China - Interviews
José Medeiros da Silva
Watershed - The People´s Republic of China is living a long and solid process of modernization, on completing 60 years. If a sole person could take credit for that would it be Deng Xiaoping?
José Medeiros da Silva - I think that there is a Guy Who can receive this credit. But it is collective. That is, the Chinese people. Another key element in understanding this process of modernization is the Chinese Communist Party. Its role was decisive for the establishment of the People´s Republic in 1949. Personalities like Mao Zedong e Deng Xiaoping may be much better understood when seen within a structure of political organization, of which the nucleus is the Party. But in order to get closer to your provocative question, I would say that it would be improbable to have the China of today if it had not conquered its sovereignty. In addition, Mao Zedong, more than Deng Xiaoping, personifies best this conquest.
WS - Your background, quite eclectic, permits one to observe the present China from several angles. Where is China going to?
JMS - If we look at China as a state, the tendency is that it will amplify its political and economic power in the world scenario. From a casual protagonist, it tends to play a central role in the international political agenda. It has needs and interests to act as a Power, it has a tradition as a Power, an immeasurable labor force and a nationalistic sentiment which drives it externally in the defense of its interests. Rather, this nationalistic sentiment is not any old force; it is almost like a religion. A powerful shield against possible external aggression. But this projection on the international scenario depends essentially on how China will solve some internal challenges. There are profound social problems, such as, for example, the growing disparity of income between people and regions. Also there is in present China a fierce competition among the Young, both in schools and universities. Competition, which tends to close the door of solidarity and companionship, elements which are expensive for collectivist cultures. Said another way, the manner how China will face these and other internal problems will be determining for its positioning on the international scenario. But from what is outlined, we can say that only one state can stop the Chinese expansion: China itself.
WS - Comment on the University of Xi`an and in your experience as a professor and as a resident in this old imperial capital.
JMS - In September 2007, I arrived in China with two objectives. The first to conclude my doctorate on the peasant question in the People´s Republic. The second, to teach Portuguese at the University of International Studies of Xi`an, a governmental institution created in 1952, with the objective of teaching foreign languages. The Portuguese course was created in 2007. A new course, of which from the outset, I followed the evolution. We will have from september three groups, with about 90 students. A fantastic potential to help in the process of integration of China with countries of the Portuguese language. As a professor, it is a special experience, unique. First by the consciousness that i am contributing to training people who will be decisive for intensifying intergration between China and Brazil. Secondly, to be able to share with the Chinese aspects and experiences of Brazilian culture. And moreover, to live out this experience here in Xi`an. Imagine living in an archeological site. This is the first sensation which i have living here in this city. Not just the city, but its surroundings are of an almost indescribable historic richness. On walking through the streets, rivers, squares, museums, monuments... you feel a continuity of history that beats in an intense way. That changed my physical perception on historic time; the 2000 years of Christianity or 500 years of Brazil many times lived in my imagination as something very distant. Now I feel this in a different way. Here history is in the stones, the pagodas, in the tombs, the paintings, the food and people. Not only ancient history, of many dynasties, the Silk Route, of the Emperor Qin, who in 220 BC, unified China. But also the modern. As we know the province of Shaanxi, Yan`an was between 1935 e 1948, the headquarters of the Communist Party. Within the grottos where the main leaders lived, victorious strategies were traced for expelling the Japanese and the proclamation of the People´s Republic in 1949.
WS - The Communist Party has been doing some experiments to stimulate intraparty democracy like, for example, in Pingchang. Is it a planned opening or a survival tactic?
JMS - I have not yet stopped to observe this question in greater detail. But I would like to present some thoughts. Firstly, the elections in small cities are not limited to people linked to the Party. They are not intraparty. Therefore it seems to me to be a mechanism to force the Party members, at the base, to get closer to the population. Also it is a form of recruiting new leaderships, people who keep a link that is not artificial with the communities. I do not see these experiments as a laboratory for wider elections or even as a survival tactic for the Party. The leaders know that to survive, they need to solve in a reasonable way the demands of wide sectors of the population. If they find mechanisms to guarantee social stability, the Party will have the “Mandate”, otherwise…
WS - Has the desire to get rich quick made the middle class stop worrying about the political debate?
JMS - It seems to me that both in China and Brazil, the political debate is conducted by very restricted circles. In all social segments, it is a few that are involved directly with this debate.
WS - Some falcons in the USA see China as the only power capable of containing global North American interests. Does China scare you?
JMS - It does not scare me. It seems that the cold war and the dividing of the world into two blocks reinforced western imagination, which insists in looking at the world in a dual form, mutually exclusive. This classic vision permeates the analyses of International Relations done mainly by the west. Maybe the reflections proposed by Samuel P. Huntington in Clash of the Civilizations may be a classic example of this way of thinking, which although it sees human diversity, does not manage to see the perspectives of interaction and complementarities. China will not ask permission to act on the international scenario. To guarantee its growth it will advance on sides. Its presence in Africa is an example. The USA is one of its main sources of growth. China is today an important creditor of American debt. The disputes will continue but not as in the scenario we saw in the Cold War. The tendency is for China not to feed this bellicose side of the USA. This should be a differential in the International Relations game of the XXI century, we will have a very powerful state, China, with great skill in postponing conflicts. Taiwan is a good example of the Chinese way of acting. As Lao Zi said, “With no dispute, there is no opposition”. That is a Chinese differential that must be considered in modern interstate relations.
WS - China became the main economic partner of Brazil. How can we build on this relationship and generate greater growth in our internal market?
JMS - On August 10 I was in Beijing and could participate in the Academy of Social Sciences of China, of an event to celebrate the 35 years of the establishment of relations between Brazil and China. One of the speakers, Mr. Chen Duqing, ex-ambassador of China in Brazil, mentioned a very interesting aspect of the present Sino-Brazilian commerce. For him, despite the important fact that China is becoming Brazil’s most important trading partner, this fact needs to be placed in a specific dimension of the global crisis. This is important for us not to create unnecessary elation. In the same event, the Brazilian ambassador, Mr. Clodoaldo Hugueney highlighted a structural problem that needs to be considered when studying commercial relations between the two countries. It is about the commercial list of exports which is extremely concentrated. Few products meet the Brazilian export list. In case there is any problem with some of the few products exported, there will be a great impact on this commercial flow. About Brazil...the challenge of internal growth does not depend necessarily on external relations with a sole country. It is necessary to construct a path, which balances advantages with disadvantages of external commercial relations; one part of the economic relations is complementary, the other part competes.
WS - How do you analyse literature and the arts in present day China? Has the economic efervescence generated proportional cultural effervescence?
JMS - This is another theme on which I personally need more time. More exposure to the language and culture; that not to be a prisoner of the host of information officially propagated, by the government, bookstores and even academics. There is, as in Brazil, a literature for the market which inflates its favorite witers. It generates favorable reviews but basically they are common things. Maybe the novelty is in the use of new technologies like websites, where many express their sentiments. But we need time to appraise it. If on one hand the Chinese cinema is projecting itself outside of China, the same cannot be said of its literature.
WS - You recently gave a presentation at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in the Latin American Institute- ILAS. What was the biggest interest from the Chinese in Brazil today?
JMS - On the last trip of President Lula to China, he inaugurated that institute, the Center of Brazilian Studies – CEB. The performance of the Chinese part for the constitution of that space shows how important and priority knowledge of Brazil has become for the Chinese. There is an understanding from many Chinese academics that in a multicolor world, Brazil will have an important role. Knowing it therefore is a need of the present time. Before my presentation on the process of South American integration, I was received, jointly with two other Brazilian researchers, by Wu Baiyi, Vice-President of ILAS and Executive Diretor of CEB. He shared with us that one of the lines of greatest interest of the Institute of today is about the countries of the so called BRIC`s (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Rather, those who think that China will not act for the strengthening of these partnerships are wrong. They will be decisive in the settling of great global questions. Also it is an intelligent form of avoiding polarization, among, for example China and USA. A more pacific world is a necessary condition for Chinese development. Chinese diplomacy will continue to be active in same perspective. Let us observe still that the Chinese state has a strategic vision which allows it to visualize wider horizons. If today, Brazil is a country with a little more strength in the global economy, this picture can be different 50 years hence, and for the Chinese, a friendship does not happen in a day. It is constructed over a lifetime. I mean that China’s interest in Brazil will grow. Moreover, not just for economic circumstantial reasons but for a strategic vision of the Chinese state.
Interview by Marcos Guedes Pereira