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"BRICS Plus" - Brief analysis Asia and the Pacific

Unsurprisingly, there is no single answer to the question of whether the BRICS are perceived as an anti-Western alliance that applies equally to all Asian countries. Two of the five BRICS countries, China and India, are located in Asia. Together, these two geopolitical heavyweights account for almost a third of the world's population. A third BRICS country, Russia, is predominantly located in Asia, at least in terms of area. China's enormous political and economic weight and Russia's search for new forms of international networking and recognition do not yet make BRICS an Asian event. However, the countries in the immediate neighbourhood are already economically and politically dependent on both superpowers and are massively affected by their ambitions and interests.

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Attitudes on the Asian continent towards BRICS cooperation can be categorised into five groups:

 

  1. The attitude most inclined towards BRICS, which sees cooperation between states as a counterpoint to the established international organisations and, at least to some extent, the values of the Western world, can be found in Central Asia. Kazakhstan is endeavouring to join BRICS, and the President of Uzbekistan, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, has also expressed interest and confidence in deepening cooperation with the BRICS states.
  2. A second group is formed by Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, which also see BRICS as a counterpoint to Western organisations and the voice of the "Global South", albeit at a more analytical level and without any concrete membership ambitions.
  3. A third view of the BRICS can be described as sceptical and distanced. This can be found in Mongolia, for example, but also in Cambodia. Singapore's view that BRICS should not be seen as an alternative to the Western world and traditional organisations can also be classified here.
  4. A fourth type of perception is the concern that one of the countries participating in BRICS would want to use the format to expand its regional or even global influence. This primarily relates to concerns about China's growing influence, an attitude that can be found in Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. In Central Asia and Mongolia, however, this also applies to Russia. It is worth noting that one of India's central motives for participating in the BRICS format is to contain China within the BRICS framework if necessary. This is just as important or even more important than pursuing its own geostrategic or economic interests by participating in the format.
  5. The fifth and final type of perception is that the BRICS have little relevance in international relations. This view is mainly found in South Korea.

 

New form of cooperation or geopolitical shift?

The expansion of the BRICS is predominantly seen in the region as a step by which the participating countries can bring their economic weight together for global concerns in order to strengthen their negotiating position, for example in trade agreements. However, a common agenda of the participating countries, which is necessary for geopolitical "shifts" and on which an increase in global influence could be based in the first place, is seen less. Although enlargement is not widely seen as an emerging antithesis to the G7, concerns are repeatedly expressed that the perpetuation of dualistic international structures and the increase in geopolitical competition between China/Russia and the USA/West could increase the pressure on countries in the Indo-Pacific to choose sides. However, other observers remain pragmatic and see the expansion of the BRICS not least as an opportunity for their countries to deepen economic and trade relations with the BRICS countries.

However, a fundamental shift in power due to the expansion of the BRICS is probably not seen in the region because the expansion does not include any neighbouring countries. What is being discussed much more is the question of what fundamental changes could result from the BRICS expansion if the US dollar is weakened in the medium term and replaced by a new reserve currency. Overall, however, there are few indications that such a step will take place quickly.

 

Perspective - Will BRICS+ gain international geopolitical and economic weight?

The diversity of the members, the lack of structures and the diversity of their economic and geopolitical interests are seen as the biggest obstacles to a stronger BRICS. While the extensive oil and gas reserves of Saudi Arabia and the UAE are emphasised as an opportunity for the BRICS in the Philippine and Indian press, for example, there is a lack of clarity in many places as to how the individual economic potentials should be realised to the benefit of the BRICS as a whole. It also remains unclear to what extent greater financial support for the central economic institution of the BRICS, the New Development Bank, through petro-dollars could solve the problems of the World Bank alternative. 

Even if the lack of a BRICS structure is seen as a problem, Australian media, for example, point to the informal coordination mechanisms that already exist within the BRICS framework. When negotiating trade agreements, diplomats from the BRICS states are already making informal agreements on the division of export markets. In the future, Australian (and Western) diplomats would potentially be confronted with a larger alliance if such consortia were to be bypassed.

The majority of Asian observers see China as the clear economic leader of the BRICS. Even though the UAE and Saudi Arabia, two countries with strong raw material and financial resources, have joined the group, most of the member countries are not particularly dynamic economies. Russia's struggle with the consequences of the war against Ukraine and China's incipient slowdown in growth would weaken the group's economic potential in the medium term. For both countries, however, the political message on the international stage is ultimately at least as important as the actual realisation of economic benefits. However, hardly anyone in the non-BRICS states of Asia sees enlargement as serious competition to the G7. Only in Central Asia, which lies between Russia and China and is particularly dependent on both, is the potential impact of the BRICS viewed with increased caution. 

 

Conclusions and consequences in the region

For Indo-Pacific players with a prominent position such as Japan and Australia, the development primarily means an even more complex trade-off in regional cooperation. With the resumption of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) in 2017, both countries have moved closer to the USA and BRICS member India in terms of security policy and geostrategy. The impact of India's participation in Quad in the event of a conflict in the region is now being weighed up, especially if other members of the now enlarged BRICS group are involved. An additional expansion of the BRICS to include countries such as Egypt, Nigeria and Mexico, as well as Asian players such as Thailand and Indonesia, is seen as a realistic scenario. From an Australian perspective, this would radically shift the alignment within Eurasia, which is why the country wants to prepare itself more strongly for the scenario of an even more comprehensive BRICS expansion.

In the Southeast Asian countries mentioned above and their neighbours, however, the reaction with regard to their own consequences is characterised by restraint. In Indonesia, scepticism about joining the BRICS has so far prevailed because little added value is expected. The same applies to Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. In contrast, there are somewhat higher hopes for the economic attractiveness of BRICS membership in Thailand and Cambodia. However, even in Thailand, there is a consensus among many experts that the country should be cautious in its relations with the bloc and membership endeavours due to the strained relations between several BRICS member states and the United States.

A stronger geopolitical component plays a role in the considerations in Central Asia. All Central Asian countries will follow the further development of the BRICS closely, as they know that the expansion of this international platform will add a global geopolitical and economic dimension through the accession of new countries and their possible institutionalisation. The Central Asian states are therefore likely to adopt an extremely cautious and pragmatic stance in the new geopolitical situation and closely monitor the current changes in the global balance of power. The geopolitical stance could be significantly influenced by developments and the ultimate outcome of the conflict in Ukraine.

 

 

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Contact

Christian Echle

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Head of the Department Asia and Pacific

christian.echle@kas.de +49 (0) 30 26996 3534
Contact

Magdalena Jetschgo-Morcillo

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Global Order and Inter-System Competition

magdalena.jetschgo@kas.de +49 30 26996-3866 +49 30 26996-53796

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