Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Brazil: dances with the dragon

By Alexandre de Freitas Barbosa - posted Wednesday, 9 December 2009

In November, citizens of São Paulo were treated to an unusual celebration. With the accompaniment of drums and cymbals, a group of Brazilian students performed a lion dance to mark the first anniversary of the Confucius Institute.

The quintessentially Chinese dance in downtown São Paulo may not be a metaphor for Brazil dancing to China’s tune, but it was a reminder of the growing ties between two of the world’s rising powers in two continents. Intensifying trade and cultural contacts between the two may be laying the groundwork for political cooperation on a global scale and helping Brazil to consolidate its leadership in South America. However, growing, but lop-sided, trade ties also risk hastening the deindustrialisation of Brazil.

Set up with Chinese government funding through a partnership between Hubei University and São Paulo’s State University (UNESP) with the aim of promoting Chinese soft power, language and culture, the Confucian Institute is a glimpse of China’s growing presence in Brazil. Behind the cultural advance lie growing economic ties between the two countries - with two way trade rising to US$36 billion in 2008 from US$2 billion in 1998.


Whereas Brazilian exports are concentrated mostly on soy and iron ore, Chinese sales cover a wide range of industrial goods, from electronic equipment, machinery, shoes, textile and garments. Moreover, Brazil accounts for less than 1 per cent of the total Chinese exports, whereas the Asian country is the destination of around 10 per cent of Brazilian exports.

Today, one third of Brazil’s imports of electronic equipment come from China, a figure that surpasses the combined imports from US and EU. Not only that, Brazil, which used to be the largest exporter of goods to the South American region, now is facing Chinese competition, not only within, but right across the border.

Of course, the competitiveness of the Chinese exports does not arise only from its cheap labour force: certainly this factor doesn’t have the same weight for different sectors. But it is also clear that if Brazil doesn’t come up with a coherent development strategy, it faces the risk of losing its industrial power.

Perhaps the varying impact of Sino-Brazilian ties accounts for contradictory perceptions. Many Brazilians see the Chinese as a bunch of slave-like workers, selling cheap and disposable goods all over the world; while others see a monolithic party behind every decision made by its government. Then there are those who think this is the new place of the future, so let’s go there and “make China”. The love-it-or-hate-it approach is predominant.

On the political front, Brazil’s growing association with China, apart from it belonging to the group of rising BRIC countries, is also improving through bilateral ties. President Lula da Silva traveled to Beijing in May, signed 13 co-operation agreements and discussed with President Hu Jintao a joint action plan for the period 2010-2014. Brazil and China also met each other in the G-20 sessions held this year in London and Detroit and for a special BRIC encounter in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg.

Brazil emerged as a “special partner” of China in 1993, for very concrete reasons. The South American giant is an important commodities supplier, has the largest market of the region and likes to appear in the global scenario as the South American representative in the new “multipolar world” - a discourse that goes hand in hand with Beijing’s diplomacy of “peace and development”.


In short, while the US influence in the world took a nose dive with its invasion of Iraq, China got busy making business abroad and spreading its soft power all over the world through the Confucius Institute.

The Institute in São Paulo has been involved in teaching Chinese language and encouraging cultural exchange. Professor Chen Jing, one of the Mandarin teachers, was amazed by the motivation of her Brazilian students. They are not as stubborn as the Chinese ones, she says, but they are more talkative, ask interesting and unexpected questions and don’t conform easily to strict rules.

As a matter of fact, the city already has 40 Chinese schools. The year 2004 was a sort of turning point. Professors and translators of Chinese suddenly became scarce, according to Professor David Jye Yuan Shiu, a retired professor from the University of São Paulo, who came to Brazil in 1972 to teach at the Chinese Social Center.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Reprinted with permission from YaleGlobal Online ( Copyright 2009, Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, Yale University.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Alexandre de Freitas Barbosa is a Professor of Economic History at the Institute of Brazilian Studies of the University of So Paulo (IEB/USP) and holds a PhD in Economics from the University of Campinas (UNICAMP).

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy