Jokowi is right not to join 'BRICS’ for now but the alliance is still important for Indonesia

(MENAFN- The Conversation) Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa on August 24 to attend the 15th BRICS Summit, an informal grouping of five major emerging nations: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Shortly before the summit, the BRICS group announced that Argentina, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would become members on January 1 next year.

There was speculation that Indonesia might join.

Reuters reported that 67 countries were invited to attend the summit, and more than 40 countries, including Indonesia, expressed interest in joining the BRICS.

As Southeast Asia’s largest economy, some experts argue that Indonesia should join the group of BRICs.

However, Jokowi says Indonesia still needs to consider its position.

As an international relations scholar with a focus on diplomacy and international development, I suggest that not joining the BRICS, at least not today, is an appropriate decision for Indonesia. As a country that does not want to be associated with superpowers, joining BRICS could put Indonesia in a difficult situation in terms of diplomatic relations.

Avoiding the 'trap’ against Western interests

Historically, BRICS has aimed to promote cooperation between the countries of the so-called Global South and cooperation with other developing countries in economic, trade, political and social development.

Russia launched BRICS in 2009 to balance the economic power of developed countries in the Group of 7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and United States).

Indonesian President Joko Widodo arrives at OR Tambo International Airport ahead of the 2023 XV BRICS Summit in Sandton from 22-24 August. Official Media of the 15th BRICS Summit

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However, both BRICS and the G7 cannot resist expanding their own agenda to broader global political and security issues, with China and Russia attempting to position BRICS as a counterweight to the G7 and other Western-led alignments.

For example, in the Russia-Ukraine war, the camps have shown clear positions.

For example, during the BRICS summit, BRICS leaders issued a joint statement expressing their concern over the current war and calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Despite the absence of Russian President Vladimir Putin from the summit, due to an arrest warrant on war charges, South Africa, China and India did not condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Brazil has refused to join the West in sending arms to Ukraine or imposing economic sanctions on Moscow.

This is in contrast to the G7 summit in March, which imposed tougher sanctions on Russia.

Chinese President Xi Jinping at the plenary session of the 15th BRICS Summit. Official Media of the 15th BRICS Summit

BRICS allows its members to counter and challenge US-led Western hegemony. But this kind of anti-Western sentiment contradicts Indonesia’s principles of independent and active foreign policy, which means it does not side with world powers or be bound by any military pact.

Indonesia is one of the pioneer countries of the Non-Aligned Movement. Hence it has always maintained a policy of non-interference in great power contests and only wants to achieve world peace and social justice.

Indonesia has attempted to broker peace between Russia and Ukraine during its 2022 G20 presidency. Therefore joining the BRICS would put Indonesia in an unnecessary complication.

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Also, if Indonesia joins the BRICS, the West will see it as a signal of alignment with Russia and China, and this may affect Indonesia’s diplomatic relations with other Western countries.

Personal interests of older members

Some of the existing BRICS members seem to have more to gain from increasing the group’s membership.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa chairs the 15th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg. Official Media of the 15th BRICS Summit

China, the largest economy in BRICS, appears to be in favor of adding members to increase its own global influence. An isolated and unfairly sanctioned Russia also needs new allies because of the protracted war in Ukraine. South Africa, the group’s smallest economy, meanwhile, wants more African members to join BRICS to strengthen the continent’s influence.

On the other hand, India and Brazil chose to be very cautious in taking any approach as they did not want to get caught up in the polarization.

But BRICS is important for Indonesia

Although the Indonesian government has not joined BRICS, it is fully aware of the importance of BRICS as a strategic partner, especially economically.

President Jokowi, Foreign Minister Redno Marsudi and Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhud Bandzaitan visited Johannesburg. It showcased Indonesia’s bilateral and regional interests as the 2023 ASEAN Chair. With an economic value of 33.6% of global GDP and home to 45% of the world’s population, BRICS is clearly a significant partner for the ASEAN consortium.

BRICS will help developing economies like ASEAN countries bring mutually beneficial exchanges of technology, knowledge and trade.

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Family photo of BRICS leaders. Official Media of the 15th BRICS Summit

In addition, the BRICS countries are currently promoting „de-dollarization”, with the aim of moving away from global dependence on the dollar as the international currency. The BRICS New Development Bank was established to finance projects, an integral part of the group’s economic development.

This is in line with Indonesia’s aim to intensify the use of the rupiah currency and avoid further depreciation of the rupiah exchange rate against the dollar. In this scenario, the BRICS New Development Bank may help strengthen the rupee in international transactions.

Although BRICS is beginning to feature a development and trade agenda, it has the potential to become a proxy battleground between China/Russia and the West.

So Indonesia’s decision to stay out of BRICS for the time being is a wise one. If Indonesia wants to expand cooperation, investment, and technological development, all of this must be done with all sides, both the Global North and the Global South.

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