By Antonio Martins from OUTRASPALAVRAS

In September 2023, China’s State Council released a document of great relevance to the debate on international relations, in a turbulent period. It is the White Paper on a Global Community for a Shared Future. The publication and its key concept systematize three statements made by Chinese President Xi Jinping on international stages from 2013 onwards. The text presents them in a discreet way. But the idea has, when deciphered, enormous capacity to transform the current geopolitical scenario, marked by North American hegemony and its crises.

Beijing questions the political and ethical foundations of the Eurocentric international order, which has dominated the world for five centuries. Relationships considered natural today – the aspiration to the condition of hegemon; the pressure from rich countries on poor countries to obtain advantages; competition as the main driving force of progress, among others – are considered anachronistic. On the other hand, the notions are proposed that the Earth is the “common home”, whose care needs to prevail over profits and the exercise of power; that wealth must be shared, as prosperity is not acceptable if it is exclusive; that an international system will only be democratic if it is less hierarchical; that partnerships between countries can be mutually supportive, rather than leonine.

The next paragraphs are intended as an exercise in political imagination. Brazil and China can establish, from the Global South, an extremely innovative partnership, if they take into account the principles highlighted in 2023 by the Chinese leadership. This cooperation would be an alternative to the typical relations of extractive capitalism, which condemns peripheral countries to the role of eternal exporters of primary products. It would give Brazil the basis to reverse the cycle of deindustrialization and reprimarization that began with the debt crisis of the 1980s. And it would offer China more favorable conditions to face the economic, geopolitical and military siege that the United States seeks to impose on it, for fear of losing its dominant power. Here are some of the dimensions it could take.

  1. Neo-industrialization of Brazil and safe space for Chinese companies:

China has become the world’s factory for years. It is estimated that it alone is responsible for 30% of the planet’s industrial production. But its growth has been threatened by the imposition of tariff barriers, the US attempt to deny it access to the latest generation chips and the reshoring e friendshoring, through which the West seeks to relocate strategic industries in territories it sees as “safe”. Brazil needs, on the contrary, to overcome the most dramatic deindustrialization in history, which occurred in the last four decades. The country, which until the 1980s had the most advanced and diverse industry among Southern countries, is now only the 16th industrial producer on the planet, with a mere 1.2% of the value generated.

The topic returned to the agenda during the Lula government, with the launch of the Nova Indústria Brasil program. But the financial resources available are still very limited. A strategic industrial partnership with China would give new impetus to the project. It can take multiple forms: technology transfer, ease of implementation of Chinese industries, partnerships between companies from the two countries. Brazil could even take advantage of the vast experience accumulated by China in relations with foreign capital – whose presence has always been conditioned on meeting economic, social and environmental objectives set by the State.

  1. SUS, Health Technologies and Artificial Intelligence:

    Brazil built, based on social struggles and decades-long intellectual production, the largest public health system in the world. The Unified Health System (SUS) is an oasis of equality and respect for human dignity, in an ultra-hierarchical and sometimes brutal country. However, years of underfunding have made it far from its original conception and outdated – especially in relation to information technologies and artificial intelligence.

China does not have a SUS. But it is extremely effective and innovative in technologies linked to Health. It has also intensively used Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the successful effort to overcome extreme poverty. The possible partnership stands out. Access to Chinese technologies would contribute to revolutionizing the SUS. And examining the experience of the Brazilian system – including its ability to generate jobs for new generations –, in exchange with Brazilian public health professionals, could be very inspiring for China.

  1. Solidarity biocivilization in the Amazon:

60% of the Amazon is located in Brazilian territory, the biome with the greatest biodiversity on the planet. About ten years ago, economist Ignacy Sachs saw the region as a possible laboratory for “solidarity biocivilization in the tropics”. The key would be to replace today’s predatory relationships with economic activities linked to keeping the forest standing: production of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics based on genetic heritage and indigenous knowledge, ecological tourism, aquaculture, sustainable extractivism and many others.

A partnership between the two countries could create, for the first time, the conditions for carrying out this project. Brazil would offer China access to the region. It would be linked to the construction of new human relationships and with nature: zero deforestation, informed consent and active participation of original peoples, decent working conditions, excellent public policies, infrastructure linked to the preservation of the biome.

  1. Energy transition:

    China is a world leader in clean energy generation and technologies. The Brazilian territory has immense water, solar and wind potential – but it is underutilized or, in many cases, captured by private interests. Therefore, the price of energy is extortionate (the second highest in the world) and its production is often associated with pressure on peasant communities.

A partnership with China could change this scenario. It would involve Petrobras and a renationalized Eletrobrás. Advanced technologies that already exist would make it possible to install mobile solar panels on the lakes of hydroelectric plants and offshore wind turbines. In cities, a self-generation program using solar panels installed on the roofs of houses and buildings could generate millions of decent jobs. Brazil, abundant in oil, can pay for the technology by ensuring China has a stable supply of the fuel, which humanity will still need for a few decades. It will be a very effective way to use fossil fuels for the transition towards carbon-free energy.

  1. On the internet, the overcoming of Big Techs:
    The disregard for digital sovereignty has made Brazil particularly submissive to Big Techs and United States surveillance. North American corporations control and impose their algorithms and logic on Brazilians’ internet browsing. With an aggravating factor: these companies also hold the data of Brazilian citizens, the Executive Branch, Justice, Universities and many others.

China has internet corporations as developed as their American counterparts. TikTok has become the fastest growing social network in the world. Alipay makes as many commercial transactions as Amazon and eBay combined. Wechat (from Tencent) and Baidu offer real alternatives to Whatsapp and Google. However, except TikTok, none of them have the global reach of their US counterparts.

In a possible partnership, Chinese companies would provide technology for a data storage and network infrastructure controlled by the country and located in our territory. Perhaps they could cooperate by creating their own platforms. On the other hand, they would break a barrier that limits them by having, for the first time, access to the public of a relevant and populous Western country.

* * *

Ideas like these can transform relations between China and Brazil. Bilateral trade has multiplied in recent years and will approach 150 billion dollars in 2023. China alone has become the destination for more than 40% of Brazilian exports. But almost 100% of Brazilian exports are concentrated in primary goods (soy and iron ore alone make up 56% of sales). The extraction of these products – given the colonial order of Brazilian society – concentrates wealth, worsens the country’s economic regression, eliminates or makes work precarious and devastates the environment.

To the above alternatives, countless others could be added: for example, in scientific cooperation, finance, international currencies (to overcome the dollar dictatorship), geopolitical relations, armed forces. The opportunities for partnerships between Brazil and China are countless – as long as the relationship is governed not by the interest of profit, but by the desire to consciously build a “shared future”. Possible first step: the Brazilian government should accept the generous invitation made by China, and join the Belt and Road Initiative.

Transforming international relations is among the most arduous and complex political challenges. The most recent phase of globalization has created a global sphere of power for which there is currently no democratic governance. The new concept proposed by Beijing is a first step, as it introduces the hypothesis of partnerships formed not from mercantile logic, but from reflection on the real needs and desires of societies for their future. The journey will be long. But as Gautama, the Buddha, said, “every long journey begins with a first step”.

* Text produced at the invitation of the Chinese embassy, ​​which invited a group of Brazilians to reflect on the future of the relationship between the two countries.


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