Search for a report, a publication, an expert...
Institut Montaigne features a platform of Expressions dedicated to debate and current affairs. The platform provides a space for decryption and dialogue to encourage discussion and the emergence of new voices.

The BRICS +, the G20 and the New Global Order

The BRICS +, the G20 and the New Global Order
 Michel Duclos
Special Advisor and Resident Senior Fellow - Geopolitics and Diplomacy

Are the BRICS summit in August 2023 and the G20 summit in Delhi on September 9 and 10 signs of a "de-Westernization of the world"? According to Michel Duclos, the expansion of the BRICS demonstrates their vision's appeal and their determination to break free from Western influence and the dollar's dominance. Moreover, Xi Jinping's absence in Delhi and the half-hearted final statement on Ukraine and fossil fuels demonstrate a reshuffling in G20 power dynamics. Nevertheless, while some degree of concern is legitimate, it would be premature to conclude Western powers have become obsolete. They are spearheading new initiatives and adopting practical and conciliatory stances toward emerging nations, aimed at constructing a new global order advantageous to both groups.

The routine of major multilateral summits rarely includes surprises or turning points. It has this year - and for some years now, notably due to the Trump presidency, the Covid crisis and the war in Ukraine, all of which introduced new elements of tension and fractures into international affairs.

The BRICS summit [...] was defined by the spectacular decision to invite six new countries.

The BRICS summit, held in Johannesburg on August 22 and 24 under the South African presidency, was defined by the spectacular decision to invite six new countries - Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia and Iran - to join as full members alongside the historic core group made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. 

On the other hand, the New Delhi G20 summit, held on September 9 and 10 under the Indian presidency, was characterized by the absence of two prominent leaders, Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi, represented by Sergei Lavrov (the Russian Foreign Minister) and Li Qiang (the new Chinese Premier) respectively. Agreements in such meetings are usually reached unanimously. But until the early hours of the New Delhi summit, there was uncertainty as to whether the participants could reach an agreement on a final declaration. The G20 has also resolved to broaden its membership by offering a seat to the African Union.

It is not without significance that the Indian presidency refused to allow absentees to participate via videoconference at the New Delhi summit, as Putin had done in Johannesburg (where he was unable to attend due to the arrest warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court), even though the same Indians, in their capacity as president of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, had imposed an exclusively virtual summit in the spring.

How much importance should be given to BRICS club's expansion? And why did the Chinese leader decide to skip the New Delhi summit, considering the G20 has always been a favored format by Chinese diplomacy?

Birth of the BRICS +

Regarding the first question, one could be tempted to downplay the significance of the decision made in Johannesburg. After all, the actual output of this grouping set up in 2008 (at the level of Heads of State and Government) on Russian initiative is limited. The only real institution it has created - the New Development Bank - is facing a liquidity crisis. 

While the "BRICS +" will represent about one-third of global wealth (36%) and nearly half of the world’s population (45%), the group's already significant heterogeneity is further increased with its expansion. It would be only logical for the new format to lose efficiency as it gains more participants. The prospect of a common currency - already unrealistic - now loses all relevance. There was much talk in Johannesburg of the global economy’s "de-dollarization" but the final declaration merely encourages transactions in "local currencies".

The group's already significant heterogeneity is further increased with its expansion. 

In our view, this reading a minima runs the risk of misunderstanding the situation. First of all, the large number of countries - around 25 - that applied for membership is striking. The desire to break free from Western dominance over international institutions, especially economic and financial ones, is the real glue that holds the BRICS together, rooted in a deep-seated resentment towards former colonial or "imperialist" powers (the United States). The BRICS’ attractiveness to "middle powers" in the Global South should therefore be seen as an important signal to Western countries. The criteria that led to the admission of new members remain obscure. However, it is worth noting that the expanded BRICS group represents a "strike force" in terms of energy, bringing together major fossil fuel producers and a significant portion of consumer countries (likely also a significant force in terms of raw material trade). The "BRICS +" will thus house a sort of implicit cartel - the one that had already led to a reduction in ambitions at the COP 27 climate summit in Cairo last December. The addition of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia could also make it a financial powerhouse - if these two countries play ball.

Furthermore, it is clear that China was the driving force behind this expansion, despite initial reluctance from India and Brazil. The Russians seem to have followed suit. The prospect of joining a club counting China as a member is the main pull factor for newcomers - and for those candidates who were excluded, including a deeply disappointed Algeria, as well as Indonesia or Nigeria. Chinese diplomacy has recorded another success after the Saudi-Iranian "reconciliation" agreement signed under its auspices.

The prospect of joining a club counting China as a member is the main pull factor for newcomers.

It was also China who selected Ethiopia - whose performance as an emerging country is questionable - primarily because of its role in the development of the new Silk Roads in Africa ("Belt and Road Initiative"). Undoubtedly, the Chinese and Russians had a common interest in co-opting Iran - a toxic country for Western powers - and its presence does not seem to deter other new members (although the Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister has reserved the Kingdom's response to the invitation to join the group).

G20 Summit: Western backsliding?

This context has led some observers to explain Xi's absence from the G20 summit by suggesting that China now intends to prioritise the "BRICS +" over the G20. Such a judgment is undoubtedly premature, but China's attitude at future summits will indeed be a test. The Chinese may be tempted to gradually empty the richest countries' club of its substance while ensuring not to incur blame for a too abrupt rupture. 

There were probably other reasons for Xi's boycott of the summit, including perhaps the country's current domestic difficulties and, above all, the desire not to favor too conspicuous a success for its great rival, India. This is especially true since Modi clearly relies on his international prestige to increase his chances in next year's general elections.

This year's final declaration no longer mentions any Russian aggression.

One reason for Xi not to make the trip to New Delhi may also have been to ease off Putin's loneliness. The Ukrainian issue was at the centre of difficulties in reaching a common position at this summit. Last year in Bali, the summit's final declaration stated that "most G20 members condemned Russian aggression". This year's final declaration no longer mentions any Russian aggression, and Western countries must settle for a formula reminding that "no territorial gains should be acquired by force". The Ukrainian authorities are right to see this as a setback. Efforts to find a peaceful solution are applauded, whereas, in Bali, the agreed-upon text referred to United Nations General Assembly resolutions calling for a withdrawal of Russian forces. This is no longer the case this year.

The final declaration in New Delhi does not include the principle of an eventual phase-out of fossil fuels.

Another setback for the West - admittedly unrelated to Xi's absence - pertains to ambitions regarding climate change. The final declaration in New Delhi does not include the principle of an eventual phase-out of fossil fuels, which the G7 had endorsed in May without agreeing on a timeline. However, the G20 text adopted for the first time the target of tripling global renewable energy capacity by 2030. Along with various announcements on financing, the terms of the debate for the year’s last crucial summit - COP 28 in Dubai in December - are taking shape.

The new international order

Overall, does this mean that, in New Delhi as in Johannesburg, a "de-Westernization of the world" is underway? Here too, one has to be more cautious: 

  • There is indeed a growing influence, if not of the "Global South" as such, of the "middle powers" - or near-superpower India - originating from this Global South. These are the countries that China, on the one hand, and the United States and their allies, on the other hand, are now trying to court. This is what we anticipated in our collective book Guerre en Ukraine et Nouvel Ordre du Monde (War in Ukraine and the New World Order). It is worth noting for instance the increasingly central role played by Saudi Arabia in Johannesburg as in New Delhi, which, for now, appears to be the other beneficiary of the new situation created by the war against Ukraine, along with India. The new weight of the "new Great Powers of the South" is likely to complicate the Western powers' agenda regarding the great challenge of our time that is climate change; for now, the consequences on power-sharing within the Bretton Woods institutions, the IMF and the World Bank are less clear but the battle is on (it should be noted that EU member states have nearly 30% of the votes in these institutions, which is disproportionate to their share in the global economy).
  • For businesses, the aspiration of emerging powers to develop links among themselves going beyond mere commercial ties is salient. Referring again to the Saudi example, the time when the Kingdom looked almost exclusively to Europe and the United States for its development is gone; not only has China become its top trading partner, but Saudi Arabia aspires to engage in trade with Asia in general, Africa or Latin America. Turkey and Morocco have shown the way. The same is true of Indonesia and many other countries.
  • At the same time, the "Global North" countries now appear to have grasped the extent of the ongoing changes. Arrogant lecturing and brutal selfishness still stick to their image, but they are seeking to take the offensive in the competition with the Beijing-Moscow axis to win over the new powers. For example, they did not object to the co-option of the African Union by the G20. The Biden administration’s behavior is indicative in this regard as it spares no efforts to cultivate Modi despite his evident illiberal tendencies, while Prince Mohamed bin Salman is now rehabilitated in Washington. On the financial front, the United States is ready to open the floodgates of international financial institutions with $200 billion in credit to facilitate climate transition in the lowest-income countries. The initiative of an India-Middle East-Europe corridor launched with great fanfare on the sidelines of the New Delhi summit in partnership with the European Union appears more of an American initiative to compete with the Belt and Road Initiative. It is worth noting that the European Union, with its own "Global Gateways" initiative has not achieved the same visibility.

It is also interesting to note that France seems to be a step ahead in this movement. The Paris Peace Forum - created in 2017 and holding its sixth edition in a few weeks' time - of which the Institut Montaigne is a founding member, aims to facilitate a balanced North-South dialogue on global issues. Its current challenge is to demonstrate that such dialogue can and must continue despite the hardening of geopolitical divides. Similarly, the Paris Summit on a new international financial pact (June 22 and 23, 2023) has laid the groundwork for a reorientation of Bretton Woods institutions to serve the development and climate transition needs of the poorest countries.

It is also interesting to note that France seems to be a step ahead in this movement.

  • Finally, large multilateral negotiations aside, it is important to understand the socializing and even clientelism effects that clubs like the G7 or BRICS entail, going beyond the question of "efficiency" per se. If Russia enjoys significant leniency from a large part of the Global South despite its violations of international law, it is certainly for historical reasons but also because it has cultivated a certain connivance with these countries, notably by promoting the BRICS club alongside China. It is reasonable to think that China, by promoting the BRICS +, is seeking the same effect, anticipating the day when it too might resort to force in its neighbourhood. Taiwan obviously comes to mind. A fundamental aspect of emerging powers, regardless of their disagreements or rivalries (in the case of BRICS +: India-China, Egypt-Ethiopia, Iran-Saudi Arabia), is their common rejection of sanctions policies.



Receive Institut Montaigne’s monthly newsletter in English