Memo to Washington ERIC FARNSWORTH
Meant as a descriptor of emerging economic weight, the BRIC
designation has now been infused by its members with a
manufactured foreign policy significance.
of America broadcasts conducted in Spanish and Portuguese have decreased and U.S. Information Service
(USIS) libraries and other resources have been shuttered.
The battle for Latin American hearts and minds is often joined through language and study abroad; this is
something that China’s leaders understand.
More broadly, China has also put great store in developing its political relations with Brazil, a relationship
that has been super-charged in foreign policy terms with
the artificial designation of the so-called BRIC nations
of Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Meant as a descriptor of emerging economic weight, the BRIC designation
has now been infused by its members with a manufactured foreign policy significance. To the extent this relationship is intended as a means to improve mutual
cooperation and is not directed against anyone in particular (e.g., the U.S.) this should be of little concern. But
the jury remains out.
Nonetheless, Brazil’s leaders have bent over backwards
to accommodate China to build a common agenda,
which they perceive as an important means to promote
a globalist agenda. This has led to some questionable decisions by Brazil that have been exploited by China, not
the least of which was Brazil’s designation of China as
a market economy during Hu’s visit in 2004. It has led
to stepped-up technology cooperation in sophisticated
areas including missile launch technology, rocketry and
satellites—technology that is potentially dual use. And
the effort to develop a BRIC agenda separate from the
United States and G7 nations has also emboldened Brazil to pursue a foreign policy within Latin America and
abroad that has complicated efforts on nuclear security,
trade and Middle East peace (e.g., Palestinian statehood).
Ironically, China has taken advantage of Brazil’s desire
for a broader relationship, but has not reciprocated. For
example, China has refused to support Brazil’s desire for
a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. China gets the best of both worlds; Brazil is proving
to be a friend with benefits.
With creative diplomacy and a different mindset toward the region, the U. S. could use these realities to its
Americas Quarterly WINTER 2012
advantage. Brazil is the largest democracy in Latin America, with ambitions that are legitimate but also paradigm
shifting in terms of hemispheric affairs.
Washington and Brasilia will not always agree; at
times, our interests may collide. At other times, our interests will coincide. For example, both Brazil and the
U.S. are hurt by China’s undervalued currency. Both
face the challenge of competition from China’s manufacturing sector. Both want Chinese investors to play
by the same rules of the game. Both are global players
on trade, both are globally competitive in agriculture
and other products, and both are faced with the same
realities of global climate change to which China’s race
for growth is directly contributing.
The shared challenges faced by the U.S., Brazil and
the rest of the Americas with respect to China represent
a huge agenda that deserves similar attention and focus
that Washington applies to other regions. But the only
hope for achieving that agenda rests on whether the U.S.
policymaking and academic community is willing to
perceive the Western Hemisphere through the same geostrategic lens with which it views the rest of the world.
When all is said and done, if China’s entrance into the
Americas leads policymakers to take a new look at the
region, that, in and of itself, will be a very positive thing.
AN AGENDA FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
All of this lends itself to several policy options that require active consideration. For the first ime in years, the U.S. faces a multifaceted rival in the region that requires a rethink of priori- ties, and the implementation of a true foreign
policy (rather than development policy) agenda. The
U.S. must now contend for Latin America, recapturing
the initiative in a region that, with China’s engagement
if not instigation, has begun to dismantle the previous
In the near term the U.S. should ramp up education
and people-to-people exchanges, with private sector
support. The administration should develop a common
agenda with Brazil on issues like Chinese currency and