Leaders from the five BRICS nations sounded the alarm Wednesday about what South Africa's president described as recent threats to multilateralism and sustainable global growth — a not-so-coded reference to a brewing trade war between the United States and BRICS' wealthiest member, China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping raised his concerns as the three-day summit began in South Africa.
"A trade war should be rejected because there will be no winner," he said. "Economic hegemony is even more objectionable, because it will undermine the collective interest of the international community. Those who pursue this cause will only hurt themselves."
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa echoed his sentiments.
"We are meeting here, ladies and gentlemen, at a time when the multilateral trading system is facing unprecedented challenges," Ramaphosa said. "We are concerned by the rise in unilateral measures that are incompatible with World Trade Organization rules, and we are worried about the impact of these measures, especially as they impact developing countries and economies.
"These developments call for thorough discussion on the role of trade in growing and in promoting sustainable development, particularly inclusive growth."
BRICS admitted South Africa in 2010 as part of the bloc's aim of leveling the global playing field by representing nontraditional powers.
U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to slap tariffs on all $505 billion worth of Chinese imports to his country, a move that has caused global concern. Summit watchers say his blunt rhetoric will influence this year's summit.
"I think that something that is pertinent that relates to the United States and President Trump's administration is, of course, their protectionist measures that they have put on in terms of trade, and the trade wars that have every country in the globe speaking," analyst Luanda Mpungose told VOA. "But something that the BRICS have actually come out and actually spoken about quite strongly is that they want to support multilateralism and a rules-based world order."
But, she said, BRICS may use that adversity to seek to build a new world order, even beyond the five-member bloc.
"Something that's different about BRICS this year, specifically about South Africa as a host country, is that this initiative is not only about the BRICS member countries, the five countries, but actually, we've seen an outreach of neighborhood countries being invited," she said. "So this is taking along the Africa developmental agenda and bringing it into the BRICS agenda. countries like Rwanda, like Senegal, like Togo have been invited to come and attend."
The summit continues through Friday.