Interview about the article “Chinese engagement for Global Governance: aiming for a better room at the table”, with Henrique Altemani de Oliveira

1) Do you see the BRICS as a group that has enough potential to achieve some political reforms in the International System? If so, could that be possible in the next few years? 

There is no doubt in mind that it is very likely.  I believe there is a series of indicators that signal that the BRICS have the potential to take progressively a larger part in the international decision-making process. First and foremost, there is an understanding that the factor that lends consistency to the BRICS and on which their existence as a group is grounded is the political dimension. That is, they are players whose importance in the international economy is growing but also they are seeking to act together, not so as to set up a mechanism for free trade and integration, but rather to have a fuller decision-making capacity in the negotiation processes governing international relations. To be quite frank, they are players who have shown they have political ambitions about taking on board swathes of international power so they can review international norms and rules such that their interests are tinged slightly more in their favor.

There is a pertinent critique that is made to do with the heterogeneity of the BRICS which is that this is a heterogeneity arising from differences in values, political models and different stages of economic development, whereas their homogeneity stems from respect for diversity and the view that the common objective is exactly that of wrestling for places for themselves in the international decision-making group.

Secondly, they are players who with increasing justification can be deemed as regional powers. Even though what they get up to is contested to a greater or lesser extent, the BRICS are acknowledged by the International System as having the capacity to represent regional interests at the global level.

Thirdly, the path followed by some of what are now called the BRICS did not start when a financial analyst made up the acronym. Brazil and India have, since the early 1960s, been acting together towards this objective of readjusting rules to their interests. Equally, China also has been part of this group since the 1950s and, more intensely, from 1980 following her return to the international community. It is of course the case that Russia and South Africa have also entered this process more recently but exactly to represent the potential of their regions; Russia as the lynch-pin of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and South Africa likewise in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). Therefore, the BRICS have not stopped continuing to be the prime movers of the Third World they were in the Cold War, or as George Kennan termed them, and the United States, in the early 1990s, the “monster countries”.

Predicting when there will be more concrete results is extremely complex because it implies considering that the United States and the Western Alliance will end up ceding space. The greater relevance of financial G20 due to the 2008 global financial crisis expresses a clear result of the actions of the BRICS. But is this change a lasting one? And will it spread out?

2) You mentioned several times that China not only wants to be a responsible stakeholder, but also one of the decision-makers in the International System. How important is conciliating PRC’s interests the ASEAN countries to that process?

It is said time and time again that the Chinese interest in the African continent can be reduced to its need for oil but this is to engage on reductionism of an over-simplified kind. What China is emphatically after is the political support of the 54 African states. And not only China, but Brazil and India are also vying for the political support of Africa. Likewise, it is undeniable that China’s approach to Latin America is not only motivated by the need for access to natural resources, but also by a strong desire to develop closer political relations and, there is one other motive which is the consideration China gives to Latin America being in the area of the United States’ ​​more direct influence.

Under this line of thinking, ASEAN is crucial to China’s strategy of expanding her political capabilities, bearing in mind not only her international but also her regional importance, and, apart from China, Japan and South Korea also compete for the support of Southeast Asia. If in the disputes in the South China Sea, the atmosphere is tense, at the level of economic and trade relations China gained a trump card by being the first country to sign a Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN and also, though not as a member, by having signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.

3) Can China conciliate its internal issues – such as high levels of poverty and separatism in its far western provinces, like Tibet and Xinjiang – with creating a new International Order, given that the acceptance of the western countries on these issues and on their authoritarian regime is required.

To begin with, this issue is much more of an internal than an external nature. First, China is aware of the need and urgency to eliminate poverty (indigency) and also to generate a better distribution of income. China, in the past, always said that it would not be a new Latin America if there were an unequal distribution of income, but what is the formula for this? China has practically eliminated indigency but growth in the inequality of incomes persists. Thus, one of the priorities on the agenda of the 18th Congress of the CCP (2012) was the need to revise the economic model so as to make it possible to develop the interior of China, to improve income distribution and to attend to social demands, in particular, housing, land ownership and social insurance.

On the hand, given the sheer size of China, pressure from separatists is not as relevant as made out by the Western media. But, China’s response is not only one of repression but also to bring Tibet and Xinjiang into the development process. One cannot overlook the fact that the guarantee that the Chinese Communist Party will continue has to do with the social and economic stability of the Chinese population.

Finally, in the same way that China does not countenance any kind of territorial loss, a political reform that may change the character of the Chinese regime is not contemplated. A new international order, in the Chinese view, must be based on acknowledging differences in values ​​and in political regimes. Western values ​​and political philosophy are not universal and the West has to respect different views such as those based on Confucius and not on Aristotle. Therefore, China’s relationship with ASEAN, Africa and Latin America, or even among the BRICS, are politically essential, since these regions more pragmatically accept that China does not impose conditionalities and, consequently, they do not demand changes in China.

4) Is it important that an view on China – other than northern countries – is being published in southern countries like Brazil? Why?

As noted above, are there universal values? I remember a text of Stanley Hoffmann’s pointing out that, in his view, the concept of anarchy goes beyond the non-existence of a power above the States, since it also involves the non-existence of universal values. That is, in his view, States act according to their interests and not based on the interests of a supposed humanity.

It is interesting to note that, in a generic way, most of the analyses derived from Western countries interpret the Chinese presence in Africa as neo-colonialist. And, broadly speaking, African analysts highlight the Sino-African complementary character and that unlike the developed countries, China does not, as they do, impose conditionalities but using a discourse that, in reality, is practical action of non-interference. Anyway, a partner which although it presents problems, distortions and challenges offers opportunities hitherto denied.

I am not saying one side is right or the other is wrong, what is being pointed out is the possibility and the reality of different perceptions and interpretations of the same phenomenon based on the angle that the observer is evaluating it from. And that access to this diversity of analysis contributes positively to a better understanding of the role that China is playing in the current process of redefining the System and the International Order.

Read the article: 

OLIVEIRA, Henrique Altemani de; LEITE, Alexandre César Cunha. Chinese engagement for Global Governance: aiming for a better room at the table?. Rev. bras. polít. int.,  Brasília ,  v. 57, n. spe,   2014 .   Available from <http://www.scielo.br/article_plus.php?pid=S0034-73292014000300265&tlng=en&lng=en>. access on  18  Oct.  2014.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329201400216.

Henrique Altemani de Oliveira, State University of Paraíba (UEPB), Campina Grande, PB, Brasil (henrique.altemani@gmail.com)

Pedro Simão Mendes 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 (pedrosimendes@gmail.com )

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