Chinese leader Xi Jinping set the tone for a virtual summit with leaders of major emerging economies in a pointed speech Wednesday night, in which he denounced sanctions as ‘weaponizing’ the global economy and called for unity in the face of financial challenges.
Xi, who spoke Thursday at a business forum ahead of the virtual summit with leaders of the BRICS economic bloc from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, described the world as being at a critical juncture as it struggled to recover from the pandemic amid what he called new “security challenges”.
“The tragedies of the past tell us that hegemony, group politics and block confrontation bring neither peace nor security; they only lead to wars and conflicts,” he said via video conference.
“The Ukrainian crisis is another wake-up call for everyone around 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 end up in a security dilemma.” said Xi.
The comments appeared to be a veiled reference to the United States and NATO, which Beijing has repeatedly accused of provoking Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
He also took aim at Western sanctions, saying these sanctions were a “double-edged sword” that militarized the global economy and would “harm the people of the world”.
Instead, countries should “embrace solidarity and coordination”, he said, while touting China’s new development and security initiatives as role models.
The comments provide insight into China’s priorities as it hosts the annual BRICS summit – a virtual event in Beijing that is also Russian President Vladimir Putin’s first meeting in a forum with leaders of the world’s major economies since 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 against Western economic actions, saying “politically motivated sanctions” and “competitor pressure mechanisms” undermined global trade 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 after its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, as they seek to pressure it to back down from its brutal assault, which has triggered 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 founded in 2009 as a way to “serve the common interests of emerging market economies and developing countries”.
But the crisis – and the round of Western sanctions – could also give impetus to some issues the group has been discussing for years, including promoting trade settlements outside the US dollar system, which Russian institutions are now heavily restricted.
Putin raised the possibility in his remarks on Wednesday, saying BRICS partners were “developing reliable alternative mechanisms for international settlements” and “exploring the possibility of creating an international reserve currency based on the BRICS basket of currencies.”
But it remains to be seen how whole-heartedly the bloc as a whole will adopt major initiatives such as a change in the dollar system or sweeping statements denouncing Western sanctions at Thursday’s summit.
Although each of the BRICS leaders has avoided outright condemnation of Russia, they have varying degrees of interest in not being seen as condoning its actions or working too closely with Russia – and clashing with Western friends.
Differences in tone were apparent in the speeches of each of the leaders at Wednesday evening’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 that it will spark exchanges between start-ups. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa focused on poverty, inequality and issues such as access to vaccines, as well as trade and investment, according to their governments’ transcripts.
Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro said that in the face of global economic risks, his country was open to greater economic integration, according to Brazil’s state-run news agency.