Senior diplomats from BRICS countries said the group was open to welcoming new members, during talks in South Africa on Thursday, as the bloc seeks to make its voice heard on the international stage.
Foreign ministers from the Group of Five nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have called for a “rebalancing” of the world order, as they gathered in Cape Town for a two-day conference overshadowed by the fallout from the war in Ukraine.
“Our gathering must send a strong message that the world is multi-polar, rebalancing itself and old ways cannot cope with new situations,” Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said during his opening address. ‘opening.
“We are a symbol of change and must act accordingly.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has largely isolated Moscow on the international stage, prompting it to seek closer ties with China and others.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “more than a dozen” countries, including Saudi Arabia, have expressed interest in joining BRICS and the group is shaping its approach.
The issue was discussed with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, who was in Cape Town, Lavrov said.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu sounded a more conciliatory note, saying Beijing welcomes potential candidates.
“We expect more countries to join our big family,” Ma told a press conference.
The talks preceded a summit of heads of state in August, which is proving problematic for host South Africa, due to the possible attendance of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin is the target of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges that Russia unlawfully deported Ukrainian children.
ICC member Pretoria, which has close diplomatic ties with Moscow, is expected to arrest Putin if he sets foot in the country.
On Thursday, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor reiterated that Putin, like all other leaders, had been invited, adding that the government was considering its “legal options”.
– ‘Sleepless nights’ –
Pandor stressed the summit would be held in Johannesburg, after media reports suggested the government was considering moving it elsewhere to circumvent the issue.
As questions about Putin’s potential visit continued to pour in, Pandor joked with his Brazilian counterpart Mauro Vieira, asking “Are you having sleepless nights thinking about it?”.
Meanwhile, outside the hotel where the meeting was being held, a dozen demonstrators wearing Ukrainian flags and traditional clothes chanted “Stop Putin! Stop the war!”
Some held placards depicting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with the words “child murderer” in blood red letters.
“It’s hard to see South Africa, which has such a strong stance on children’s rights, shaking hands with someone who is part of these systemic war crimes against Ukrainian children,” he said. said Dzvinka Kachur, 41, a member of the Ukrainian association of South Africa, told AFP.
Yet Pandor said Putin was not discussed by foreign ministers, with talks instead focusing on the potential use of alternative currencies to the US dollar for international trade and bolstering the New Development Bank, also known as the BRICS bank.
Ways to “ensure that we don’t become victims of sanctions that have side effects on countries that are not involved in the issues that led to these unilateral sanctions” were also discussed, she said. said in an apparent reference to Western measures against Russia.
Pretoria, which says it wants to remain neutral on the war in Ukraine but is accused by critics of leaning towards the Kremlin, has long argued for the BRICS to act as a counterbalance to a Western-dominated international order.
Fifteen foreign ministers from Africa and the South were invited for the second day of talks on Friday.