China is a necessity for Bolsonaro’s Brazil, not a choice

. Oct 24, 2019
President Bolsonaro China President Xi Jinping President Bolsonaro (L) and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping. Photo: Alan Santos/PR

Maintaining good relations with China is a necessity for Brazil, not a choice. And President Jair Bolsonaro’s first visit to China this week is an excellent opportunity for him to alter his diplomatic stance toward Brazil’s largest trading partner. Although he has abandoned the aggressive anti-China rhetoric he employed during his election campaign, conflicting statements from figures within his administration have confused Brazilian representatives in China and create obstacles for business and investment.

Bilateral trade was approximately 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.

However, ambiguity among Brazilian authorities as to whether Chinese companies will be allowed to compete in the upcoming auction of 5G frequencies is causing apprehension. Vice President Hamilton Mourão stated Chinese giant Huawei would not be excluded, while the Foreign Affairs Minister Ernesto Araújo said the issue was still being examined.

There are also concerns about potential restrictions on Chinese state-owned companies wishing to invest in Brazilian infrastructure or privatization programs. Such limits have become commonplace in Donald Trump’s U.S., who Jair Bolsonaro always cites as his role model.

Tensions between China and the U.S. over Latin America have mounted since Beijing’s decision to include the region in its Belt and Road Initiative, the Chinese global infrastructure investment program. Nineteen of the 33 Latin American countries have joined the initiative, the majority of them being small nations in Central America and the Caribbean. The Brazilian government has expressed caution, stating that it wants Chinese resources, but through its homegrown Investment Partnership Program (PPI).

There are high hopes in Beijing for Mr. Bolsonaro’s China visit. The government, as well as Chinese business owners, tend to feel that Brazil will be able to identify long-term national interests that will link it to China. Continuity of the strategic partnership between the two countries is essential for the Brazilian economy to resume its growth and to overcome the severe crisis that has marred the 2010s.

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Mauricio Santoro

Santoro holds a Ph.D. in Political Science. He is currently Assistant Professor and Head of the Department of International Relations at the State University of Rio de Janeiro

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