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China gets a big win as it competes with the U.S. for influence around the world

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the BRICS group, is about to get bigger. So what does that mean for the biggest BRICS economy, China? NPR's John Ruwitch reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Traditional South African music set the mood at the BRICS summit in Johannesburg last week and, at the end of the three-day meeting, an air of confidence. Chinese leader Xi Jinping called the expansion of the group historic.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Through interpreter) It is necessary to enhance the representation and voice of developing countries and global governance and support them in achieving better development. We must adhere to genuine multilateralism and build global partnerships for development.

RUWITCH: Six new members were approved to be added in January - Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

MIHAELA PAPA: It is - I would argue it is a win for China. China is the champion of expansion.

RUWITCH: Mihaela Papa is a senior fellow at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

PAPA: So this is the first time that actually China managed to push forward with its priority agenda - both trade and expansion. So that means that we are likely to see more of China's engagement and interest with BRICS than we saw before.

RUWITCH: The BRICS now represent what some see as an expanded front in Beijing's tussle with the United States and the West for influence and in setting global governance values. One area where the BRICS agreed this time to move forward aligns neatly with China's interests, as well as those of Russia and incoming member Iran - finding alternatives to the dollar-dominated financial system. Here's South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speaking at the end of the meeting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT CYRIL RAMAPHOSA: As BRICS, we are ready to explore opportunities for improving the stability, reliability and fairness of the global financial architecture.

RUWITCH: Beyond the six incoming members, many others have expressed interest in joining BRICS, which, notably, does not include any Western nation. But Daniel Bradlow, an expert on global governance at South Africa's University of Pretoria, says it's wrong to see BRICS as an anti-Western bloc.

DANIEL BRADLOW: It's countries that are saying we don't want to be forced into the position of having to choose between the West and China, but we want good relations with both, and we want to have enough of a bargaining chip that we can keep that independence for as long as possible.

RUWITCH: But expansion complicates things. It means there will be 11 voices instead of five. How the BRICS approach political disagreements - like the China-India border dispute, for example - will be a test. And while the members may all agree broadly that current arrangements for global governance aren't working well, Bradlow says it's hard to see them coming together at this point on what to do about it.

BRADLOW: The West should see it as a symptom of the frustration and the disillusionment that countries in the global South have with the current arrangements in the world.

RUWITCH: And he says he hopes the West responds constructively and chooses to engage.

John Ruwitch, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.
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