JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin will be notably absent as Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders of the BRICS group of emerging economies begin a three-day summit in South Africa on Tuesday.
The bloc, made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is holding its first face-to-face meeting since before the COVID-19 pandemic, but Putin will participate via video call after his trip to South Africa was complicated by an international The arrest warrant of the criminal court issued him in March for kidnapping children from Ukraine.
Xi, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa will attend in person as the bloc – home to 40% of the world’s population and responsible for more than 30% of the world’s economic output – – is considering a possible expansion.
That will be top of the agenda at Wednesday’s main summit in Sandton, Johannesburg’s financial district. More than 20 countries have applied to join the bloc, according to South African officials, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
The five BRICS countries will have to agree on criteria for new members before countries are admitted, but a larger BRICS is seen as a policy favored by China and Russia amid their deteriorating relations with the West.
The BRICS group was founded in 2009 by Brazil, Russia, India and China. South Africa was added in 2010.
South Africa’s Trade and Industry Minister Ebrahim Patel officially opened the summit on Tuesday, welcoming some 1,200 delegates from the five BRICS countries, as well as dozens of other developing countries. More than 40 heads of state are expected at the three-day meeting, according to Ramaphosa.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has emphasized that Putin will fully participate, despite appearing virtually, and deliver a speech. Russia will also be personally represented by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is also expected to attend.
The summit officially kicked off with a business forum on Tuesday morning, and Xi, Lula, Modi and Ramaphosa were expected at the Sandton Convention Center for the leaders’ first meeting in the afternoon. They will also hold a retreat on Tuesday night at the luxurious Summer Place estate in Johannesburg’s posh suburb of Hyde Park.
Xi, who has gradually resumed his foreign travel after the lifting of his country’s strict COVID-19 regulations, was scheduled to meet Ramaphosa for a state visit in the South African capital, Pretoria, on Tuesday morning.
It then travels 60 kilometers (37 miles) through Gauteng, South Africa’s main economic province, to the summit in Johannesburg.
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