criticised the Kremlin for its invasion of Ukraine.
In his opening address at this summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, "We must abandon the cold war mentality and bloc confrontation and oppose unilateral sanctions and the abuse of sanctions," in an apparent criticism of the US. He also stressed
Brics' importance at a time when "The US (is) pulling its Western allies to 'rebel' against globalisation".
President Jinping stated that the group's purpose was to "make the world a more stable place" and "speak out for equity and justice."
On Wednesday, President Jinping, in his address to the Brics Business Forum, appeared to lay the blame on Ukraine for Russia's invasion, calling it a "wake-up call" and a reminder that "attempts to expand military alliances and seek one's own security at the expense of others will only land oneself in a security dilemma."
Addressing the forum, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putinwas buoyant about the economic opportunities presented by Brics, flaunting negotiations on opening Indian chain stores in Russia and increasing Chinese industrial imports.
The Russian premier thanked Xi and his "Chinese friends" and blasted the "selfish actions of certain states" that he said had thrown the global economy into a crisis, referring to sanctions against his government.
The Brics group, he continued, might soon take a step further by opposing the US dollar and developing its own global reserve currency based on the "basket of currencies of our countries."
Compared to the other leaders, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was the most restrained in his speech at the Bric summit. He said, "In line with our foreign policy principles, South Africa continues to call for dialogue and negotiation toward a peaceful resolution of conflicts around the world."
India, also a Quadrilateral Security Dialogue(Quad) member, is set to attend the G-7 summit between 26 June and 28 June. In July, it joins another new grouping, I2-U2, with the leaders of Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and most importantly, the United States. So it no doubt faces a challenge to keep up its balancing act between East and West.
Delhi isn't unaware of its situation and is reportedly working to block any attempts to insert anti-US messaging into the Brics joint statement.Despite trying to put up a united front against the US and its allies, Brics member states also have disagreements among themselves. Bolsonaro has notably made anti-China statements in the past, while nuclear-powered neighbours India and China have locked heads multiple times on border issues, most recently about Ladakh.