Southeast Asia in BRICS Is Good for the Global Order

A vital region in the Global South—Southeast Asia—has long been missing from BRICS, a grouping whose acronym stands for founding members Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. As BRICS gelled and grew from its first summit in 2009, the region’s states watched from the sidelines. One of them—Indonesia—seriously considered joining last year at the Johannesburg summit, but ultimately chose to stay away.

In 2023, BRICS decided to expand to 11 members. The inclusion of South Africa in 2010 had been the club’s only prior enlargement. By inviting Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, UAE, and Saudi Arabia to join, the group folded in new geographies of north Africa and the Middle East. (Argentina later declined the invitation and Saudi Arabia has not yet decided.)

Now, Malaysia and Thailand have announced that they will apply for BRICS membership. There is a high likelihood their application will be accepted. The consequences of an expanding BRICS on great power competition are sometimes misunderstood in zero-sum terms. While signaling continued dissatisfaction with the U.S.-led global order, the expansion of BRICS to pragmatically-oriented Southeast Asia also means a dilution of Russian and Chinese influence in the club. It is a win for the logic of multi-alignment, rather than bloc-building.

THOUGH OFTEN CHARACTERIZED as a club representing the Global South, BRICS is in fact a coalition of the “Global East” (Russia and China) and the Global South. These two components of BRICS come with their own distinct interests. Russia and China are by now clearly locked in a dangerous rivalry with the United States. Moscow and Beijing therefore see the club as a means to counter and diminish Western power.