Bolsonaro in China

Image Elyeser Szturm

By Alexandre Ganan de Brites Figueiredo*

Bolsonaro was in China contradicting everything he had said about that country. Now, contrary to his earlier rhetoric, he smiled visiting the Great Wall and said his government wanted closer ties with the Chinese. The issue that apparently troubled him – in his words, “China does not want to buy from Brazil, it wants to buy Brazil” – did not give rise to a “Wǒ ai nǐXi Jinping"like the same effusive"I love you” directed at Trump, but it constituted a change of course.

Now, Bolsonaro expresses his desire to have more Chinese companies operating in Brazil, even invited to participate in the pre-salt auctions. Bolsonaro also wants more Chinese in the country, with the release of the entry visa requirement, without reciprocity, in fact, just like the treatment already given to North Americans (although the Itamaraty has already rushed to deny the president’s promise).

In addition, eight agreements were signed on the 25th, dealing with agriculture, infrastructure, energy and education. Walking under the red flags in front of the People's Congress, flanked by Mao Zedong's mausoleum and the entrance porch of the Forbidden City, from where the leader of the Communist Party and commander of the Liberation Army announced, 70 years ago, the founding of the Republic Popular, Bolsonaro achieved a rare moment of restraint to say that trade is trade and that “politics are discussed point by point”. Even the initial impetus of the first response to the welcome he received – “I am in a capitalist country” – had already been left behind.

In addition to the comings and goings of an erratic government that intends to embody the crusading ideal in the XNUMXst century, these contradictions express, to an extreme degree, the difficulty that exists in the so-called “western” world to understand China and deal with the fact of its impressive rise, which contributes to an interested factory of distrust.

After all, the Chinese development of the last few decades is unprecedented in human history. In a very short time, a colonial economy, violently torn between invading powers and still emerging from a war of liberation, managed to rise to the condition of the largest economy on the planet (or the second largest, depending on the index used). More than that, the rise of China is also responsible for lifting 750 million people out of poverty. As several researchers attest, China is the country that most contributes to the expansion of a “middle class” in the world. That is, despite any reservations that may be made, the exceptional economic growth took place in conjunction with the effective improvement in the quality of life of the population.

In the face of this, there are, for us, developing countries. one finding and two questions. (a) poverty and the peripheral condition are not products of an immutable destiny; (b) if so, how did China do it? and (c) do we have anything to fear? Is there really a Chinese riddle?

Historian Stephen Haw wrote that a researcher who spends a week in China manages to produce a book about the country. Those who stay for a month, on the other hand, prepare an article… On the other hand, those who stay longer are unable to write anything about it [1]. The anecdote illustrates the difficulty of thinking, from our “western” paradigms, about the questions posed by the historical fact of China's arrival at the center of the world board. Even if more research centers dedicated to this object of study start to spread around the world, obtuse currents are still manifested, riddled with prejudices that even prevent the observation of ethics that is expected from a critical and scientific effort.

The views built on China from our quadrant of the hemisphere are, in themselves, an object of study. In fact, they teach more about us than about China. The mutations of the images constructed and disseminated by the western media, echoing non-academic interests, illustrate the cynicism with which the “West” presents the Asian giant. To mention just the most recent example, in the 1970s the entire image of the “enemy country” disseminated from Washington was suddenly replaced by that of a friendly country, in a daring diplomatic operation that began with Richard Nixon's visit to Mao. The architect of this operation on the US side wrote a work about it and made explicit how much it was a matter of deliberately producing a new presentation of China to the West, adequate to the redefinition of US interests [2].

Today, another production of images, under the responsibility of the USA, presents the Chinese as a danger. In this new rhetoric, which frames the trade war called for by Trump, a curious projection asserts that Chinese technology companies will practice espionage, that their armed forces will be used to oppress other states, that their commercial interests are harmful to the rest of the world… And, again, many repeat these political marketing pieces.

We made a mistake when we looked for answers to the “Chinese riddle” based on these references. Furthermore, the difficulty we have is evident when we see the small number of “westerners”, even in academia, who dedicate themselves to learning Chinese history and the Mandarin language. Even today, in the face of economic expansion and the theoretical questions that China raises for specialists in the most diverse areas, the truth is that we know little about the Chinese from themselves. It is this epistemological gap that contributes to the preservation of prejudices and distorted views.

Knowing this, is there an objective reason to fear China?

To respond to this, Beijing published, in the wake of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic, a "white paper" of its foreign policy entitled "China and the World in the New Era". In it, hegemonism is rejected and it is stated that imagining Chinese growth as a threat is measuring that country's millenary tradition by the ruler of the "West". Or, in the words of the document, it is the result of “a psychological imbalance caused by the prospect of a fall in power and deliberate distortions by interests”. The Chinese development model was built step by step, feeling the stones of the river, and it was also successful for not having emulated the experiences of imperialism and colonialism.

At one point, the text explains: “from the middle of the XNUMXth century, China was exploited by Western powers and was marked by indelible memories of the suffering caused by war and instability. It will never impose the same suffering on other nations.” Thus, at a time when the US is questioning multilateralism and international organizations, China emerges as the voice in defense of international law and its institutions. The document calls for full compliance with the Charter of Nations and says that injustices in the world occur not because the UN and its Charter are obsolete, but because the principles contained therein are not respected.

Well, none other than Henry Kissinger said that the key to understanding the 3st century is not how China will behave as a power, but how the US will deal with the rise of China [XNUMX]. This is Thucydides' much-quoted trap, whereby no power rises in an international system without displacing another, which almost always responds with war. If there is anything to fear, it is not China's economic growth and increased openness to the world, but Washington's reaction.

The Afghan War, which placed a US military enclave in the heart of Asia, the provocations around the China Sea, the recent trade war conducted by the Trump administration, the illegal siege of Huawei and, consequently, Chinese 5G technology, are demonstrations that the world's instability does not originate in Beijing.

For this reason, even Bolsonaro does not seem to take seriously the resurrected “Chinese threat” thesis. Strictly speaking, Brazil should know China more and more deeply because it has a lot to gain from it, and not just economically. Today, we live in an international context in which hegemonic and expansionist pretensions in fact threaten international peace and the self-determination of peoples. However, they do not come from China. On the contrary, its presence on the scene, as a power sure of itself, peaceful and collaborative, presents a new parameter for relations between States and a counterweight to the power of the north from the global south.

*Alexandre Ganan de Brites Figueiredo, a doctor from the Graduate Program in Latin American Integration (PROLAM-USP), is the author, among other books, of Bolívar: foundations and trajectories of Latin American integration (Annablume, 2017).


[1] Stephen G. Haw. history of china. Lisbon, Tinta da China, 2008, p. 15-16.

[2] Henry Kissinger. about china. Rio de Janeiro, Objective, 2011.

[3] Henry Kissinger, Niall ferguson, Fared Zakaria, David Li. Does the XNUMXst century belong to China? São Paulo, Elsevier, 2012, p. 28.

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