Translated from El Pais.
BRASILIA, Brazil – The debate over China in the capitals of the West is undergoing an unprecedented transformation. Optimists with the aftermath of China’s rise – the so-called panda huggers, who have dominated public debate since the 1990s – are loosing room for the China hawks, for whom the West needs to adopt a much tougher defense strategy against growing Chinese influence.
Two recent publications symbolize this change. In Germany, the Authoritarian Advance report: Responding to China’s Growing Political Influence in Europe, published by MERICS and GPPi, two major think tanks in Berlin , argues that Beijing’s attempts to influence European politics and the promotion of Chinese authoritarian ideals “pose a significant challenge to liberal democracy as well as to Europe’s values and interests.”
In the United States, Kurt Campbell and Ely Ratner, two former high-ranking diplomats, published in Foreign Affairs magazine the article The China Reckoning: How Beijing Defied American Expectations, in free translation). In it, the authors argue that US policy toward China since World War II was hopelessly naive and that Beijing ended up taking advantage of Washington.
This asymmetry already has consequences. Nowadays, it is common for a ministry in Brasilia to discover that a Chinese interlocutor interested in a major infrastructure project has been in parallel with the Itamaraty, the Planalto, regulatory agencies and several state governors to achieve their objectives, without there was some kind of coordination among the Brazilian entities. This allows Chinese investors to operate in Brazil and seek business in ways that a Brazilian investor in China could never do.
Any coherent Brazil strategy to deal with China should start by investing heavily to overcome this asymmetry of knowledge. This involves large-scale exchange programs to stimulate the formation of sinologists, public investment for independent research on China, and possibly the development within the diplomatic career of a segment of professionals exclusively dedicated to China.
Properly managed, the bilateral relationship can bring many benefits. The Chinese rise offers opportunities to tap into its huge financial reserves for Brazil’s investment priorities – above all, to modernize Brazil’s infrastructure, a major obstacle to the country’s competitiveness in the global marketplace. Clearly, this also requires clear rules to avoid problems similar to those pointed out by the Australian prime minister. However, if Brazil reaches a deep understanding of China – not only in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but also in universities, NGOs, companies, state and municipal governments – the country can extract the best of a world in which the Chinese have a central role .