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The 4 biggest moments from this week's BRICS summit — and why they matter

BRICS nations agree to expand their group
Russia, China strengthen economic ties with developing nations 04:12

The BRICS economic bloc ended a historic three-day summit in South Africa Thursday after making multiple headlines.

The five-country group, made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is one of the leading global voices for more representation of the developing world and the Global South in world affairs.

And some of the past week's developments will likely raise some serious questions for the U.S.

BRICS Summit Hosted In Johannesburg
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and fellow BRICS leaders leave the stage of a press conference on the closing day of The BRICS summit in Johannesburg, August 24, 2023. Per-Anders Pettersson / Getty Images

These are the four biggest moments from the summit in Johannesburg and why they matter:

Iran, Saudi Arabia and four other countries set to join

The group announced Thursday that six countries are set to join the group in 2024: Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Egypt and Ethiopia.

The move, which will more than double the size of the bloc, will likely throw more scrutiny on Beijing's political influence in the Persian Gulf.

Recently, questions have been raised about whether BRICS is taking an anti-West turn under the influence of China and Russia, amid Beijing's deteriorating relationship with the United States and Russia's standoff with the West over the war in Ukraine.

The Additions will also increase the group's economic clout. BRICS, which was set up in 2009, currently represents around 40% of the world's population and more than a quarter of the world's GDP. That is set to increase with the new members, which include three of the world's biggest oil producers in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran.

Xi's mysterious absence

China's President Xi Jinping missed a highly-anticipated speech at the summit on Tuesday, instead sending his commerce minister to deliver hostile remarks clearly directed toward the U.S.

The unexplained absence triggered rumor and speculation. Such behavior at choreographed events are not part of Beijing's political playbook for high-level officials — let alone for the president himself. 

Chinese state media and China's foreign ministry also appeared to have been caught off guard. News articles and social media posts from official channels were written as if Xi had made the speech, implying his absence was last-minute.

The speech was ultimately delivered by Commerce Minister Wang Wentao, with remarks including a fiery pushback against the United States.

"Should we embrace prosperity, openness and inclusiveness, or allow hegemonic and bullying acts to throw us into depression?" he said. Beijing traditionally uses the word "hegemon" when making veiled references to Washington.

Any explanation for Xi's temporary disappearance is highly unlikely. Some have speculated that he may have fallen ill and quickly recovered. He later returned to the public eye and joined a dinner, keeping the reason for his earlier absence a secret.

Putin also absent

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not travel to the summit after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him in March for the abduction of children from Ukraine. He participated in the summit virtually, and sent Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in his stead.

Despite some recent U-turns, South Africa remains a signatory to the ICC, which means its authorities might have tried to arrest Putin had he turned up — though they tried to get out of doing so.

Russia does not recognize the ICC, and previously called the accusations "outrageous and acceptable," but Putin's reluctance to fly show he's taking the arrest warrant seriously.

China and India pull troops from disputed border

India's prime minister and China's leader agreed Thursday to intensify efforts to de-escalate tensions at the disputed border between them and bring home thousands of their troops deployed there, according to an official from India's foreign ministry.

India's Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra told Indian reporters that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in an impromptu meeting with Xi, highlighted India's concerns about their unresolved border issues.

The Chinese Embassy in New Delhi later tweeted a foreign ministry statement saying Xi stressed that improving China-India relations served their common interests and was also conducive to peace, stability and development of the world and the region.

The disputed boundary has led to a three-year standoff between tens of thousands of Indian and Chinese soldiers in the Ladakh area. A clash three years ago in the region killed 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese.

India and China fought a war over their border in 1962. China claims some 35,000 square miles of territory in India's northeast, including Arunachal Pradesh, with its mainly Buddhist population.

India says China occupies 15,000 square miles of its territory in the Aksai Chin Plateau, which India considers part of Ladakh, where the current face-off is happening.

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