South Africa, a country that has frequently captured international media attention, finds itself in the spotlight once again. As the host of the 2023 BRICS summit, it will witness the first in-person gathering of influential leaders from the Global South in four years. This summit is particularly significant as it also marks the first BRICS summit to be held in Africa in five years. It takes place at a time when the world is experiencing fragmentation, intense major-power competition, and a conflict on Europe’s doorstep that preoccupies the North and has ripples throughout the South.
The Johannesburg summit stands out for several reasons. A cursory glance at Western media headlines reveals a palpable sense of unease and criticism, with statements such as “The BRICS are better off disbanding than expanding” and “BRICS raging against the dollar is an exercise in futility.”
It might be tempting to dismiss these views as mere jealousy, but it is worthwhile to delve deeper into their arguments. Doing so can assist South Africa in its endeavor to ensure a successful summit.
One of the primary arguments put forth by Western commentators is the perceived lack of unity within BRICS. This argument reflects a fear of the collective weight wielded by this group. Established in 2009, BRICS brings together some of the largest emerging markets and developing countries (EMDCs).
Together, they account for 23 percent of global GDP and represent 42 percent of the world’s population. Projections indicate that by 2030, their contribution to global output will surpass 50 percent.
Moreover, many other developing nations are seeking to join this economic bloc. More than 40 countries have expressed their interest, with 22 of them having already submitted formal applications.
South Africa’s proactive role in managing this process will be crucial. Ensuring that the right candidates, those with economic and geopolitical significance, are admitted will strengthen BRICS’ position as the premier platform for EMDCs to engage in economic cooperation and advocate for their legitimate rights and interests.
History has shown that developing nations have a propensity to unite as a formidable force that the West cannot underestimate. In 1955, they gathered in Bandung, Indonesia, to condemn imperialism and colonialism. In 1961, they formed the Non-aligned Movement in Belgrade to call for greater democracy in international relations. In 1964, they convened as the Group of 77 in Geneva to advocate for a new, fair global economic order that benefits developing countries.
Now, a historic moment awaits BRICS, and South Africa will be recognized as the host where a significant milestone is achieved and the future trajectory of BRICS cooperation is shaped.
The second point raised by Western elites is their scepticism regarding BRICS’ ability to achieve its goal of shaping a fairer development order. Specifically, they criticize the notion of de-dollarization, considering the dominant position of the US dollar and its impact on development processes as an unavoidable reality for developing nations.
Like any international group, BRICS members may have differing perspectives on various issues. However, South Africa can encourage a collective focus on their shared objective: development. The country’s decision to centre the theme of its chairmanship on Africa is commendable.
Africa encapsulates the challenges hindering global development: numerous and pressing needs, inadequate delivery of genuine assistance from wealthy nations, conditional aid, and a global economic governance structure dominated by the West that impedes meaningful progress in developing countries.
South Africa has an opportunity to revitalize the global discourse on addressing these obstacles, including the discussion of de-dollarization. It is true that transitioning away from the dollar will not be a simple task, even for a layperson. However, the excessive influence exerted by the US dollar on economies worldwide has raised concerns. Its weaponization is increasingly normalized, prompting many to contemplate potential alternatives.
In conclusion, the Johannesburg summit holds immense significance beyond being a routine gathering for the Global South. It is fitting to have it take place in South Africa, the “rainbow nation” that takes pride in its history of combating injustices.
(Yi Fan is an international affairs commentator based in Beijing.)
Contributed by Yi Fan