Chinese leader Xi Jinping set the tone for a virtual summit with leaders from major emerging economies in a pointed speech Wednesday evening, in which he decried sanctions as “weaponizing” the global economy and urged unity in the face of financial challenges.
Xi, who spoke at a business forum ahead of the virtual summit Thursday with leaders from the BRICS economic bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, portrayed the world as being at a critical juncture as it struggled to recover from the pandemic amid what he termed new “security challenges.”
“The tragedies of the past tell us that hegemony, group politics and bloc confrontation bring no peace or security; they only lead to wars and conflicts,” he said via videolink.
“The Ukraine crisis is another wake-up call for all in the world. It reminds us that blind faith in the so-called ‘position of strength’ and attempts to expand military alliances and seek one’s own security at the expense of others will only land oneself in a security dilemma,” Xi said.
The comments appeared to be a veiled reference to the United States and NATO, whom Beijing has repeatedly blamed for provoking Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
He also took aim at Western sanctions, saying such penalties were a “double-edged sword” that weaponized the global economy and would “bring harm to the people of the world.”
Instead countries should “embrace solidarity and coordination,” he said, while also touting China’s new development and security initiatives as blueprints.
The comments provide insight into China’s priorities as its hosts the annual BRICS summit – a virtual event in Beijing that is also Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first time meeting in a forum with the leaders of major global economies since the invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
In his own video address at Wednesday’s event, Putin said Russia was “redirecting” its trade flows to BRICS countries and other “reliable international partners,” according to a Kremlin transcript.
He also pushed back on Western economic actions, saying “politically motivated sanctions” and “mechanisms of exerting pressure on competitors” undermined global business and were “contrary to common sense and basic economic logic.”
Sanctions have been a key tool used by Western governments and their allies against Russia following its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, as they seek to pressure it into giving up its brutal assault, which has sparked a humanitarian crisis and allegations of war crimes against Ukrainian civilians.
The war in Ukraine is expected to cast a shadow over the summit, the fourteenth since the bloc was established in 2009 as a means to “serve common interests of emerging market economies and developing countries.”
But the crisis – and the raft of Western sanctions – may also provide impetus for certain issues that have been under discussion by the group for years, including promoting trade settlements outside the US-dollar system, from which Russian institutions are now heavily restricted.
Putin raised this possibility in his Wednesday remarks, saying that BRICS partners were “developing reliable alternative mechanisms for international settlements” and “exploring the possibility of creating an international reserve currency based on the basket of BRICS currencies.”
But how wholeheartedly the entire bloc will embrace major initiatives like a shift from the dollar system or sweeping statements decrying Western sanctions at Thursday’s summit remains to be seen.
While each of the BRICS leaders has avoided condemning Russia outright, they hold varying levels of interest in not being seen to endorse its actions or work too closely with Russia – and run foul of Western friends.
Differences of tone were apparent in the addresses by each of the leaders at Wednesday night’s forum, an event for business leaders on the sidelines of the summit.
In his video address, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi focused on the forum itself and his hopes for it to spark exchanges between start-ups. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa focused on poverty, inequality and issues like vaccine access, as well as trade and investment, according to transcripts from their governments.
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro said in the face of global economic risks, his country was open to further economic integration, according to Brazil’s national public news agency.