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China, Russia suffer setback to global order ambitions with major player refusing to join bloc

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New Argentinian President Javier Milei has announced that he will not let his country join the China and Russia-led BRICS trading bloc, dealing a major blow to the trade group’s ambitions. 

The reversal comes after Milei’s team indicated that they merely planned to delay the country’s admission into the bloc, which was founded by members Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. In a letter to the leaders of each member state, Milei wrote that he did not consider it “appropriate at this time” to join. 

Milei spent much of his time on the campaign trail admonishing countries ruled “by communism” and insisted he would honor the alignment with the “free nations of the West,” particularly the United States and Israel. 

Since taking power on December 10, he has moved swiftly to deregulate the economy with a package of bills that would eliminate more than 350 regulatory policies in the country. 

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Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei, gestures from a balcony of the Casa Rosada government palace during his inauguration day in Buenos Aires on December 10, 2023. Libertarian economist Javier Milei was sworn in as Argentina’s president, after a resounding election victory fueled by fury over the country’s economic crisis.  (LUIS ROBAYO/AFP via Getty Images)

Some of the regulations that Milei has sought to cancel include a price ceiling on rent, some worker protections and laws limiting price increases when inflation and poverty have hit certain thresholds. 

The move has proven immensely unpopular, prompting the country’s labor unions to file a lawsuit against the government for what it deems as “unconstitutional” policy changes and thousands to take to the streets in support of the lawsuit as Argentinian citizens demanded the courts take action. 

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Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on the sidelines of the 15th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 24, 2023.  (Xie Huanchi/Xinhua via Getty Images)

The self-defined “anarcho-capitalist” argued that his foreign policy “differs in many aspects from that of the previous government,” and “in this sense, some decisions made by the previous administration will be reviewed.” 

Milei insisted he would meet with each of the BRICS leaders and discuss plans to “intensify bilateral ties” and increase trade and investment, German outlet DW reported. 

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South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brazilian President Michel Temer, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, Guinea’s President Alpha Conde, Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto, Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha pose for group photo before the Dialogue of Emerging Market and Developing Countries on the sidelines of the 2017 BRICS Summit in Xiamen, southeastern China’s Fujian Province on September 5, 2017. (Tyrone Siu/AFP via Getty Images)

The group aims to break up Western hegemonic dominance in the international economic landscape, but China largely dominates the bloc, accounting for more than 70% of the combined GDP of the member states.

China and Russia have largely posited the alliance as a counter to the G-7 and looked to more than double their bloc’s membership to 11 states, offering admission to Argentina, Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Argentina was set to join on January 1, 2024.

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China and Brazil are Argentina’s two biggest trading partners, making Argentina’s membership a seeming no-brainer until Milei introduced some economic “shock therapy” to a country that has 150% inflation and more than 40% of its population living below the poverty line, according to the BBC.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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