China’s Xi Skips Scheduled Speech to BRICS Business Forum

Chinese President Xi Jinping skipped a business forum in South Africa where he was scheduled to deliver a speech, sending Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao instead, according to reports by Bloomberg.

The leaders of Brazil, India and South Africa on August 22 all addressed the event, a prelude to a BRICS summit in Johannesburg. Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a pre-recorded video message – he missed the gathering of emerging-market powers to avoid an international arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court.

Putin stressed, in a video address to the participants, that the BRICS countries comparatively outperform the G7 states in terms of purchasing power parity. “In terms of purchasing power parity, the “five” bypasses the Group of Seven,” the head of state said. “The forecast for 2023 is 31.5% against 30%,” he underlined, adding that the share of the BRICS countries, which account for more than three billion people of global population, has reached almost 26% of world GDP. 

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva reiterated that BRICS could be an example of a new, alternative model of international relations in the changing world.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaking at the BRICS Business Forum, emphasized that the geopolitical tensions and economic challenges, as it was in the early years of the association’s existence after the 2008 global financial crisis, is pushing the role of BRICS.

“In 2009, when the first BRICS summit was held, the world was just coming out of a massive financial crisis. At that time BRICS emerged as a ray of hope for the global economy. In the present times also amongst the covid pandemic, tensions and disputes the world is dealing with economic challenges. In such times once again the role BRICS countries is important,” Modi said.

It wasn’t immediately clear why Xi changed his plans. He attended a lunch hosted by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa shortly before the forum. The two leaders also met as part of Xi’s state visit, and Xi called on two countries to boost their combined influence on international affairs in the Global South.

Beijing has been pushing for the expansion of BRICS, an attempt to extend the group’s clout on the world stage and challenge the US-led status quo. While South Africa and Russia back the addition of new members, India is wary of the group becoming a mouthpiece for China, and Brazil is worried about alienating the West.

The trip marks only Xi’s second international travel this year, with mounting domestic problems keeping him at home. Prior to his trip to South Africa, he has spent just two days abroad so far in 2023, when he visited Russia. That’s the least number of days in any first half of a year since he took power more than a decade ago, excluding the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a broad glance, Africa is growing in significance as an essential part of the world. And it is a natural task for South Africa to promote African agenda in this group. The theme: “BRICS and Africa: Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development and Inclusive Multilateralism” reflecting the priority for Africa. 

South Africa presides over the 15th BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) Summit from August 22 to 24 at the Sandton Convention Centre (SCC) in Johannesburg. According to the World Bank, BRICS countries account for approximately 30% of the Earth’s territory and 42% of the world.s population. — With assistance from S’thembile. Cele, and additional report from Kester Kenn Klomegah.