Why picking a fight with China is a very bad idea

foreign policy brazil china
Photo: Alan Santos/PR

Following U.S. President Donald Trump’s lead, Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro—President Jair Bolsonaro’s third-eldest son—blamed China’s Communist Party for the coronavirus pandemic.

In response, the official Twitter account of the Chinese Embassy in Brazil called his words “irresponsible,” and demanded an “immediate retraction.” Mr. Bolsonaro has created a diplomatic pickle for his father’s administration. Since 2009, China has been Brazil’s leading trading partner. Here are the top 5 reasons why Brazil should stop going after China:

1. The BRICS alliance is now all about China

In general terms, the Chinese buy Brazilian and South African commodities while exports to India have grown exponentially. For Russia, China is also a strategic ally amid quarrels with the U.S. and European Union. 

2. China is a trade behemoth

China-Brazil bilateral trade reached roughly USD 100 billion in 2018, and Chinese investments in Brazil are estimated at nearly USD 60 billion. These figures have grown even further amid the trade war between Beijing and Washington D.C., with China purchasing more Brazilian agricultural products to replace those from the U.S.

3. Brazilian infrastructure needs Chinese money

São Paulo Governor João Doria is planning to lead a group of politicians and businessmen on a trip to China, where he hopes to secure investments for his state. The main goal is getting a deal to expand São Paulo’s metro network—which since 1974 has grown at the slow pace of 1.9 stations per year. 

4. China-dependence

It has been almost 20 years since Brazil had such a concentrated export relationship with any single trading partner. In 2001, the European Union bought a whopping 50.6 percent of all Brazilian commodities. Now, the bulk of these products are going to East Asia.

5. Good relations are the base for free-trade deals

But even if China’s and Brazil’s own interests are very different, the two countries have vented the possibility of a broad free-trade deal. Such deals are always difficult to negotiate—especially if countries are not seeing eye to eye.