Bangladesh, Indonesia leaders to attend BRICS summit amid talk of group’s expansion

Kamran Reza Chowdhury and Shailaja Neelakantan
Dhaka and Washington
Bangladesh, Indonesia leaders to attend BRICS summit amid talk of group’s expansion Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (left) is seen with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during her ceremonial reception at the Indian presidential palace in New Delhi, Sept. 6, 2022.
Manish Swarup/AP

The leaders of Bangladesh and Indonesia are set to attend the BRICS summit of five major emerging economies in Johannesburg next week as both Asian nations look to increase their access to development funds.

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo are among 67 leaders from around the world invited to the Aug. 22-24 summit of BRICS, which comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

BRICS came together to act as a counterweight to the dominance of Western nations and the lending institutions they helm, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Bangladesh’s government hopes to reap economic benefits from the invitations to the meeting in South Africa, an official said.

“It is a new potential source of our development assistance. We want to improve our relations with BRICS member countries,” Muhammad Faruk Khan, chairman of Bangladesh’s parliamentary standing committee on foreign affairs, told BenarNews.

In June, Bangladesh formally applied to join BRICS after a meeting in Geneva between Hasina and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the chair of the group this year.

That same month, Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen said Bangladesh was looking forward to joining the group.

“We will surely join once they invite us,” he told reporters, according to Bangladeshi media.

“BRICS leaders are thinking of taking some emerging economies – around eight new countries including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Indonesia, and Bangladesh.”

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during the Leaders Dialogue with BRICS Business Council and the New Development Bank, at the Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, Nov. 14, 2019. [Eraldo Peres/AP]

Khan, with the parliamentary committee, was at pains to note that wanting to join BRICS had nothing to do with moving away from the West.

“This does not mean that we want to sour our excellent relations with the Western countries. We want to maintain our relations in line with our foreign policy: Friendship to all malice to none,” Khan said.

BRICS was formed in 2006 as BRIC. South Africa was added in 2010.

In 2015, BRICS set up its own lending institution, the New Development Bank, and said it has approved a little more than U.S. $30 billion of projects in all of its member countries. The 80-odd projects are in sectors such as transport, water and sanitation, clean energy, digital infrastructure, social infrastructure, and urban development, the bank said.

An attendant stands next to flags of the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – during the group’s summit at the Xiamen International Conference and Exhibition Center in Xiamen, Fujian Province, China, Sept. 4, 2017. [Tyrone Siu/Pool/AFP]

The BRICS bank admitted Bangladesh as a member in 2021, calling the South Asian nation “one of the world’s fastest growing economies.”

The bank also said it was established to “to mobilize resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies.” And expanding its membership is part of a strategy “to become the premier development institution for emerging market economies.”

Indonesia ‘will decide later’ on BRICS

The expansion of BRICS membership is a key issue that will likely be discussed at the summit in Johannesburg, said participants at a virtual briefing on Friday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think-tank.

There are differences within BRICS members on the issue of expansion, said Mvemba Phezo Dizolele, director and senior fellow, Africa Program, at CSIS.

“So India, for instance, is very worried about what role China will play, maybe in taking over the entire platform to assert its own influence,” he said.

India and China have a serious border dispute and are also competitors for regional influence, especially over Bangladesh.  

The process of expansion alone could be a formidable one, said Katherine B. Hadda, visiting fellow, chair in U.S.-India Policy Studies, at the center.

“I think India’s really indicated that there needs to be a serious vetting process for this. And one can imagine that, in India’s mind, that will include maintaining some kind of balance in BRICS so that it doesn’t tilt too much to China’s influence.”

Both Bangladesh and Indonesia are recipients of vast amounts of Chinese investments. 

Bangladesh, for some years now, has had strained relations with the United States. Washington has been highly critical of alleged curbs on free speech and suppression of human rights in the Asian country.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (left) walks with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Nusa Dua, in Bali, Indonesia, Nov. 16, 2022. [Achmad Ibrahim/Pool via Reuters]

As for Indonesia, its economic ties with China far surpass those with the U.S. Further, amid reports that U.S. President Joe Biden may skip next month’s ASEAN summit in Indonesia, observers say Jakarta has begun to feel that Washington is not walking the talk on its commitment to the Indo-Pacific.

But China has sought to court Indonesia as a potential member of BRICS, seeing that it is a Group of Twenty member and also the fourth most populous country in the world, according to a commentary piece published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

For his part Indonesia’s president has been noncommittal about the country’s BRICS membership. 

When reporters asked him earlier this month about speculation that Indonesia was becoming a BRICS member, Jokowi indicated that Jakarta had not decided.

“We will decide later,” he said, according to state-owned news agency Antara.

BRICS would benefit Indonesia because “it possesses significant development financing capability through” its bank, said the commentary, authored by Jefferson Ng Jin Chuan and Utaryo Santiko. 

Indonesia’s raft of infrastructure projects, including the building of a new capital in Borneo, will cost billions and billions of dollars. 


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