I’ve set up a Google Alert so that I am notified whenever there is a news article containing both “China” and “Brazil.” I’m hoping that this will give me plenty of material to write about. The first article that has come up seems like a basic little summary of a fairly routine conference in Brazil, but it definitely relates to bigger trends in South-South relations. Titled Brazil, China cooperate on education, it is from the Xinhua English page. XinHua doesn’t have a fantastic reputation for high quality, hard hitting journalism (Eric Olander talks about this a lot on his excellent China in Africa Podcast), but a simple summary of the opening speech of a seminar seems like it would be hard to mess up. Although at roughly 160 words, this article is very short, there are two important concepts tied in here that I want to explore: World view, and student exchanges.

Addressing world view first, I think it is telling that “While developed economies are in decline” is included as a matter of fact. It is not a debatable position, it is not a tentative claim. It simple is. This seems very different from the view in the United States, in which people like much-derided Thomas Friedman (who at times seems to have the ear of all of liberal America) claim that this can be prevented with sufficient investment and innovation. I’m not positive, but I get the general impression that in Europe there is a vaguely similar feeling: Europe is going through a (very) rough patch, but in a decade things will be better and it will be back on top of the world again. I’m not sure about that idea, but I am sure that in the BRICs and other rising powers there is a very different feeling. The feeling in China seems to be that the 1900s were America’s century, and the 2000s will be China’s. Apparently this view is more or less shared by at least some people in Brazil, including the Brazilian Education Minister Aloizio Mercadante.

Science Without Borders

Secondly, I think that student exchanges specifically and educational exchange in general is a very important way for a country to build upon and to exploit it’s soft power. Speaking in my own case, it is very unlikely that I would have developed such an appreciation for and understanding of China had I not studied there. There is an increasing attempt by governments to get their students to study in BRIC countries (see Project Pengyou and the 100000 Strong Initiativefor the U.S.’s effort to get involved in this). The impression I get from the U.S. is that traditionally most students studied abroad in Europe, Australia, or other OECD places. (Does anybody know where to get some statistics about this?) Maybe Argentina if the student was really outrageous. Nowadays, however, the popularity of China is definitely rising rapidly as a study abroad destination, and I wouldn’t be surprised in other developing economies in Latin American, Asia, and Africa are also seeing an increase of European  and American visiting students. If nothing else, it saves the universities money: the cost of food an housing for one semester in Madrid or Strasbourg is a lot less than in Nanjing or Minas Gerais. So in general, I think that Dilma Rousseff made a great move in initiating the student exchange program, but I think that they shouldn’t just push STEM education, but also South-South language and cultural exchanges. What do you think, reader? Should Brazil delay South-South humanties-focused exchanges until after a base of STEM-focused students have established themselves, or should cultural and linguistic expertise also be important?