During this year’s BRICS summit in South Africa, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it clear that groups like the BRICS represent a forum for Turkey to enhance its existing global connectivity initiatives with the diverse economies of the rapidly developing global south. Turkey continues to play an active, expanding and increasingly a leading role in linking major projects including Belt and Road from the Asia-Pacific region into the Mediterranean while this year President Erdogan has had multiple visits to African nations where he seeks to build strong ties with the rapidly developing regions within the framework of south-south cooperation.
Turkey’s relationship with China continues to grow stronger, seemingly by the day. Chinese investment within Turkey as well as wide-reaching Sino-Turkish research and development partnerships are at an all time high, while the Turkish government has banned the expression of provocative anti-Chinese statements throughout the domestic media in a clear sign that Ankara prioritises New Silk Road connectivity projects with China over pandering to local activists who often become exorcised over typically western derived fake news regarding China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
During this summer’s BRICS summit, Turkey’s President Erdogan coined the term “BRICST” with the ‘T’ standing for Turkey. The message from Turkey could not be clearer and what’s more is that the Turkish President stated,
“China is definitely for expansion [of BRICS to BRICST]. I believe we should welcome our inclusion in such groupings”.
During the same speech, Erdogan praised Turkey’s ever growing partnerships with both China and Russia, two of Turkey’s important partners across multiple fields including trade, investment, energy and security cooperation.
The BRIC group of nations formed in 2009 as a partnership between Brazil, Russia, India and China. The following year South Africa joined and thus the BRICS as it is known today was born. Since then, BRICS summits have come to expand as multiple observer nations including Turkey seek to play an increasingly active role in BRICS’s driven global connectivity initiatives.
But while increased tensions between India and China since the election of Narendra Modi’s BJP government in 2014 have at times threatened BRICS unity, now that Brazil has elected a far-right extremist to the presidency in the form of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s membership of the BRICS that was promoted by the now jailed former pro-multipolar President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is very much an open question.
Putting his caustic domestic rhetoric to one side, Bolsonaro’s statements of foreign policy indicate that he is ready, willing and able to pivot Brazil away from its Afro-Eurasian partners in the BRICS and back towards a more lock-step relationship with Washington as was typified during the years of military rule in Brazil that the country’s President Elect has consistently praised. While the Brazilian economy is reliant on access to Asian investment and Asian markets, Bolsonaro’s commitment to this long standing reality is ambiguous at best while it is highly likely that Bolsonaro simply does not care for the BRICS and the win-win model it strives towards.
By contrast, Turkey under President Erdogan has become a model of geopolitical multipolarity as Erdogan has thrust Turkey back to the centre of attention among traditional and new partners across the continental divides. What’s more is that Turkey’s historic geopolitical role and its geography make it the economic landbridge between east Asia and western Eurasia. This is a fact that President Erdogan has tended to properly emphasise while looking to build new partnerships across this wider Pacific to Mediterranean space that mirrors the path of ancient silk roads.
Throughout this summer’s 10th annual BRICS summit in Johannesburg, Chinese President Xi Jinping made repeated references to the fact that the penultimate goal of the BRICS insofar as Beijing is concerned, centres around a rapid expansion of the group’s membership, its goals and its ability to unite the wider developing world far beyond the frontiers of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
“We should understand, support, stay forever with and help each other, taking ‘BRICS Plus’ cooperation as an opportunity to build an open, inclusive, cooperative and win-win partnership and create a platform for deepening South-South cooperation”.
The message is loud and clear: BRICS will either expand de-facto (aka without Indian support) or it will expand de-jure (which would require Indian support). In either case, the most influential and wealthy BRICS nation, China has charted a clear course whereby the group will act as a facilitator of multi-continental developmental initiatives across several sectors.
Today though, with Brazil’s geopolitical future uncertain, there is no excuse for Turkey not to join the BRICS as a full member as Turkey’s commitment to the original BRICS philosophy and the BRICS’s present expansionist drive (in the form of BRICS+) as spearheaded by leading member China makes it obvious that a BRICS without Turkey cannot reach its full potential.
While India fears that an expanded BRICS could grow to include Pakistan, because Pakistan and India already share a seat in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, there is no reason that India’s irrational fear of a BRICS move towards eventual expansion to Pakistan should prohibit increased connectivity between the existing BRICS five and nations that are ready to join now. Frankly, should Brazil leave the group, the TRICS could become an even more dynamic partnership than the original BRICS ever was. With Bolsonaro growing cold on Brazil’s multipolar stance while Erdogan has embraced win-win partnerships, the choice should be self evident. Turkey should be invited to join the BRICS in order to carry forward the win-win ideals around which the group was consecrated.