Xi Who Must Be Obeyed

Andrew Donaldson writes on the hierarchy of status at the BRICS summit


GROUCHO Marx famously declared that he refused to join any club that would have him as a member. The statement was first expressed in the comedian’s letter of resignation to the Friars Club of Beverly Hills, a private club that opened in 1947 to cater to show business elites who’d migrated to Hollywood from the eastern United States. It has since entered folklore.

I wonder though whether this sort of Marxism applies to membership of a gang, as opposed to a club? This is particularly in light of the countries now clamouring to join BRICS. More than 40 have reportedly expressed an interest in joining the bloc, which has been widely trumpeted as an alternative to global bodies dominated by traditional Western powers — an anti-G7, if you will. 

Many of these states hope that membership will bring increased trade and investment, including developmental aid. They include Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Bolivia, Indonesia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, Gabon and Kazakhstan. 

They are, in a nutshell, not what we may refer to as liberal democracies, and whatever their unhappiness with the global order, their gravitation towards a mob of malcontents led by China and, to a lesser extent, Russia should be of concern to human rights organisations.

The issue of expansion is uppermost on the agenda in Sandton, where the BRICS summit is taking place. It’s a big week for Cyril Ramaphosa and, judging by his ubiquity in the news feeds, he has wasted not a moment in pressing the flesh and putting on the schmooze, particularly with China’s Xi Jinping. The two have certainly been tight. In fact, if Squirrel and Xi Who Must Be Obeyed had been any cosier, horses may have bolted. 

This was not lost on Indian prime minister Narendra Modi. He was apparently so upset at China’s red carpet treatment that he initially refused to get off his aircraft at Waterkloof. Why hadn’t he had the Squirrel squelching? Was this some kind of snub? Deputy president Paul Mashatile was eventually despatched to officially welcome Modi. Perhaps the Alex Don made it clear that, no disrespect, his boss couldn’t be ass-kissing in two places at once. China is clearly calling the shots here.

This should come as no surprise. It seems that China calls the shots everywhere these days. Here in the UK, for example, the Foreign Office has instructed government officials not to use the term “hostile state” when referring to China lest it upset Beijing. 

According to The Timesthe term has effectively been banned in official documents and routine internal communications between civil servants, ministers and advisers. The newspaper quoted one Foreign Office explanation: “States aren’t inherently hostile themselves, they just do hostile things.” 

Orwell, no fine, as they say at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), and this as yet more Chinese fighter jets invade Taiwanese air space.

But, speaking of double-speak, Xi’s address at the start of the BRICS summit was full of it. In the speech, delivered on his behalf, he claimed that “hegemonism is not in China’s DNA” and that Beijing had no wishes to engage in great power competition or create “bloc confrontation”.

“China stands firmly on the right side of history,” Al Jazeera quoted him as saying, “and believes a just cause should be pursued for the common good.” BRICS would continue to grow “whatever resistance there may be”, Xi said, adding, “Right now, changes in the world, in our times, and in history are unfolding in ways like never before, bringing human society to a critical juncture.” 

Indeed they are. And they’re particularly aware of this in Xinjiang, where the persecution of Uyghurs and other ethnic and religious minorities is taking place on an industrial scale. Not to mention Hong Kong and Taipei. 

In this regard, Xi should be reminded that there is no right or wrong side of history, there is only history. And it has a way of throwing a spanner in the works when it comes to the legacy ambitions of tyrants and despots.

But moving on. There is talk among the Bricsniks, for want of a term, about the introduction of a currency with the jurisdictional latitude and trading clout to rival the US dollar. It’s not on the official agenda at the summit and commentators suggest that such a development is unlikely in the near future, but the chatter persists.

What will it be called? The groat, the gommagomma or the guava, perhaps? Whatever it may be, it’s hoped it will not be pegged to the rouble or the yuan. Both are in a bit of the brown stuff, and heading globally southwards. 

Everything Russia and its war pig president Vladimir Putin does these days is a catastrophe. Its recent disastrous lunar adventure is an excellent metaphor for the rouble. Unwanted, even on the moon’s barren south pole. Sanctions do have an effect, it seems.

China’s economic slowdown, meanwhile, has alarmed international markets. The country was meant to rebound after ditching its draconian “zero Covid” crackdown. This has not happened. Industrial indicators, investment and retail sales have fallen far below expectations. More troubling is the mounting youth unemployment — so much so, that these figures have been suspended from monthly economic reports. The Chinese communists are experts when it comes burying bad news, and it should not surprise anyone that Xi has had a word or two of advice for Squirrel in this regard. 

It’s worth recalling that it was a British economist, Lord O’Neill of Gatley — or Jim, to you and I — who came up with the acronym BRIC in a briefing note about emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China that he wrote for Goldman Sachs in 2001. 

That O’Neill is now greatly disappointed that these countries had failed to convert their growing economic power into significant political clout is perhaps by the by. South Africa joined the bloc in December 2010, very much a minnow. Squirrel would of course welcome expansion of the gang. Or should that be shoal — if, that is, slightly bigger fish status is what is wanted.

On the good news front, meanwhile, we can now sell the Chinese avocados.


Funerals are no laughing matter. Three cheers then for the ruling party’s secretary-general, Fikile Mbalula, for injecting a welcome note of hilarity in his obsequy at the service for a Free State party member. “Yes,” he told mourners, “there may not be water, but you have a tap inside your yard delivered by the ANC.” What’s more, those taps didn’t turn up without a struggle. “It's very easy to be opposition,” Mbalula continued. “You form a political party and say what you like, but it’s difficult to be government.” 

True. But, as the optimists say, if at first you don’t succeed, fail, fail and fail again.

An urgent inquiry

Police in London are investigating the disappearance of more than 1 500 valuable objects from the British Museum. The missing pieces, which included rare gold jewellery and gemstones, had been used for research and were not on public display. It’s believed that they have been pilfered over a number of years.

This is distressing news. The museum, regarded by many as the world’s largest receiver of stolen goods, has long maintained that they’re hanging on to looted artefacts like the Parthenon marbles and the Benin bronzes as a service to all mankind. It is only once these priceless pieces are placed on a plinth in Great Russell Street that we are able to fully comprehend their cultural and historical significance. But if they can’t look after our stuff, what then?