RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And now let's turn to our summer series on China.
In its quest for resources and business opportunities, China needs to wield influence in many countries. Increasingly, it's doing so with a sophisticated charm offensive. The idea is to present a modern and dynamic China - something dubbed soft power. And Beijing is using soft power even in countries where people have a relatively good impression of China. That would include big, booming, democratic Brazil.
NPR's Juan Forero has the story from Sao Paolo.
JUAN FORERO: Every week, it seems, China is ever more engaged in one of the world's most important economies. Brazil now exports so much to the Chinese that China surpassed the U.S. to become Brazil's largest trading partner. Yet the Chinese say Brazilian businessmen know very little about their country.
Unidentified Woman #1: (Foreign language spoken)
Unidentified People: (Foreign language spoken)
Unidentified Woman #2: Hong Kong, the Oriental pearl, is simply amazing.
FORERO: And so Robert Blatt, an engineer and consultant who hopes to do work with the Chinese, is taking classes offered by the Chinese government's Confucius Institute. China has opened these institutes all over the world. They offer Mandarin classes, seminars, cultural programs.
Unidentified Woman #3: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: Blatt is 50, highly educated, fluent in English and other languages. Now he's eager to learn about China.
Mr. ROBERT BLATT (Engineer, Consultant): You have many hours of Chinese classes, and also culture, geography, history and culture in general.
FORERO: It's all part of a Chinese effort to draw closer to Brazil. Brazil is vastly different - in popular lore, the land of samba and world-class soccer. Brazil's also Western, democratic and ethnically diverse. But Brazil has what China needs: commodities and natural resources, from soybeans to iron ore, oil to sugar cane.
Zhu Qingquiao is a business adviser in China's embassy in Brasilia.
Mr. ZHU QINGQUIAO (Business Adviser): (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: Brazil is very big, Zhu said, abundant in resources, with a big population and a big market. And Zhu said that the economies of Brazil and China are highly complementary, but that it's vital for Brazilian businessmen to learn more about China. Brazil, in other words, is a prime target for Chinese soft power.
There's a model for China, of course - the United States, which has sponsored programs worldwide, like those of the Peace Corps. And then there's American culture: think blue jeans and Hollywood.
The Chinese government is now trying to play the same game, educating thousands of Africans in Chinese universities, providing medicine to fight disease in poor countries, stepping up broadcasts of China Radio International in foreign tongues.
In Brazil, many form their first impressions of China from the ubiquitous presence of Chinese immigrants, centered here around Plaza Libertad and its many markets.
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FORERO: Some Brazilians have delved deeper, like Joao Pedro Flecha de Lima, who directs operations in Brazil for Huawei, the highly successful Chinese telecom giant.
Mr. JOAO PEDRO FLECHA DE LIMA (Director of Brazilian Operations, Huawei): Since I figured I could never learn the language properly, I decided to try to learn a little bit of the culture. So I read some Chinese romances and I got a little more acquainted with the way of thinking of the Chinese.
FORERO: Yet proponents of closer ties to China say Flecha de Lima is a rarity.
Marina Schwartzman works for the Brazil-China Chamber for Economic Development, helping Brazilian companies find partners in China.
Ms. MARINA SCHWARTZMAN (Brazil-China Chamber for Economic Development): They don't know anything about the Chinese language, the Chinese culture, how to do business in China if they don't know anything about Chinese people.
FORERO: A range of groups, some headed by Chinese-born entrepreneurs and activists with ties to the Chinese state, are determined to spur change.
Mr. BOB WEI: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: In an industrial corner of Sao Paulo, the Chinese Cultural and Commercial Center, headed by a young Chinese-Brazilian businessman named Bob Wei, holds karate classes. And at night, Wei provides briefings on China to businessmen.
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FORERO: Across town, in the heart of Sao Paulo, students play the Chinese harp in the Sao Bento School.
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FORERO: It's filled with the children of Chinese immigrants, singing Chinese songs along with the children of Brazilians.
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FORERO: Juliana Wu is the principal, herself new to Brazil. She's found fertile ground here: Brazilian parents.
Ms. JULIANA WU (Principal, Sao Bento School): They want to have their children, in the future have a good career, because the one who can speak Chinese and also Portuguese or English, they can get good job.
FORERO: The Chinese government, meanwhile, is building up its diplomatic corps - one that Chinese experts say is increasingly composed of sophisticated diplomats like Shu Jianping. He's the cultural attache here. He's Latinized his name to Antonio, is dashing in slicked hair and a blue suit, and speaks Portuguese and Spanish fluently.
Mr. SHU JIANPING (Diplomat): (Spanish spoken)
FORERO: China wants to be judged objectively, he said in Spanish, because there are many preconceived notions.
Some of those notions are not just notions, such as the jailing of dissidents and censorship. That's given China negative poll ratings in the United States and in many countries that ring China. But according to the Pew Research Center, a majority of Brazilians have a favorable view of China.
Yet as China's presence has grown here, there's been friction over, among other things, Chinese imports flooding Brazilian manufacturing. The Chinese want to blunt those concerns.
Mr. SHU: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: We have to provide more information, says Shu, the cultural attache, for instance about the quality of Chinese goods. He says they're often criticized as cheap, but are actually of good quality.
Preconceptions in Sao Paulo, to be sure, are changing because of the latest Chinese arrival, the new compact cars sold by JAC Motors.
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Mr. FAUSTO SILVA (TV Personality): (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: Six-year warranty, TV personality Fausto Silva says on his Sunday variety show. Unexpected.
Sergio Habib, president of JAC Motors here, has opened 50 dealerships since March of this year and plans another 100 by 2012.
Mr. SERGIO HABIB (JAC Motors): Brazilian image about Chinese products, it's changing very fast. We are helping that with JAC cars.
(Soundbite of honking horns)
FORERO: On a recent day, the salespeople at one of JAC's dealerships celebrates another sale. These celebrations are fast becoming a JAC tradition.
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
(Soundbite of cheering)
FORERO: Juan Forero, NPR News.