Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday is hosting a virtual summit with the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa collectively known as the “BRICS”, amid rising concerns over the global economic outlook and a growing political divide between Beijing and New Delhi.
While no agenda has been issued for the talks, Ukraine is likely to feature heavily in the background. China has refused to condemn Russia's invasion while criticising sanctions brought against Moscow. India has bought large amounts of Russian oil at a heavy discount, and South Africa abstained on a United Nations vote condemning Russia's actions.
Along with Xi, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro are scheduled to join the two days of discussions.
China has sought to use the BRICS meetings to further its vision of an alliance to counter the US-led liberal democratic world order while expanding its economic and political footprint.
That has produced few tangible results, but Xi remains committed to the idea of an alternative - and principally authoritarian - global governance mode, investing heavily in countries like Cambodia while cracking down on civil rights in Hong Kong and boosting its military to assert its claims in the South China Sea and threats to annex Taiwan by force.
In an address to the BRICS Economic Summit on Wednesday, Xi said the conflict in Ukraine has “sounded an alarm for humanity,” continuing its formal position of neutrality while backing its ally Russia.
Xi said imposing sanctions could act as a “boomerang” and a “double-edged sword,” and that the global community would suffer from “politicising, mechanising and weaponising” global economic trends and financial flows.
“Economic globalisation is an objective requirement for the development of productive forces and an irresistible historical trend,” Xi said.
In a recorded video, Bolsonaro made no mention of any country and said that “the current international context is a cause for concern because of the risks to trade and investment flows to the stability of energy supply chains and investment."
“Brazil's response to these challenges is not to close itself off. On the contrary, we have sought to deepen our economic integration," he added.
The BRICS collective was founded in 2009 when the countries were seen as the potential engine for future global economic growth.
Since then, South Africa and Brazil have seen their economies become mired in crisis while China's growth has sharply declined and Russia has become embroiled in its invasion of Ukraine and punishing economic sanctions imposed by the West.
China and India have meanwhile feuded over their disputed border and New Delhi's defense partnership with the US, Japan and Australia in what is known as “The Quad”. Skirmishes along the frontier resulted in a major standoff in 2020 leading to casualties on both sides.
Xi asks BRICS to jointly safeguard world peace; attacks US, EU military alliances
Chinese President Xi Jinping called on the BRICS nations to jointly safeguard world peace and tranquillity, and asked them to oppose the "abuse" of unilateral sanctions and reject the formation of "small circles", in an apparent jibe at the US.
Xi, who hosted the 14th BRICS Summit via video link, also noted that the shadows of Cold War mentality and power politics linger on in today's world, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa took part in the annual summit hosted by President Xi.
In a veiled attack on the US and EU, he said certain countries, in attempts to expand military alliances to pursue absolute security, have coerced others to pick sides and created confrontation.
"They ignored other countries' rights and interests while seeking supremacy”, he said.
"The world will become even more volatile and unstable if we allow the dangerous trend to continue," Xi said.
China asserts that the eastward expansion of NATO by the US and EU was the root cause of Russia's offensive against Ukraine.
BRICS countries should support each other on issues concerning their respective core interests, practice true multilateralism, uphold justice, fairness and unity, and oppose hegemony, bullying and division, Xi said.
"The BRICS mechanism has demonstrated resilience and vitality. BRICS cooperation has achieved sound progress and results," he said in his speech posted on the website by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
But at the same time, he called on the BRICS nations to reject the Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation, oppose unilateral sanctions and abuse of sanctions, in an apparent reference to the sanctions by the US, EU and their allies against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
"We need to encourage the international community to practice true multilateralism and uphold the international system with the UN at its core and the international order underpinned by international law," he said.
He also urged the world to "reject the Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation, oppose unilateral sanctions and abuse of sanctions, and reject the small circles built around hegemonism by forming one big family belonging to a community with a shared future for humanity."
China has been critical of the Quad (US, India, Japan and Australia) and AUKUS (US, UK, Australia) alliances, alleging they were aimed at containing its rise.
In his opening address to the 14th BRICS summit via video link, Xi said over the past year, the world has faced the continued spread of COVID-19, a tortuous world economic recovery and increasingly salient peace and security issues.
"Facing the formidable and complex circumstances, BRICS countries have embraced the BRICS spirit of openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation, enhanced solidarity and coordination and jointly tackled the challenges," said Xi.
Significantly, the summit was not telecast live by its official television channels, which carried commentaries on the BRICS countries.
Xi has been lashing out at the United States and the European Union in recent speeches for imposing sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. He reiterated the same in his address at the BRICS Business Forum on Wednesday.
China, a close ally of Russia, has declined to condemn Moscow for the invasion against Ukraine and maintained close political and business links.
Latest reports said China’s crude oil imports from Russia have climbed to over 55 per cent from a year earlier last month displacing Saudi Arabia as Beijing’s top supplier.
Xi stressed that the BRICS Summit is held at a critical juncture in the shaping of the future course of humanity. BRICS countries, as important emerging markets and major developing countries, need to act with a sense of responsibility to bring positive, stabilising and constructive strength to the world, he said.
"We need to speak out for equity and justice," he said.
He also said the BRICS countries need to "remain firm in our conviction that we will defeat the pandemic and act responsibly to protect our peoples and their lives”.
"We need to build a strong line of defence against the virus, enhance international COVID response cooperation, and jointly defend people’s lives and health," he said.
Also the BRICS countries "need to pool strength for economic recovery, step up macro-policy coordination, keep industrial and supply chains secure and unclogged, build an open world economy, and forestall and defuse major risks and challenges in global development, to work for more inclusive and resilient economic growth", he said.
He said the BRICS countries need to advocate sustainable and people-centred development, invest more in poverty alleviation, food, education, health and so on, and promote the implementation of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to bring stronger, greener and healthier global development.
Xi said he looks forward to an in-depth and vibrant discussion under the theme of "Fostering High-quality Partnership and Ushering in a New Era of Global Development” to jointly contribute wisdom and ideas to the high-quality development of BRICS cooperation.
(With PTI inputs)