India’s delay in sending vaccines to Brazil, reported in last week’s column, was primarily driven by logistics: New Delhi had to respond to requests from regional partners before responding to desperate appeals from Brasilia.
But the explanations of the slow humiliation inflicted by China are in the domain of the symbolic. Elevated to world power over the past decade, Chinese authorities have prioritized tackling what they see as a campaign to smear the country’s name.
Indeed, despite its success in controlling the pandemic, China has seen its image deteriorate in the world. Donald Trump and his allies, very active in denouncing real events, such as the repression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, but also imaginary, such as the alleged involvement of the Chinese authorities in the creation of the coronavirus, are singled out as the main culprits of this paradoxical situation.
Hours after Joseph Biden took office, China imposed sanctions on 28 members of the former US government. Among them, the former chief of diplomacy Mike Pompeo and the extremist Steve Bannon, two essential allies of bolonarism.
Now the Xi Jinping government wants to finish the job.
The ongoing negotiation for the supply of vaccines between Brazil and China is a diplomatic struggle between a government that thinks of the days and one that thinks of the decades.
The Chinese are too clever to fall for the towering and easily caricatured market conditions, like swapping vaccines for 5G technology towers.
For them, it all comes down to good table manners. China wants to project an image of a civilizing force in the world and refuses to work with political leaders who support the anti-Chinese racist or conspiratorial theses of the Trumpists.
None of the solutions tested by Brazilian politicians last week live up to the urgency of the situation. The assault by prominent figures of the Republic, such as governors and even former presidents, is well-intentioned, but insufficient.
Parallel diplomacy and initiatives led by subnational organizations can unlock specific problems, but they are not suited to solving a national security problem such as the vaccination campaign. No one imagines Brazil sending a high-end truck to unlock every container stopped at the airport over a trivial commentary from the Plateau.
A possible exchange of Ernesto Araújo would help improve coordination. The president would be hard pressed to find another crusader to lead the Itamaraty. Although accomplices in the methodical destruction of Brazilian foreign policy, Bolsonar diplomats would not dare to repeat the professional hara-kiri of the current chancellor.
But the tension would persist. Beijing values the chain of command more than anything, and the Bolonarian networks will only silence their synophobia when they receive orders from above. Brazil’s difficulties in the geopolitics of the vaccine will not be truly overcome until the Planalto commander decrees the end of the anti-China campaign.
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