Bolsonaro striking a balance between China, the US

By Wu Hongying Source:Global Times Published: 2019/10/27 19:13:39

Chinese President Xi Jinping holds talks with Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, on October 25. Photo: Xinhua

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro paid a state visit to China from Thursday to Saturday at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Bolsonaro's first visit to China as Brazilian President is crucial to China-Brazil ties. China has been Brazil's largest trading partner for 10 years, and has been the largest source of foreign investment in Brazil. Official data showed the volume of bilateral trade hit a record $100 billion in 2018. Bolsonaro's visit will enhance mutual understanding between leaders of the two countries, advance friendship at senior level and reinforce the two countries' cooperation in trade, economy and technology.

China and Brazil are highly complementary in trade and economy. Brazil is willing to ratchet up cooperation in trade, investment, infrastructure construction and energy. After the visit, China may step up its imports of Brazil's soybeans and iron ore. China is in high demand of soybeans. Because of the ongoing China-US trade war, China has ramped up the purchase of soybeans from countries including Brazil and Argentina.

Bolsonaro paid a visit to China after his fourth surgery in September. 

Bolsonaro reiterated that China is the largest trading partner of Brazil and this means a lot to the Latin American country. Bolsonaro's remarks were in sharp contrast to his previous tough stance against China during his presidential election campaign, when he described China's investment in Brazil as "buying Brazil." 

Bolsonaro has adjusted his China policy. The purpose accusing China of "buying Brazil" may aim to serve his presidential campaign in an attempt to draw broad attention. Working as councilor and federal deputy of Rio de Janeiro for decades, Bolsonaro had paid little attention to diplomacy and his knowledge about China was limited. After resuming office, Bolsonaro has become more aware of China's significance to Brazil's economy and his administration attached great importance to the comprehensive strategic partnership with China.

The Brazilian economy has gone downward in the past few years and signaled weak economic revival. To fulfill his campaign promises, such as reconstructing the country and rescuing the hope of people, Bolsonaro has to revitalize economic growth. The Chinese market and investment can play indispensable roles in helping Brazil advance economically. This is why he came to China before the BRICS summit, which is scheduled for November 13 and 14 in Brasilia, Brazil.

After years of recessions, Brazil's economic recovery has been sluggish, which has piled pressure on Bolsonaro because he made a market-friendly pledge to boost the economy. China's huge market and investment will play an indispensable role in fulfilling his promise. 

After taking office, Bolsonaro has paid more attention to relations with the US, which has been demonstrated since his very first foreign trip to the US as president. Brazil is historically close to the US. Bolsonaro has retrieved such sentiment and considered his own son to serve as ambassador to the US as well as appointed pro-US trusted followers to high-level positions in his administration.

However, although US President Donald Trump "warned" Bolsonaro of Chinese tech giant Huawei, Brazilian Vice President Hamilton Mourão ruled out the possibility of a ban on Huawei from Brazil. As a leading power in Latin America, Brazil has its demands in telecommunications, pursuing more advanced technology to boost and enhance its economy and technology. Therefore, the country would not fully follow Washington to avoid its telecommunications being monopolized by one country. 

To secure information safety, Brazil hopes to diversify its information technology. Brasilia is wary of Washington in terms of information technology. Reports revealed that the US government spied on the then Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, whose e-mails, phone calls and other communications were monitored abroad by the US National Security Agency. Brazil has resented US technical meddling in politics.

As the largest economy in Latin America, Brazil has been seeking to maintain a balance between China and the US. Announcing to make an official visit to Beijing in the second half of 2019 just hours after meeting Trump during Bolsonaro's trip to Washington can signal such a strategy. This idea is in line with his campaign slogan "Brazil before everything," which aims to create better development.

The author is Special Assistant to the President of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

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