23/06/2024 10:07 AM

By Wong Chun Wai

KUALA LUMPUR, June 23 (Bernama) -- Seeking a formal membership to join BRICS, the largest and most influential geo-political grouping, is certainly the right thing for Malaysia to do as the global landscape changes.

The group was founded by its core members of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, thus the acronym of BRICS, but its membership has expanded very fast as countries search for multi-polar platforms.

A week ago, Thailand submitted its formal request to join the grouping of emerging economies.

It was reported that Thailand hopes to become a member at BRICS’ next summit in Russia in October, which will make the country the first ASEAN country to do so.

But Malaysia’s entry into BRICS would even be more significant as it will hold the ASEAN chairmanship next year.

Given Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s global stature and influence, it would certainly be more significant.

The new members of BRICS have included Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates with over 30 countries having expressed interest, according to a Reuters report last week.

While there are some commentators, who have expressed concern at Malaysia’s decision to join BRICS, a grouping they said is spearheaded by Russia and China.

They see these two countries which have challenged the world order headed by the United States and its Western allies.

While these worries are understandable, they are not entirely accurate.

India, for example, is regarded to be close to the West and has well-published differences with China, but it also has a reputation for pursuing a fiercely independent foreign policy.

Malaysia has repeatedly said it would not take sides in the rivalry between the US and China and has been careful in its handling of the delicate situation.

After all, Malaysia has also gained much from the US-China chip war, for example, with Penang being the largest benefactor.

The state reportedly attracted RM60.1 billion in foreign investment in 2023, then the total it received from 2013 to 2020 combined.

Certainly, Malaysia will continue to welcome US investments to Malaysia, and would not do anything to harm that friendship.

The report said that the broadening curbs on Chinese technology, especially for chipmaking, are a key reason for neutral Malaysia’s appeal.

At the same time, Malaysia is also mindful that China has been its largest trading partner for the last 40 years.

Malaysia, like other countries, cannot ignore the fact that China has the largest gross domestic product (GDP) of the BRICS country. Combined, the BRICS bloc has a GDP of slightly more than the US.

According to reports, BRICS now accounts for 37.3 per cent of the world GDP, or more than half as much as the European Union at 14.5 per cent but the growing frustrations of members have been the dominance of the US dollar.

Joining BRICS will surely broaden markets and possibly help to reduce overreliance on the US dollar for trade settlements with local currencies being used instead of the arrangements.

As Bank Muamalat Malaysia Bhd chief economist Dr Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid rightly told Bernama, “it will effectively insulate the country and the region from the changes in the US monetary policy and currency volatility, potentially improving predictability in the currency market and lowering transaction cost for exporters and importers.”

The inclusion of new members has given BRICS a boost but like ASEAN, it also works on a consensus basis.

Admission of a new member is based on the consensus among member states. There is no automatic admission and Malaysia still must be on the waiting list.

Selection criteria for the New Partner Country Category include good representation and close relations with BRICS members, strong standing in regional and international politics, as well as economy and not imposing any unilateral sanctions on the BRICS members.

It is also not on a first-come-first-serve basis with political decisions of BRICS leaders taking precedence.

But given Malaysia’s credentials and that of Anwar Ibrahim, certainly, we will be given strong consideration.



*Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai, who is the chairman of Bernama, has been a journalist for over 40 years.


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