BRICS has taken a significant step in expanding its membership to six influential countries in the Middle East, Africa, and South America. This includes Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. The inclusion of these six countries is seen as a major win for BRICS, especially China. It is generally believed that a new economic and political order is on the rise as influential Middle Eastern countries rally behind China’s led diplomatic and economic initiatives.
Theatrics and optics are important in today’s world. Narratives also play a key role in global politics. There is a mixed narrative and debate on BRICS and the way China has asserted its influence. It depends on how one views the developments.
The criticism of BRICS is that it does not have any planned and well-elaborated membership criteria. Therefore, becoming part of BRICS does not actually mean much. It also does not have a well-chalked-out strategic direction for what the goal and ultimate aim of including these six countries in BRICS would be. It should also be kept in mind that there are limits to cooperation among rival states in the Middle East. Would newly evolved rivals like the UAE, KSA, and Iran merge their interests in BRICS, or is it merely about securing a seat at the table? This is the developing criticism of BRICS and its expansion that might see new critical points in the coming weeks.
There is also appreciation for BRICS. And it comes in abundance.
The general public in the global south celebrates the expansion. China is their new hero, at least in terms of optics. To them, China is the big country that is out there to build consensus, cooperation, and address issues like regional rivalry. Recent diplomatic developments like the Saudi-Iran détente are considered a Chinese masterstroke and a diplomatic win. A plethora of former diplomats in the region, experts, and academics have appreciated the rapprochement, which has added much value to the Chinese diplomatic narrative. The BRICS expansion and inclusion of six states is yet another feather in the cap for China.
As diplomatic developments take place rapidly, it is important to take stock of the future of Chinese influence.
Influence has many tools. At the moment, the Chinese strategy seems to be focused on creating an image that the world wants to see. The last two decades of ravaging wars, political upheavals, and changing alliances have created anxieties for the Middle Eastern states. During these periods, they have wished to extricate themselves from the quagmire of conflict that could end up toppling governments and kingdoms. The Middle East has been in the eye of the storm for too long. Consequently, it wants to see a world of certainty, predictability, and stability. China offers just that.
China proposes to put an end to potential and anticipated crises in the Middle East through diplomacy. This is a relief for many apprehensions that the region has had. How long that will last is yet to be seen. Its durability is not the issue in question. The real challenge is putting the fears to rest for the moment.
BRICS boasts to represent 40% of the global population and a quarter of global GDP. With six influential states joining the mechanism, the total wealth would be around 31 trillion dollars. However, where China lacks is a durable regional mechanism that can actually perform and bring about change at the grassroots level.
This requires cooperation and foolproof economic mechanisms outlined by the states. At the moment, the Middle Eastern countries have not outlined a proper mechanism for cooperation. It is still in a nascent stage. The region is recovering from decades of wars, like Afghanistan, and is infested with terrorist organisations operating from the Far East to Africa.
Economic stagnation, terrorism, and regional rivalries are some of the many issues that plague the regions of the Far East, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. China is probably not committed to addressing all of that. For a ‘Chinese order’ to take off, it needs to offer something that would address these issues at the earliest. China has captured the imagination of many. The influence has started to show some signs. However, sophistication and political finesse are still needed.