Chinese President Xi Jinping officially backed the BRICS bloc's expansion urging more countries to join, but inexplicably missed the day's key event at a summit in Johannesburg.   

The 15th BRICS heads of state summit kicked off on Tuesday and will run until Thursday. It is headlined by its five members Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, but numerous other nations including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Indonesia, Nigeria, Argentina are attending and hope to join the bloc.

“We will forge a stronger BRICS strategic partnership, expand the BRICS Plus model and actively advance membership expansion," Chinese Commerce Secretary Wang Wentao told a Business Forum, reading Xi’s prepared statement.   

The BRICS' expansion would not be "an exercise of asking countries to take sides, and not an exercise to create bloc confrontation. Rather it’s an endeavour to expand the architecture of peace and development,” Xi said.   

BRICS would overcome any resistance to its expansionist plans and it was already “fundamentally changing the global landscape,” Xi said.     

The organisers of the event did not say why Xi did not attend the forum. Xi had earlier in the day held bilateral talks with his host South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in the capital Pretoria and also attended a lunch hosted by the South African leader prior to the BRICS forum that he missed.

The summit’s main session will be held on Wednesday, where the top item on the agenda will be BRICS' expansion.   

His counterparts, Ramaphosa, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva all attended the event Xi missed. Vladimir Putin gave his speech virtually, after avoiding the summit altogether to avoid arrest for alleged war crimes.   

In their speeches, Putin said Russia would continue providing free food to some African countries, Modi hailed the BRICS Business Council for its vital role in boosting trade, while Lula and Ramaphosa also publicly backed the group's expansion.   

China may be the biggest winner of a larger BRICS as this could strengthen its hand as it grapples with the US over trade and geopolitics, analysts say.       

The five BRICS countries account for more than 40% of the world population and about 26% of the global economy, and an expansion would give the group an even bigger voice in world affairs.      

(Editing by Brinda Darasha;