China and Global South should create new diplomatic grammar to solve problems
Published: May 10, 2022 03:39 PM
Editor's Note: 

For the Chinese people, the past decade was epic and inspirational. The country, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, has made great endeavors in boosting its economy, deepening reforms, improving the rights of its people and acting as a responsible power globally. 

Global development now faces various challenges, what is the key for the international community in this context? In the following interview, Evandro Menezes de Carvalho (Carvalho), director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the Brazilian college Getulio Vargas Foundation, shared his view on this issue with Global Times (GT) reporter Xu Hailin, as well as his understanding of China's role in promoting common development of the world. This is the fourth of the series.

Evandro Menezes de Carvalho

Evandro Menezes de Carvalho

GT: The 14th BRICS Summit is scheduled to be held in June in China's Xiamen. The summit will be themed "Foster High-quality BRICS Partnership, Usher in a New Era for Global Development." Amid the current international situation, global development faces various challenges. How do you think the international community should handle these challenges? 

Since the end of the Cold War, the world has embraced the idea of so-called globalization with the promise of a free circulation of goods and people across borders. The emergence of the internet as we know it and the creation of the World Trade Organization in the 1990s were driving forces of this ideology and, above all, of the liberal economic order. China's entry into the WTO in 2001 was an event of the utmost importance given its economic weight and population. Many Western analysts saw this as a harbinger of China's adherence to the Western economic model. Once again, these analysts were looking at China with a wrong lens.

The most important thing was that multilateralism was gaining ground, regardless of each country's political and economic regimes, in line with the spirit of the United Nations, which does not discriminate against States because of their government regimes and economic model. But the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in 2001 and the 2008 financial crisis reversed the positive expectations fueled in the 1990s that seem increasingly distant now. Multilateralism begins a retraction stage aggravated by the US' difficulty in dealing with China's economic rise. Such a scenario led the US to take protectionist and unilateralist measures that question this country's commitment to the economic order it once ardently defended.

The scenario is still getting worse. The US began to question the rules of the international system that they had defended before. Also, since the war against Iraq in 2001, the US showed signs of privileging NATO over the UN when the matter is of supreme national interest and meets its demands for expansion of power. This expansion and how it is being carried out worries many countries. Suffice it to note that the vast majority, if not all, countries in South and Central America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia have refused to impose sanctions against Russia in the current conflict with Ukraine, contrary to the expectations of the US and the other NATO countries. We are not saying that those countries are against the US and NATO, but they do not want a unipolar world. They don't agree to submit multilateralism to the interests of only a few powerful Western countries. So, it is time to urgently re-discuss the future of the UN, its reform and support initiatives that strengthen multilateralism.

GT: The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been put forward for nine years. It has benefited many countries including Brazil. How do you evaluate China's concept of mutually beneficial cooperation? What's your take on China's role in the past decade in promoting common development of different countries?

The Belt and Road Initiative is the first major international initiative of this 21st century, with positive repercussions for the Eurasian region and even for other African and Latin American countries. In other words, it is an initiative that promotes and expands multilateralism and, therefore, should be very welcome. The BRI is an economic integration project different from those that prevailed in the 20th century and that had two great models as a reference: the European model, based on the constitution of an international organization - in this case, the European Union - with a highly complex legal-institutional apparatus and with a transfer of part of the sovereignty of its Member States to some bodies of this organization; and the US model, which is based on a low-profile economic integration process, oriented toward the constitution of free trade zones that only imply the reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers for goods, without worrying about the free circulation of people and with very few investments in infrastructure to improve the international trade between the countries involved in the economic integration project.

The BRI, on the other hand, is based on investment aimed at infrastructure but accompanied by the promotion of commerce, people-to-people exchange, and financial integration - based on dialogue with each of the countries participating in the Belt and Road. I understand that today, the biggest challenge for China is to make the countries consider themselves true participants in this initiative. Countries like Brazil, for example, that have not formally declared their participation in this New Silk Road, need to understand better the BRI and how it can boost international trade and multilateralism, favoring Brazil and the entire South American region.

Finally, the New Silk Road evokes the possibility of a new age of enlightenment for the world. It is no exaggeration to think about what the ancient Silk Road meant for the West. In times of a West deteriorating with xenophobic, anti-science and Nazi-fascist discourses, a New Silk Road can symbolize the beginning of a luminous reaction to all this darkness that is gaining ground in several Western countries.

GT: China is an important trading partner of South American countries. What have been the biggest changes brought about by developing relations with China, especially since the BRI was put forward?

The main change was the type of diplomatic relations. Let's be clear: China is more open to respectful and plural dialogue with Latin American nations than the US. In addition, China has contributed to the development of South American countries by investing in infrastructure projects. In this relationship, China does not look down on its partner countries nor impose conditions that can be interpreted as interventions in the domestic affairs of these countries. Furthermore, the relationship between China and South American countries increases our repertoire of diplomatic concepts and practices, expanding our capacity to act in the world. South American countries are challenged to understand the Chinese method and wisdom better, and this challenge makes them reflect on their practices and knowledge beyond those learned in the developed West. I hope China and the Global South countries can insist on creating a new diplomatic grammar and dictionary to solve new and old problems with new tools and ideas.

GT: US politicians are apt to describe China's normal economic and trade activities as expanding its sphere of influence or even attempts to infiltrate. Why does the US smear China-Brazil ties and how much impact does this smear have on China-Brazil relations? Can we say that Chinese factors have given local countries more room in their relations with the US?

The era of innocence of beneficial US hegemony is over. The US is revealing more explicitly to anyone who wants to see the more aggressive face of its foreign policy. I'm not naive. I know that any country that occupies the position of the greatest power in the world will defend its position against the other challengers. But what we hope is that this fight for the podium does not change into a systematic process of using force and fake news. So, I am not surprised by the reaction of US politicians to the increasing presence of Chinese companies in Brazil and the good bilateral trade between our two countries. However, the increase in bilateral relations between Brazil and China in no way means an ideological rapprochement or anything similar between the two countries. It has just been a relationship based on interests in trade and investment opportunities. Nothing more than this. There is no country more pragmatic than China. China trades and invests with whomever it wants and is willing to establish business relationships based on mutual gains.

I also think that there is a lot of room for cooperation. The Brazil-China relationship is far from having reached its potential. After all, there is still a lot of ignorance about China among Brazilians. And ignorance prevents us from seeing opportunities to develop bilateral relations and makes us more likely to believe in fake news about China. For this reason, when the US defames China-Brazil relations, this defamation ends up gaining repercussions in part of the Brazilian society. Social networks such as Twitter have been an instrument for disseminating negative messages against China. Also, algorithms from Western online platforms try to silence or reduce the reach of messages or news that bring a positive interpretation about China or counterpoint or criticize the US negative view of China.

Finally, it is essential to emphasize that the US count on the part of the Brazilian elite that is committed to US interests in Brazil. Paradoxically, this same elite is doing multi-million dollar deals with China and, at the same time, is funding bloggers and media groups that systematically attack those who seek to develop Brazil's relations with China outside the arc of US influence.

We cannot ignore that Brazil is in the geographic area of influence of the US, and with this country, Brazil needs to establish a good relationship. Even better if this relation is horizontal and not based on a submission attitude. The less intense Brazil's relationship with China, the more dependent we will be on the US. This is not our national interest, and what serves our national interest is to maintain a balanced relationship between these two great economic powers. That's how I see it.

GT: The US often interferes in other countries in the name of democracy, but its actual purpose is to control these countries. For example, the US claims the BRI is a "debt trap" so that it can prevent normal relations between China and other countries in the region. What do you think of the differences in diplomacy between China and the US?

The BRI will only be a "debt trap" for those countries that do not have solid institutions and don't have good governments and competent bureaucracy. I'm not saying China will take advantage of these vulnerable countries, but we cannot demand China be responsible for both parties and occupy both sides of a negotiating table. Chinese diplomats cannot defend, at the same time, the interests of China and the country with whom they are negotiating. So, I mean that the risk of a "debt trap" is zero if the country China deals with is prepared enough to undertake a good negotiation that serves its interests. And I don't see China as resistant to this. Quite the opposite. Better for China if the cooperation project generates mutual gains for both sides because China bets on long-term rather than short-term relationships. Deals in which only China wins, and the other country loses, are, in fact, undesirable for China. Chinese government knows that this type of deal will not build a long-term relationship with the partners and may even deteriorate Chinese image, with impacts on other businesses the country has with that foreign country. Thus, the US bothers the most because Chinese diplomacy is more efficient, friendly and builds lasting relations with other countries.

GT: You once said that "China's modernization drive has established a unique governance model, and Chinese-style modernization is a modernization process chosen by China through sovereignty." What do you think of the West's refusal to accept China's uniqueness?

The West is narcissistic. For Western countries, only everything that presents itself as a mirror is beautiful and acceptable. This would not be a problem if the West were only admiring its image. The problem is that the history of the West reveals a past marked by the invasion of other territories, submission of peoples, and the imposition of their worldview, habits, languages and institutions. The wealth of the West is due to this past of exploration and occupation of territories worldwide. After the World War II disaster, the West tried to remake its image. And at a certain point, it succeeds. But some old bad habits remained. And what intrigues and bothers the West is that China did not want to be its mirror. It is necessary to respect the long history of Chinese civilization and its characteristics as a society. It is an illusion to think that a foreign country can subjugate the Chinese people. 

The West was never concerned with understanding others but making others copy it. The imitation policy was not only encouraged but imposed by the West on other countries that had to adopt Western rules and governance models. Contrary to what the West expected, China resists being the image and likeness of the West. Could you imagine what the world would be if China acted the same way the West usually does towards developing countries?

China learned a lesson in the late 19th century from one of the most important officials of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Zhang Zidong, who said the following: "Chinese teachings as a basis, western studies for use." China applies this lesson to this day. Meanwhile, the Western knowledge of Chinese reality is still insufficient to this day. This puts Western countries at a disadvantage in their relationship with China. The ignorance about Chinese reality lives alongside obscurantism, stupidity and incivility. Understanding China and dialoguing with China is the safest path to a more civilized and, therefore, more peaceful world.