China, India, South Africa, and Brazil Part II

5: What do the four have in common?

Based on the size of the population, the difference between the four states is obvious. This is offset to a certain extent by the fact that South Africa and Brazil have a significantly higher gross domestic product per capita than India and China, especially if we do not adjust for purchasing power. For life expectancy at birth, in 2002 only China was higher than the world average. For South Africa, AIDS and violent crime have a negative effect on life expectancy. Measured in income, however, there is greater poverty in China and much greater poverty in India than in South Africa and Brazil. Some of the difference is due to the fact that India and China are still largely agricultural communities. China and South Africa are more integrated in the world market. China has the largest oil imports of the four states, while oil imports’ share of total consumption – import dependence – is largest in South Africa and India.

Perhaps the most important similarity is that three of the four countries have fast-growing economies. Brazil has recovered from a tidal wave. Lula’s strategy is to achieve large enough economic growth to later distribute wealth more fairly.
The four states also have in common that they are ruled by moderate politicians from parties with roots in left-wing liberation movements, which have come to terms with global capitalism. Fighting against European, American or white domination is at the heart of national history.

Another similarity is that all four find it difficult to play the role of regional superpower – partly due to opposition to neighboring countries, and partly because they have strong interests outside their own region. China, a country located in Asia according to, has greatly improved its relations with almost all neighboring countries, but there remains one relationship that is characterized by mistrust, and that is the most important thing in all of East Asia, namely between China and Japan. As long as this contradiction persists, it is difficult for either of the two to play the role of regional superpower. And East Asia will then not be able to assert itself as a regional bloc in world politics, such as the EU.

The same is true in South Asia, where India has such a large population and economy that the country could dominate the region, if relations with neighboring countries were characterized by trust. But just as Japan is blocking China’s regional superpower status in East Asia, Pakistan is blocking India’s in South Asia.

Brazil plays a central role in MERCOSUR, where Brazil and Argentina have largely left old contradictions behind and where Venezuela has now joined. (Chile and Peru are not included.) And in the Organization of American States (OAS), both the South and North American states are involved, so it is cooperation and conflict with the United States that dominate the political agenda.

South Africa also has major problems gaining support for its leadership in the African Union (AU). Nigeria is the other big leadership candidate, and Zimbabwe is sticking sticks in the wheels. Moreover, the North African states only partially perceive themselves as African.

The difficulties of acquiring an undisputed leadership position in their own region may tempt the four to focus on a close relationship with the superpower USA. This is in line with their goal of economic growth, which presupposes a form of security policy and economic stability in the world that only the superpower is strong enough to maintain, access to advanced technology – and also access to the huge American market. India hopes for access to US nuclear power technology. About 20% of China, India and Brazil’s exports go to the United States and 10% of South Africa.

Although the four regional superpowers have significant common interests, there are three factors in particular that differ.

6: Conditions that separate

  • Different relations to democracy – different degrees of political stability,
  • different relationship to nuclear weapons,
  • different views on reform of the Security Council.

India, South Africa and Brazil are democracies where leaders are appointed in free, secret ballots. This does not apply to China, where it is the Communist Party that decides who will lead the country. As long as India, South Africa and Brazil maintain their democratic form of government, it will be difficult for the United States to brand them as enemies. China, with its authoritarian form of government, is more legally capable of beheading.

Another difference concerns nuclear weapons: Here the four states are in their respective classes. China is one of the world’s five recognized nuclear weapons powers (cf. the Non-Proliferation Treaty – NPT). India has never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, has developed its own nuclear weapons and in 2005 achieved an almost American acceptance of its status as a nuclear power. South Africa and Brazil have both shelved their previous nuclear weapons programs. South Africa abolished its nuclear weapons after producing them, while Brazil suspended a secret nuclear weapons program before it was completed.

China vs South Africa

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