BRICS 2023 summit in South Africa: balancing growth and disparity

The BRICS leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa recently convened in Johannesburg for their 15th summit meeting. This marked their first in-person gathering since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The summit held significant weight amid global geopolitical developments, notably the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has now persisted for two years.

While four of the leaders were physically present, Russian President Vladimir Putin participated virtually. This was due to an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for Putin on charges related to war crimes in Ukraine. As South Africa is part of the International Criminal Court and a signatory to the Rome Statute, hosting Putin could have led to diplomatic complexities. Thus, Putin’s remote participation alleviated potential challenges for South Africa.

Despite the BRICS leaders’ rhetoric about upholding international law, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting human rights abuses have seemingly been disregarded within the group. The proclaimed themes of promoting multilateralism and ensuring fairness and justice in global matters appear to lack substance.

A press release from the Indian Prime Minister’s Office highlighted the summit’s purpose as a platform to assess the progress of previous initiatives and identify future avenues for collaboration. During the plenary session, Prime Minister Modi presented proposals to enhance inter-BRICS cooperation, particularly in the field of space, digital public infrastructure, skill mapping, and traditional medicine.

The suggested collaboration in space aligns with the 2021 BRICS agreement, wherein the leaders of the five nations concurred on sharing remote sensing satellite data. This agreement, established during India’s BRICS presidency, encompassed the creation of a “virtual constellation” of designated remote sensing satellites from BRICS space agencies. The corresponding ground stations would receive the data, aiming to bolster multilateral cooperation among these agencies. This endeavor is intended to collectively address pressing global concerns like climate change, disasters, and environmental preservation.