Chinese President Xi Jinping warned against "expanding" military ties on Wednesday in a speech ahead of a virtual summit with top leaders from Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa.
Beijing is hosting the meeting of the influential club of BRICS emerging economies, which accounts for more than 40 percent of the global population and nearly a quarter of the world's gross domestic product.
Three of its members -- China, India and South Africa -- have abstained from voting on a United Nations resolution condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Xi told the BRICS business forum that the "Ukraine crisis is... a wake-up call" and warned against "expanding military alliances and seeking one's own security at the expense of other countries' security".
Ties with Russia
The economy has always been at the heart of the Brics but the Ukraine war is likely to loom large over the summit on Thursday.
The nations may not overtly mention the war, but it will definitely be discussed when Indian PM Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro talk to each other.
China and India have strong military links with Russia and buy large amounts of its oil and gas.
China and India have both ramped up crude oil imports from Russia, helping to offset losses from Western nations scaling back Russian energy purchases.
India bought six times more Russian oil from March to May compared with the same period last year, while imports by China during that period tripled, data from research firm Rystad Energy shows.
In a call last week, Xi assured his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that China would support Moscow's core interests in "sovereignty and security" -- leading the United States to warn Beijing that it risked ending up "on the wrong side of history".
South Africa, one of the few African countries wielding diplomatic influence outside the continent, has also not condemned the Russian military action.
India walks a tightrope
While each of the BRICS leaders has avoided condemning Russia outright, they hold varying levels of interest in not being seen to endorse its actions or work too closely with Russia -- and run foul of Western partners.
Differences of tone were apparent in the addresses by each of the leaders at Wednesday night's forum, an event for business leaders on the sidelines of the summit.
In his video address, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi focused on the forum itself and his hopes for it to spark exchanges between start-ups. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa focused on poverty, inequality and issues like vaccine access, as well as trade and investment, according to transcripts from their governments.
There will be challenges within the group. Beijing and Moscow might agree on taking tougher lines against the West, but New Delhi would not like the summit to be used to openly criticise the US and more broadly the West.
New Delhi takes pride in its "strategic autonomy" and the policy of non-alignment and has proven that it can be a significant member of even competing multilateral forums.
Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro said in the face of global economic risks, his country was open to further economic integration, according to Brazil's national public news agency.
Beijing aims to expand group; New Delhi wary
There are reported differences between Delhi and other members over the expansion of the Brics.
Bloomberg news agency recently reported that Delhi would push back against Beijing's plan to include new members into the group.
China said at a BRICS foreign ministers meeting in May that it wants other emerging economies to join the grouping, though it is unclear whether new members have been invited.
"Beijing would like to shape the BRICS agenda in line with... China-centric initiatives," Madhu Bhalla, professor and editor of the India Quarterly journal, told news agency AFP.
"Entry of other members... who follow the Chinese line will help steer the group's agenda closer to the Chinese agenda," she said.
(with inputs from agencies)