A Brazilian bird's-eye view
By Filipe Porto  ·  2023-12-25  ·   Source: NO.52 DECEMBER 28, 2023
Brazilian business people at the 134th Session of the China Import and Export Fair, also known as the Canton Fair, in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, on October 15 (XINHUA)

Brazilian journalist Igor Patrick has been a major contributor to the understanding of and communication with China by Brazilian audiences.

Patrick traveled to Beijing for the first time in 2014 as part of an exchange program while he was pursuing a bachelor's degree in journalism at PUC Minas, a Brazilian university in the state of Minas Gerais.

His dissatisfaction with the lack of China-related information available in the global media and what he witnessed in daily life motivated him to integrate this experience into his journalistic career and seek more knowledge about the country.

The mysterious minutiae

"My knowledge at that time came from my own research and experiences. Brazil lacks the reliable resources to properly address this topic, especially for journalism students," Patrick said, adding that he returned to China in 2019 to pursue a master's degree in China studies at Peking University and in 2021 signed up for a master's degree in global affairs at Tsinghua University.

China has become an inescapable presence in Brazilian life due to the multiple relationships that have been established between the two countries in recent years, not only as Brazil's largest and most important trading partner, but also as an interlocutor in terms of global governance. After years of bringing local households all kinds of products, China has also become a topic of public debate in Brazil.

However, the lack of knowledge about China in Brazil and in the world at large is incompatible with the importance of the Asian country as a major power in the global framework. "The coverage of China often emphasizes the more 'exotic' aspects of the country—what is exotic is what generates news," Brazilian Foreign Trade Secretary Tatiana Prazeres wrote in her weekly column for Folha de SP, one of Brazil's most widely circulated newspapers. In the article, she wrote about her discussion with the owners of a restaurant in Beijing, asking them why they'd kept a Christmas tree up in front of the place even though Christmas had already come and gone. "It is beautiful," they'd said.

The "exotic" sentiment is part of the larger "scary, weird China" narrative that has increasingly dominated global headlines in recent years.

During his participation in the Sixth National Meeting of the Brazilian Network for China Studies, a platform inaugurated in 2018 to deepen studies on China, Patrick asked the audience to raise their hand if they were satisfied with the news about China distributed by Brazilian media. There was no show of hands.

The network hosts annual meetings at different federal universities in Brazil. The sixth meeting took place at the Federal University of ABC in São Bernardo do Campo, in southeastern São Paulo State. Approximately 400 professionals from a range of fields contribute to the network.

"Unfortunately, there isn't good coverage; there's a lack of resources and qualified professionals to work on such a specific topic, one with so many particularities," Patrick said. "There are few Brazilian correspondents in China, which hampers journalistic coverage. Media outlets end up reproducing content from foreign news outlets, such as [American newspapers] The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, or [British daily business newspaper] Financial Times, which all have their own agendas regarding China, and their priorities are different from those in the Global South."

The Global South refers to countries that are considered to have a relatively low level of economic and industrial development and are typically located to the south of the world's more industrialized countries.

In the last three years, Patrick has been issuing a weekly newsletter called China, the Middle Kingdom, published by Folha de SP. Currently based in Washington, D.C. as a U.S. correspondent for Hong Kong-based English-language newspaper South China Morning Post, Patrick is also a cofounder of Observa China, a think tank initiated by a group of young professionals and students to create a network that aims to advance the debate about China in Portuguese.

The bigger picture

Observa China has just concluded a free online course called Covering China: Tools for the Brazilian Press, aiming to present and discuss the main themes and tools of interest for journalists who wish to cover the Asian country from Brazil.

Over the course of two days and six seminars, 20 Brazilian journalists had the opportunity to learn about essential and pressing topics in China-Brazil relations, such as trade, investment, energy, environment and international cooperation. The classes were taught by Brazilian professionals directly involved in these fields, ranging from academia to business.

"The reason I signed up was to better understand the culture and broaden my horizons about China. I have an ambition to cover Asia. And to cover the Asian continent, it is necessary to understand, above all, the biggest player in the region, China," said Carlos Damascena Becerene, a Brazilian journalist who covers the economy and market in Latin America and participated in the activity. According to Becerene, despite being thousands of kilometers away, China is very present on the continent and this requires good knowledge.

"The course was excellent. It served to inspire us to seek more knowledge, to inspire us in terms of how to cover China. The country has its peculiarities, and the course was essential to understand them, from the way China invests in other countries to how to get stories and sources," Becerene continued. "I think another fundamental thing about the course was that it brought a sober view to the subject, getting students to remove the veil of Westernization and understand more about the country's cultural differences. In short, the course is essential for today's journalists, even those who don't cover the region, because whether we like it or not, China is on the agenda because of its international relevance."

The production of serious, accurate content about China from a Brazilian perspective is essential to create critical knowledge that will help government departments and businesses make decisions and clearly identify opportunities and risks.

"We don't need to love or hate China; we need to have our own vision of the country, created by ourselves, not imported from abroad. This shields the bilateral relationship with objectivity, pragmatism and a state agenda that is not subject to external political movements," Patrick concluded.  

The author is a researcher of international relations at the Federal University of ABC in Brazil

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

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