Brazil needs vaccines. It also needs Huawei


PHOTO/Pedro Vilela/Getty Images/Leo Schwartz

The article detailed how Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, spurred on by the Trump administration, was set to ban the Chinese telecommunications giant from helping build the country’s 5G network. Then the pandemic came along. With a skyrocketing death toll and in desperate need of China’s CoronaVac vaccine, the Brazilian government abruptly changed face, according to The Times. On February 11, Brazil sentits communications minister to Beijing, and, two weeks later, the Brazilian regulator Anatel announced that Huawei would be allowed to supply equipment for the construction of 5G infrastructure after all. 

Last week, The New York Times published a blockbuster story alleging that China had changed the Brazilian government’s position on Huawei by dangling the promise of vaccines. 

“The precise connection between the vaccine request and Huawei’s inclusion in the 5G auction is unclear, but the timing is striking,” wrote The Times’ Ernesto Londoño and Letícia Casado. “It is a part of a stark change in Brazil’s stance toward China.”

It is a familiar narrative in Western media — one that depicts China imposing its will through hegemonic might. However, the underlying dynamics are generally more nuanced. Articles like The Times’ flatten the complex reality of emerging markets, where often the most intense jockeying is happening elsewhere. In Brazil’s case, the conflict exists mostly at the domestic level. 

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