Malaysia, Brics, and the US


A couple of days ago, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announced Malaysia’s interest in joining the intergovernmental organisation Brics.

Brics is a group consisting of five major emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

Initially established in 2006 with four countries, South Africa later joined in 2010, resulting in the name change to Brics.

In January 2024, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates also joined the organisation.

Brics members convene annually for a summit to set common objectives, focusing on economic development, as well as political and security cooperation.

The bloc has emerged as a significant player in global politics, challenging the dominance of the Western powers.

Rise of the East

It is viewed as a geopolitical competitor to the G7 group, which includes Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Through expanding its membership, having a large population, significant oil production, substantial global economic representation, and establishing a new international financial institution, Brics is positioning itself to challenge the Western hegemony, particularly that of the US.

In addition, the proxy war between the US and Russia, as well as the trade dispute involving the US and China, can be seen as a precursor to the recent rise or expansion of Brics nations.

Russia President Vladimir Putin and China President Xi Jinping

As the influence of the US-led West wanes in global affairs, the inevitable rise of the East is becoming increasingly evident.

Through the alliance of Brics, the East, along with Africa and Latin America, can form a united front that challenges the dominance of the West. Notably, this coalition includes emerging economic powerhouses such as China and India.

Moreover, by establishing a global financial institution that competes with Western-dominated entities like the IMF and the World Bank, Brics has the potential to undermine the supremacy of the West.

The emergence of a new geopolitical alignment also poses significant challenges for the West. This coalition comprises four nations: China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. Interestingly, China and Russia are the founding members of Brics.

China poses threats to Taiwan and exhibits aggression in the South China Sea. Russia is involved in an ongoing war in Ukraine. Iran plays a key role in Russia’s conflicts. North Korea is notorious for its nuclear aspirations and provocative behaviour.

Tread with caution

Despite significant differences in ideology, these countries collaborate out of necessity and urgency, providing each other with weapons and oil to circumvent Western sanctions. Their cooperation extends to conflicts in Ukraine, the Middle East, and Africa.

Furthermore, the emergence of a new axis challenging Western military supremacy is a cause for concern for us.

The ramifications of this novel axis are profound. Its objective is to weaken the dominance of the West in terms of economic and military power.

Through strategic and forceful actions, this alliance has the potential to escalate into a comprehensive conflict and disrupt the current global hierarchy.

Given the current economic situation in the country, it would be prudent for Malaysia to consider joining the Brics alliance.

However, it is crucial for Malaysia to carefully navigate its relationships with these blocs (Brics and the West) in order to maintain neutrality and ensure its own survival.

Any missteps in this regard could not only impact our relationships with countries in these blocs but also have a significant effect on our economy, considering that China and the US are among our largest trading partners.

Additionally, Malaysia has important security collaborations with countries like the US and UK, which could potentially be affected.

Neutrality paramount

Therefore, as our country prepares to assume the leadership role in Asean, it is essential to avoid aligning with any specific bloc and maintain a stance of impartiality.

In November 1971, Asean foreign ministers from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and the Special Envoy of the National Executive Council of Thailand gathered to reaffirm their commitment to maintaining neutrality in the region.

They emphasised the importance of Southeast Asia being recognised and respected as a Zone of Peace, Freedom, and Neutrality (Zopfan), free from any external interference.

In my perspective, it is crucial for us to embrace the concept of Zopfan in order to avoid any conflicts with these blocs and instead foster friendly and productive relationships with them, ultimately benefiting our people and nation.

Malaysia’s decision to join Brics, along with its significant investment and security alliance, raises concerns about potential tensions with the West, particularly the US.

While the US may not explicitly express its displeasure, it could indirectly withhold necessary assistance in the future to demonstrate its dissatisfaction with Malaysia’s Brics membership.

However, Malaysia’s interest in joining Brics is driven by its aspiration to broaden its options and engage with a growing global influence.

The membership of other countries in Brics, such as Brazil, South Africa, and India, has not significantly impacted their bilateral relations with the US.

Furthermore, Malaysia’s well-established friendship with the US enables it to maintain its own standpoints without undermining cooperation, trade, or investment.

By joining Brics, Malaysia could also reduce its reliance on the US dollar for trade settlements, which would benefit its economy.

Ultimately, Malaysia’s path remains independent of Brics, and its involvement with the group is unlikely to significantly disrupt its relationship with the US.

To summarise, the prime minister aims to steer our country towards maintaining harmonious relationships with both Brics and Western powers by implementing effective strategies.

Given the delicate nature of this situation, it is crucial for the current administration to seek input from diverse local experts to develop the appropriate strategies that will protect our nation’s interests when we join Brics in the future. - Mkini

R PANEIR SELVAN is the principal consultant of Arunachala Research & Consultancy Sdn Bhd, a think tank specialising in strategic national and geopolitical matters.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of MMKtT.

Malaysia, Brics, and the US