Lessons of Brazil not ap­pli­ca­ble to China

Global Times US Edition - - FORUM -

The New York Times has re­cently been bring­ing out a se­ries of ar­ti­cles about China. The lat­est com­men­tary by Bret Stephens has a strik­ing head­line – “The Real China Chal­lenge: Man­ag­ing Its De­cline.” This seem­ingly an­a­lyt­i­cal ar­ti­cle uses Brazil as a com­par­i­son to China, which ex­poses the writer’s shock­ing ig­no­rance about Chi­nese peo­ple’s cul­ture.

In the ar­ti­cle, Stephens writes: In 2009, The Economist wrote about an up-and-com­ing global power: Brazil. Its econ­omy, the mag­a­zine sug­gested, would soon over­take that of France or the UK as the world’s fifth largest. How­ever, the rocket never reached orbit. Brazil’s econ­omy is now limp­ing its way out of the worst re­ces­sion in its his­tory. “The mur­der rate – 175 peo­ple per day in 2017 – is at a record high.” The au­thor then con­cludes that those whom the gods wish to de­stroy, they first tout as coun­tries of the fu­ture. And the rise of China will fi­nally not ma­te­ri­al­ize be­cause of its sim­i­lar­ity with Brazil.

The au­thor ap­pears to be tri­umphant in giv­ing the de­scrip­tion since he has found a per­fect ref­er­ence to com­ment on China’s devel­op­ment. I stayed in Brazil for three years and well un­der­stand why the Brazil­ian econ­omy has weak­ened and why China’s would be dif­fer­ent. To be hon­est, Brazil does not com­pare well with China and thus the ar­gu­ment in the ar­ti­cle is fee­ble and poor.

Per­haps the Brazil­ians and the au­thor be­lieve in the same god, but that’s def­i­nitely not the one that Chi­nese be­lieve in. The god men­tioned by Stephens is not func­tional for China be­cause it doesn’t even ex­ist in the be­lief sys­tem of the Chi­nese peo­ple.

In­deed, Brazil never had a strong and so­phis­ti­cated manufacturing in­dus­try. But the ba­sic ques­tion is: Why has China achieved in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion while Brazil has aban­doned it and moved in the op­po­site di­rec­tion? This is not en­tirely a mat­ter of econ­omy or in­sti­tu­tion, but one of cul­ture.

I’ve been work­ing in Europe, the US, Asia and South Amer­ica for nearly 20 years. My ex­pe­ri­ence says whether a coun­try can achieve in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion de­pends on many fac­tors, cul­ture be­ing the most im­por­tant. It in­cludes how peo­ple view their work, fam­ily, chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion and wealth ac­cu­mu­la­tion.

It may sound racist to dif­fer­en­ti­ate devel­op­ment based on cul­ture. But af­ter liv­ing in Brazil for a while, you will find out the answer. Brazil­ians are not will­ing to be as dili­gent and hard work­ing as the Chi­nese. Nei­ther do they value sav­ings for the next gen­er­a­tion, like the Chi­nese do. Yet they de­mand the same wel­fare and ben­e­fits as those in de­vel­oped coun­tries.

The fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ence be­tween Brazil and China lies in that the cul­ture of Brazil makes the coun­try un­suit­able for manufacturing. Lack of manufacturing can’t lead to in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion and fi­nally makes sus­tain­able devel­op­ment im­pos­si­ble. As a re­sult, the econ­omy of Brazil only de­pends on ex­port of raw ma­te­ri­als and bulk com­modi­ties. In other words, abun­dant re­sources have lim­ited the devel­op­ment of manufacturing in Brazil.

Whether the Brazil­ian econ­omy can achieve sus­tain­able devel­op­ment de­pends partly on in­sti­tu­tions, but more im­por­tantly on the lo­cal cul­tural tra­di­tion. Stephens made a ba­sic mis­take: Since he doesn’t an­a­lyze the prospects of devel­op­ment of a coun­try based on full knowl­edge of its cul­ture and tra­di­tion, his judg­ment is faulty.

China’s devel­op­ment has prob­lems and chal­lenges. Since the re­form and open­ing-up, it is Chi­nese cul­tural tra­di­tion that has held up against eco­nomic fluc­tu­a­tions. Even­tu­ally, the per­for­mance of Chi­nese econ­omy has formed a ris­ing curve, not a de­scend­ing one be­cause China can al­ways find so­lu­tions amid fluc­tu­a­tions.

Chi­nese peo­ple have huge po­ten­tial for pur­su­ing fam­ily and per­sonal hap­pi­ness. Now the ques­tion be­fore China is how to give a full play to such po­ten­tial, not pro­duce it. The re­form and openingup has been a process of re­leas­ing the po­ten­tial of Chi­nese peo­ple. More im­por­tantly, the process is ir­re­versible.

China is such a big coun­try that it would be gen­er­al­iz­ing to cite one ex­am­ple to prove that its prospects are bleak. Like­wise, it is also un­fair when you equal the prospect of a de­vel­oped re­gion to that of en­tire China. If you want to learn about China’s fu­ture, you must know how Chi­nese peo­ple learn, work and live. Any anal­y­sis of China’s fu­ture should not be divorced from this. The au­thor is a se­nior edi­tor with Peo­ple’s Daily, and cur­rently a se­nior fel­low with the Chongyang In­sti­tute for Fi­nan­cial Stud­ies at Ren­min Uni­ver­sity of China. ding­[email protected] glob­al­times.com.cn. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @ding­gangchina

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