“South-South Relations and the English School of International Relations: Chinese and Brazilian Ideas and Involvement in Sub-Saharan Africa”, an interview with Anthony Spanakos and Joseph Marques.

1) In your article, you co“sider the Chinese concepts of tianxia (all-under Heaven), datong (great harmony) and zhongyong (middle course). How do you think these concepts can influence or even model an international order where China is a major actor? 

The most direct way that these ideas can influence the international order is if they can be realistically applied to the behavior of the Chinese government. If China speaks of tianxia and datong but behaves as though it is a powerful, unitary state pursuing state interest in a zero-sum environment, the concepts will have little influence. What must be of special concern, if these concepts are to be taken seriously, are Chinese relations with ASEAN countries, smaller countries where the temptation is strong to use power asymmetries to ignore the normative notion of ‘care’ for the system inherent in tianxia.

Of course, behavior is not sufficient as it is easy for analysts, particularly foreign analysts, to interpret that behavior through traditional lenses which, this essay argues, only partially gets things correct. The Chinese government and its analysts (foreign and domestic) should try to remind audiences of what are the values which, at least partially, motivate Chinese action and inaction. For example, the Chinese government is often criticized for its overly cautious approach to intervention and its excessive reliance on an anachronistic notion of sovereignty. This is changing, but, putting that aside, it is incumbent on the Chinese leadership and Sinologists to investigate these critiques and, if appropriate, explain the inadequacy of such critiques via tianxia, or other concepts that have more traction within Chinese foreign policy circles.

If the Chinese government behaves in ways that are mostly consistent with these concepts and analysts, whose commentary reaches a broad audience, can interpret the behavior along the lines of these concepts, it will have an impact on global order especially as there is a widespread sense that the way ‘the system’ has been managed until recently is only one of a number of possibilities. At the same time, it will be important for China to manage the tightrope of having tianxia being essentially something that developed out of particular readings of Chinese history and tianxia being a worldview that can be adopted (at least in part) by other countries with similar interests, values, and/or positions. The Chinese government has been reluctant to be ‘hegemonic’ or to present its policies as a ‘model,’ nevertheless, it cannot expect to be a global actor and to have other actors see tianxia (or datong) as simply an explanation of Chinese behavior. The terms must have some normative value beyond China which means that some of their central ideas need to be absorbed into the way other countries understand a re-configuring of the global order.

2) You say that Brazil and China have very different goals in Africa – while the first focuses its actions on human development and institutional capacity-building, the second prioritizes large infrastructure and energy projects. Do you think that the two countries can work cooperatively on the continent or their models are incompatible?

In principle, the two countries should be able to work together if they wish to do so. Brazil cannot compete with China’s resources but it benefits from enormous diplomatic goodwill throughout the continent.  China is involved with most African countries and is represented by hundreds of Chinese companies while Brazil’s development assistance has been focused on lusophone Africa and its corporate presence throughout the continent while extensive is not very deep. The significant increase of Brazil’s diplomatic footprint has not been immediately followed by an expansion of its corporate footprint. Another important difference is China’s focus on extractive priorities while Brazil looks for new consumer markets for its products. While both countries are new emerging international donors which do not follow the established conventions of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, to work together, they would have to agree on how to merge their two development policies and procedures. It will be interesting to see how both countries behave in Angola which is of great interest to both China and Brazil.

3) Based on your own academic experience as a professor and researcher, what, in your view, are the challenges facing the consolidation of China as a global leader and Brazil as a regional power?

Both countries are already important international actors. As two very large countries their main priorities have to do with domestic development. As members of the BRICS group there is a lot that they can do to share experiences and policies and coordinate international cooperation regarding global governance. The creation of a new Global South development bank and a currency reserve fund are important first attempts at implementing their shared view of the global economy. Let’s see what they decide further during the upcoming BRICS summit in Fortaleza this summer. Brazil will have the opportunity to show its regional leadership role at the upcoming UNASUL-BRICS meeting. Brazil must continue to provide leadership within its region and improve its working relationship with the United States.

China’s main challenge will continue to be to effectively manage its relationship with the United States at the G-2 level. Growing skirmishes with many of its smaller neighbors over disputed territories increases the possibility of disagreement and possible disputes since the U.S. has historic ties, and often treaties, with many of these countries. No matter how strong China becomes in an economic or military sense it will retain its identity as an emerging country for quite some time. This gives it the opportunity to connect with many countries around the world and develop its soft /relational power. To consolidate its global leader status it must show greater leadership not only in the economic and military sphere but also across the wide political and diplomatic spectrum.

4) Is it important that an alternate view of China – other than that of northern countries’ – be published in southern countries like Brazil? Why?

If Brazil wants to validate its claim to be a global actor and to be consulted on diverse issues of global governance, Brazil must be a space for multiple views on global politics and a general awareness as well as a core of trained specialists with expertise on China and alternative views of global order must develop within its academic and policy-making circles. There has been considerable interest in such topics in Brazil as well as support from the university and private sectors for such ventures. The present issue of RBPI is an example of such actions.

There are two primary reasons that publishing the views of countries of the global South is necessary. First, Brazilian policy-makers, academics and the Brazilian public–as a well-informed democratic public–need be as familiar as possible with new partners and/or competitors and the positions broadly identified within the global South, an heterogeneous group in which Brazil often acts as a leader. Second, Brazilian visions of leadership assumes a sense of reciprocity and equality. As such, it behooves the Brazilian foreign policy to get to know and understand as well as possible other countries, particularly countries whose importance in shaping the changing global scenario are unquestioned and increasingly being realized.

Read the article: 

MARQUES, Joseph; SPANAKOS, Anthony. South-South relations and the English School of International Relations: Chinese and Brazilian ideas and involvement in Sub-Saharan Africa. Rev. bras. polít. int.,  Brasília ,  v. 57, n. spe,   2014 .   Available from <http://www.scielo.br/article_plus.php?pid=S0034-73292014000300138&tlng=en&lng=en >. access on  18  Oct.  2014.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329201400209.

Anthony Peter Spanakos is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Law at Montclair State University (USA).

Joseph C. Marques is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Brazil Institute at King’s College, London.

Mariana Barros Nóbrega Gomes  is member of the Program of Tutorial Education in International Relations at University of Brasília -PET-REL and of the International Relations Analysis Lab – LARI

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