AN ARRESTING MATTER
South Africa now looking to China to host BRICS summit, say officials
South African official sources have confirmed that Pretoria is considering moving the BRICS summit to China to avoid acting on the ICC’s warrant of arrest for Russian President Vladimir Putin. BRICS foreign ministers were mum on the idea.
South Africa is exploring the possibility of moving the BRICS summit in August to China to avoid the legal dilemma it faces of having to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin if he visits South Africa, officials say.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was contemptuous about this idea when asked about it after a meeting of the BRICS foreign ministers in Cape Town on Thursday.
He said somewhat contradictorily that the idea had been reported in a “British tabloid and I don’t read British newspapers” — apparently a reference to the Daily Telegraph. South Africa’s international relations minister, Naledi Pandor, said the issue of Putin’s possible attendance at the summit had not been discussed by the foreign ministers.
However, South African official sources confirmed that Pretoria was in fact seriously considering moving the summit to China — with a second option to hold the summit virtually — for all the five presidents of the bloc, which also includes China, India and Brazil.
Pretoria is trying to resolve the dilemma of hosting Putin while also, as a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), having to arrest him as the ICC has issued a warrant for his arrest for war crimes in Ukraine.
President Ramaphosa has tasked an interministerial committee chaired by Deputy President Paul Mashatile to explore whether it is possible to host Putin while not violating SA’s obligations to the ICC and to its own ICC Implementation Act.
However, an official source said there was no realistic prospect of this happening in time for the summit and so the government was preparing alternatives to avoid Putin visiting South Africa. They said these would be discussed at the next meeting of the interministerial committee on Monday and its recommendations would be discussed by the Cabinet on Wednesday 7 June.
The source said that Pretoria had first considered moving the summit to another “neutral” African country, ie, one that’s not an ICC member. But it had then decided that no African country had the capacity to host such a big meeting, which would comprise not only the five BRICS member states but also the many African leaders who have been invited to meet the BRICS leaders.
The official said if the Cabinet agreed to the idea, China and the other BRICS countries would then be asked to approve it.
Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africa grants Putin diplomatic immunity for BRICS summit
The other BRICS foreign ministers were non-committal when asked about it at a press conference after their meeting. Brazil’s foreign minister, Mauro Vieira, said this was a sovereign decision for the host country, South Africa, and also for Russia, which would have to decide whether or not to attend a summit moved to China.
In their communique, the five ministers did not express a consensus position on Russia’s war against Ukraine. They merely noted their different national positions. Brazil, for example, has occasionally voted in favour of United Nations General Assembly resolutions condemning Russia’s aggression, while South Africa and China have abstained from all of those resolutions. Russia has, of course, opposed all of them.
The ministers merely welcomed the various peace initiatives which have been undertaken to end the war and also welcomed the Black Sea Grain Initiative whereby Russia has partly lifted its blockade on Ukrainian ports to allow Ukrainian grain to be exported.
Lavrov declared that a “more just, polycentric national order is taking shape. The world order which was geared at creating benefits for one country or a group of countries is now becoming a thing of the past. No more imposing of rules and arbitrary standards which do not take into account international law.”
But he added, “The West is engaging in blackmail and sanctions to influence the choice of economic models and trade partners of those countries, limiting opportunities.”
The other BRICS countries lent some implicit support to Russia on this score by criticising the negative impact of unilateral sanctions and boycotts, embargoes and blockades — a clear reference to the comprehensive economic sanctions Western countries have imposed on Russia because of its aggression against Ukraine.
The foreign ministers also disclosed that the question of expanding the membership of BRICS had not been resolved at their meeting. Before the meeting, SA’s top BRICS official, Anil Sooklal, had said that more than 20 countries had formally or informally asked to join BRICS, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Countries of the Global South show a surge of interest in joining BRICS – Anil Sooklal
The foreign ministers of these and other “Friends of BRICS” including Cuba, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Argentina, Indonesia and Gabon, will join the BRICS ministers by video on Friday.
But the foreign ministers also made it clear that expanding membership was still a work in progress and that officials would have to refine the proposal before presenting it to the heads of state for their approval at the summit in August.
And they underscored the importance of encouraging the use of local currencies in international trade and financial transactions between BRICS countries and also with their other trading partners. These moves are aimed at trying to replace the dollar in international trade and finance.
Forcible deportation of children
The Ukrainian Association of South Africa mounted a peaceful protest outside the venue of the meeting against the “forcible transfer and deportation” of Ukrainian children to Russia by the Russian government — the alleged war crime for which the ICC has issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest.
In a statement, the association, noting that Thursday was International Children’s Day, called on the SA government and human rights organisations to demand that Russia stop the deportation and to provide the full list and whereabouts of Ukrainian children deported to Russia.
They said Russia had not provided the names of the deported children either to the Ukrainian government or the Red Cross or to any other international organisation that could ensure the deported children could be reunited with their families. DM