By Samirul Ariff Othman
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Recent developments are casting a stark light on the Malaysia-US relationship, threatening to undermine security and diplomatic efforts aimed at maintaining free navigation in the South China Sea, while simultaneously solidifying China's influence over what was once a key US ally in the region.
Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim's announcement of Malaysia's formal application for BRICS membership, intriguingly timed during Chinese Premier Li Qiang's visit, has significant ramifications. In an interview with the Shanghai-based news outlet Guancha, Anwar emphasized that Malaysia’s geographical position along the Malacca Strait, a critical shipping route linking the Pacific and Indian Oceans, imbues its potential BRICS membership with strategic importance. 
This move signals in the clearest possible terms that Malaysia is decidedly in the Chinese sphere of influence, having adopted the very same talking points that China wishes to impose on other South China Sea claimants. This shift highlights Malaysia's pivot towards China, signalling a shift that could reshape the geopolitical dynamics of Southeast Asia.
This desire to forge an "Asia for Asians," free from the overbearing influence of the West, is not new. In 1955, India's Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Indonesia's President Sukarno inaugurated the Non-Aligned Movement at the Bandung Conference, aiming to assert independence from both Western and Soviet blocs. 
However, BRICS is not the same as the Non-Aligned Movement. 
The term BRIC was coined by a Goldman Sachs economist to represent the emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China (without South Africa) by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O'Neill in 2001. He believed that by 2050 the four BRIC economies would come to dominate the global economy.
The bloc has various issues including BRICS' de-dollarization efforts and its New Development Bank (NDB) are likely to benefit China disproportionately. 
Despite their common membership, large countries within BRICS, such as India and China, have significant bilateral tensions. Their relationship is marred by ongoing military skirmishes, the most recent of which occurred in 2020.
India, while it presents itself as non-aligned, maintains a strategic relationship with the US, driven by mutual concerns about China’s rise. Samirul underscores that for Malaysia, there is potential within BRICS, but realizing this potential will take time.
"The bloc has to get their house in order first," he says. This means addressing internal conflicts and ensuring that initiatives like the NDB and a common currency do not unduly favor China.
The current dynamics within BRICS suggest that while the concept of a multipolar world is appealing, the practicalities of such an alliance are fraught with challenges. Divergent interests among member countries, ranging from economic priorities to political goals, create significant friction. 
The differences in political systems and ideologies further complicate cohesive policy-making, with democracies like India and South Africa often finding themselves at odds with the more authoritarian regimes of China and Russia. 
Additionally, sustaining economic growth across such a varied group presents its own set of hurdles. Each BRICS nation faces unique economic challenges, from Brazil’s political instability to South Africa’s infrastructural deficits, and these issues can impede the collective economic momentum.
Geopolitical conflicts also pose substantial threats to cooperation. The longstanding border disputes between China and India, which erupted into violent clashes as recently as 2020, highlight the deep-seated mistrust that can undermine unified action within BRICS. 
External pressures, particularly from Western nations wary of BRICS’ growing influence, add another layer of complexity. Sanctions, trade wars, and diplomatic tensions can stymie efforts to present a united front on the global stage.
Thus, while the vision of a multipolar world where BRICS serves as a counterbalance to Western hegemony is enticing, the reality is that internal and external challenges make seamless cooperation within the bloc exceedingly difficult. 
Achieving true synergy among BRICS members will require overcoming significant ideological divides, aligning divergent national interests, and navigating a complex geopolitical landscape.
Meanwhile using the Palestinian issue to deflect attention from our economic stagnation is distasteful to say the least. Malaysians elected our politicians to solve the current economic malaise as indicated by a reduction in foreign investments, deteriorating competitiveness and prolonged weakness of the Malaysian Ringgit. Certainly these politicians were not elected by Malaysians to champion the Palestinian.
Undoubtedly humanitarian aid for the Palestinians must continue, but the focus of our elected leaders should be on strengthening the Malaysian Economy while at the same time improving the quality of life of Malaysians. Make no mistake, this is their mandate.
Diversionary tactics like promoting meaningless rhetoric, while whipping up irrational exuberance, are equally as detrimental, if not worse, than the cheap publicity stunts of the previous administration. These tactics not only undermine genuine efforts to address critical issues but also erode public trust in leadership.
When leaders resort to superficial measures, they distract from the substantial work needed to address economic challenges, improve governance, and enhance international relations. This approach can lead to a misinformed public, policy paralysis, and a failure to tackle the root causes of national problems.
Furthermore, such tactics create an environment where real progress is stymied by the constant churn of short-term, attention-grabbing headlines that do little to address long-term strategic goals. The previous administration’s penchant for flashy, substance-free publicity stunts did little to advance Malaysia’s position on the global stage or to solve pressing domestic issues. 
By following a similar path, the current leadership risks repeating these mistakes, squandering opportunities for meaningful reform and collaboration. 
*Economist Samirul Ariff Othman is an international relations analyst and a senior consultant with Global Asia Consulting (GAC). Samirul has a background as a senior researcher at the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research.*