The BRICS bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) is the most influential union of developing economies in the world and is increasingly considered the leading geopolitical challenge to the G7.
While the bloc’s influence has grown over the past decade, historical rivalries and conflicts of interest mean individual members’ goals are not always aligned, and the Russia-Ukraine War and the election of a new president in Brazil raised questions over the future of the BRICS bloc in 2022. However, the 2023 summit was centered around the expansion of membership, with six new members joining in 2024, including international rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the bloc has repeatedly discussed finding an alternate international currency to the U.S. dollar. With dozens more countries interested in joining, the BRICS bloc is poised to become the vehicle for progress in the Global South for decades to come, in what many see as a reshuffling of the world order.
The term BRIC was coined in 2001 by economist Jim O’Neill in reference to the foremost emerging economies, and at China’s invitation in 2010 it was expanded to include South Africa. While the acronym originated as a loose term for the countries with highest potential for economic growth and investment opportunities, the bloc has since become a formidable international organization, hosting annual summits since 2009 with comparable areas of interest to the G7 (of which Russia was also a member from 1997-2014).
Strength in unity
In 2023, over 3.3 billion people live in the BRICS countries, including the world’s two most populous countries: India and China. Additionally, the four BRIC countries are among the seven largest by area and make up the 12 largest economies in the world alongside South Korea and the G7 states. South Africa is the outlier here, ranking outside the top 40 economies in the world, however its position as the most stable and advanced economy in Sub-Saharan Africa means it plays an important role in the continent. The five BRICS states differ across many areas such as demographic development, political ideology, and access to resources, but share a common goal in their pursuit of economic growth. Additionally, this diversity may be considered a strength, where Chinese manufacturing, Russian energy, or Brazilian commodities make the BRICS key players in many international markets.
Cooperation and opposition
The BRICS bloc is more than just a trade organization, having established the New Development Bank in 2013, with aims of funding sustainable infrastructure and energy projects across the Global South, and pursuing the development of a new international currency. Additionally, members individually expand their influence through projects such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the India-led Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, or Russia’s role as a major arms and security supplier. In many countries where anti-Western sentiment is high, the BRICS countries now provide alternative sources of finance or aid that was not available two decades before.
Despite this, relations between BRICS countries are not always harmonious. For example, China’s ambitions in Central Asia have been viewed by some as an attempt to usurp Russian influence, while border disputes between India and China have caused persistent problems. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also caused discontent within the bloc, through its global economic impact and by complicating members’ relations with the West, however, many believe that the other BRICS members, especially China, have the greatest potential to facilitate peace negotiations in the future.
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