China Wins as BRICS Accepts Both Iran and Saudi Arabia as Members

OHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 24: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa with fellow
Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images

The BRICS economic and security coalition announced on Thursday that it would accept six new countries as members – notably including both Iran and Saudi Arabia, bitter rivals who set aside their differences in March as a result of talks brokered by China.

China is one of the six countries that gave the BRICS its name – alongside Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa – and by far the most influential within the group. South Africa is the newest current member (the coalition used to be named BRIC) and the host of the ongoing summit expected to end on Thursday. The group primarily serves as an economic and diplomatic organization; its members support one another’s misdeeds at the United Nations and other international venues and have greatly expanded trade to bolster their individual markets.

Genocidal Chinese dictator Xi Jinping is currently in Johannesburg, South Africa, for the ongoing BRICS summit, where his counterpart, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, announced the expansion.

President of China Xi Jinping (L) and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (R) interacts during the 2023 BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg on August 24, 2023. (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP) (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP via Getty Images)

President of China Xi Jinping (L) and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa (R) interact during the 2023 BRICS Summit at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg on August 24, 2023 (Photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP via Getty Images).

“We decided to invite the Republic of Argentina, the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to become full-fledged members of BRICS,” Ramaphosa announced.

These countries reportedly beat out sixteen others who had formally applied to join the group. The Russian news agency Tass listed the 22 applicants as “Algeria, Argentina, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Belarus, Bolivia, Venezuela, Vietnam, Honduras, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Kuwait, Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Thailand and Ethiopia.”

The six new members are set to receive their membership privileges on January 1, 2024.

On Thursday, Xi, as the member most enthusiastically pushing for expansion, celebrated the new members and the growth of the group as serving “the common interests of emerging markets.”

This year’s BRICS summit has attracted outsized international attention as a result of the issue of new membership. The coalition’s members invited more than 60 heads of state to attend, out of which, according to Russian media, over 40 accepted. BRICS member leaders claimed that dozens of countries applied for membership and that most current members were enthusiastic about expanding. Reports indicated in August that Brazil, under socialist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was the most hesitant, fearing that its influence would be diluted by new members.

The list raises several questions regarding the countries’ ability to cooperate, or if they will even make it to January. Argentina, for example, is the victim of Iran’s deadliest terrorist attack in the Western Hemisphere – the bombing of the 1994 Argentine-Israeli Mutual Association (AMIA) – and is scheduled to hold presidential elections in October. The frontrunner in that election, hard-right economist Javier Milei, has promised to make “no deals with communists,” specifically including China on that list – leaving open the possibility that, if elected, he would immediately withdraw from BRICS.

The biggest potential conflict among the group is the potential of deteriorating relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim country home to the holiest sites in Islam, has long bitterly opposed Shiite Iran’s regional influence. Iran, in turn, has funded terrorist organizations, such as the Houthi movement in Yemen, that have attacked Saudi Arabia; Iranian dictator Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has referred to the Saudi royal family as “puny Satans.”

Their presence together on the BRICS membership list is due to Chinese diplomacy – with some help from the administration of American President Joe Biden, which has alienated Riyadh and threatened to damage its economy. Biden himself vowed as a presidential candidate to turn Saudi Arabia into a “pariah” state, an insult that has poisoned attempts at diplomacy. His administration has also accused Saudi Arabia of aiding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an accusation Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky responded to with a public statement thanking Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his support.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (Vadim Ghirda/AP)


Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman attends a working breafast with US President Donald Trump (not pictured) during the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 29, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Ramaphosa announced in October that Saudi Arabia was interested in becoming a BRICS country – the same month that the Biden administration condemned Saudi Arabia for allegedly aiding Russia and threatened to “reevaluate” American-Saudi ties. Reports shortly thereafter that Iran was also interested in joining BRICS complicated the matter, as – at the time – Iran and Saudi Arabia had no substantial diplomatic interactions. But concerns of conflict with BRICS including Iran and Saudi Arabia vanished immediately in March when Beijing announced that it had gathered diplomats from both countries in the Chinese capital and they had agreed to reopen their mutual embassies and tiptoe towards a functional bilateral relationship. China celebrated their reconciliation as a major victory while the Biden administration, caught flat-footed, claimed to support greater Chinese influence in the Middle East.

The Beijing agreement in March allowed for this week’s announcement that both nations would join BRICS. Joining the coalition does not necessarily mean that conflict will not arise – China and India, for example, have engaged in military battles against each other since establishing the group. But it will likely compromise American attempts to improve relations with Saudi Arabia, now at the expense of Iran and the entirety of the BRICS coalition.

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