The three-day summit that began Tuesday in Johannesburg demonstrates how Washington has struggled to project influence throughout the vast, developing Global South, notes ‘Newsweek’.
“The U.S. is trailing countries such as Russia, India and China in the Global South,” Akhil Ramesh, a senior fellow at the Hawaii-based Pacific Forum, told Newsweek. “The Global South does not have this special solidarity it has with nations such as China and India. As victims of Western imperialism/colonialism and having faced similar challenges in reconstruction and development, they have a unique solidarity.”
“The U.S. approach continues to be one where they use nations of the Global South as pawns in their future, larger cold/hot conflict with China or Russia,” Ramesh added. “This understandably has not helped them win friends.”
Such solidarity continues to extend to Putin, who has accelerated his country’s outreach to developing nations, especially in Africa, in recent years. Moscow’s overtures have been met with ongoing interest, as evidenced by the recent Russia-Africa Summit in Saint Petersburg. The summit was attended by 16 African heads of state and representatives of 25 additional African countries, even as the West has accused Putin of war crimes, resulting in an International Criminal Court warrant, and of weaponizing food by bombing grain infrastructure and allowing a deal that safeguarded the continued export of Ukrainian grains via the Black Sea to collapse.
Ramesh argued that nations of the Global South simply “do not view Beijing and Moscow the same way the West does,” and instead see new opportunities where traditional mechanisms have failed. “So, when there was a group presenting an alternative to the Western-led world order/vision of the world,” he added, “nations were quick to jump on the bandwagon.”
The coalition considers taking on new members, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Others who have applied include Algeria, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Honduras, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Morocco, Nigeria, the Palestinian National Authority, Senegal, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Vietnam, according to the most recent count offered last week by South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor.
South Africa, the current chair, is the only nation to have been added to what began as an informal BRIC bloc, born in 2001. Russia led the initiative to bring Brazil, China and India together for the first summit in 2009, and South Africa was admitted the following year.
CSIS Africa Program director Mvemba Phezo Dizolele highlighted the importance of the host nation itself, saying BRICS membership “strengthened the position of South Africa among non-aligned countries” at a polarizing time in global geopolitics. “Non-aligned countries have absolutely been at odds at least with Western countries, particularly ideologically because they do not want to align either with the Russians or with the United States and allies,” Dizolele said.
A key goal for the summit’s participants “will be discussing their disillusionment with U.S. leadership or at least the U.S.-led coalition around the world and how that world order is affecting adversely the countries of the Global South,” Mvemba Phezo Dizolele said, noting that “this will be a time when they will be seeking an alternative to that power.”
Mrityunjay Tripathi, a research fellow at the New Delhi-based Public Policy Research Center stresses: “The growing interest in BRICS does suggest that the U.S.’ attempts to assert influence, particularly across the Global South, have not always produced desired results… The rise of BRICS is indicative of a shift in power dynamics from the traditionally Western-dominated world order to a more multipolar global scenario.”
A key part of this shift identified by Tripathi was not only expansion, but the vision of “instituting a common currency,” something that “further solidifies the group’s commitment to long-term sustainable progress of the Global South.”
“A common currency will not only boost intra-BRICS trade,” he added,” but also eliminate the high dollar conversion costs of international transactions.”
Shen Shiwei, a journalist and analyst with a background in Chinese business dealings in Africa and the Middle East, argued that the U.S. dollar continues to command a significant lead against competitors, comprising some 59 percent of the world’s foreign exchange reserves.
Still, a number of countries, particularly members of BRICS, have called for conducting bilateral trade in their own national currencies, and the idea of a common currency has been increasingly put forth. In April, Lula delivered an impassioned speech at the New Development Bank headquarters in which he railed against the notion that “all countries are forced to do their trade backed by the dollar.”
The message has continued to gain traction among existing and prospective BRICS members. “More importantly, BRICS doesn’t want to copy the Western hegemony in mentality and reality, which has brought too many problems to the Global South.”
As opposed to the G7, “the BRICS mechanism has met the demands of the Global South, especially marginalized countries, to advance a collective agenda and push the building of a more inclusive, representative, just and fair global architecture,” Shen argued. “BRICS is not an exclusive club or small circle, but a big family of good partners.”