After meeting with Joe Biden in Washington, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva accelerated preparations to land in China in March. The trip to Brazil’s main trading partner sharply exposes the change in the course of foreign policy, marked in recent years by friction and provocations between the government of Jair Bolsonaro (PL) and the Chinese.
The bet of Brazilian diplomacy now is to resume the role in international forums and leverage the Brics, a bloc that also includes Russia, India and South Africa. Lula’s trip to Beijing is treated at Itamaraty as a “sense of priority” and continues an eminently political script in the United States and even in Argentina and Uruguay.
Due to the distance involved, Lula is expected to stay in China for four days. The trip is scheduled for the last week of March. Main activities with Chinese leader Xi Jinping are expected to focus on the 28th.
The diplomats of the two countries are discussing the schedule of the trip at the time of the escalation of tensions between China and the United States, which range from trade disputes to geopolitics, passing through the Taiwan issue and the recent war of narratives about the “spy balloons”. Brazil does not want to be involved in the case. The impression of diplomats, both Brazilian and American, is that this is just a bilateral issue. In any case, Biden’s diplomacy accompanies Lula’s visit, given the advance of the Chinese presence in Latin America.
Lula visited China in 2004, 2008 and 2009. Since diplomatic relations were established in 1974, six other Brazilian presidents have set foot in the country: João Figueiredo, José Sarney, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Dilma Rousseff, Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro. The key moment in the preparations for the March trip will be a meeting between Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in New Delhi, at the end of this month, on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting, chaired by India. These dialogues usually settle the final details of the visit.
In the opinion of an ambassador involved in the preparations for the trip to Beijing, what defined the visit of the Brazilian president to the United States, of a more political nature, was the defense of “democracy”. In China, the expectation is to go beyond the political discussion. The theme will be present in the defense of the reform of multilateral forums, such as the UN Security Council, but also in conversations for expanded discussion on the war in Ukraine. Lula has said that he wants to bring the Chinese to the table. He considers China an essential player in the effort to sensitize Russia and reach a peace agreement.
Despite having visited Beijing, Bolsonaro fomented crises with Chinese representatives, led by his sons and ministers. Presidential diplomacy itself was shaken, with Bolsonaro’s previous visit to Taiwan, still in the 2018 election campaign, and the accusations that the Chinese wanted to “buy Brazil”. The island is considered “rebel” territory that Beijing wants to annex. Deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro (PL-SP) even blamed China for the pandemic.
The trip to China in the first months of Lula’s term had been prepared by the PT’s team since the transition. On the occasion, the foreign relations group suggested preparations for the visit to take place during the first hundred days of government. In the team’s diagnosis, hitherto confidential, the movement of political distancing from China seen in the Bolsonaro era was “founded by ideological motivations” and cooperation should be resumed based on concrete common interests.
The report obtained by Estadão highlights that the Bolsonaro government, “by ostensibly hostile to China, created unnecessary constraints with our main trading partner and country producer of essential hospital products, vaccines and their basic supplies”. Among the goals outlined are resuming cooperation in science, technology and innovation, such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology, and support for joint initiatives for the production of immunizers, medicines and pharmaceutical supplies in general.
Although he did not attend Lula’s inauguration, Xi Jinping sent signs of a good relationship: he wrote a letter to the PT and sent vice president Wang Qishan to Brasilia. He also met on the occasion with Vice President Geraldo Alckmin and Senator Hamilton Mourão (Republicanos-RS).
The expectation of the private sector is that the trip to China will have a stronger commercial bias, favor the opening of markets in agribusiness and unlock discussions that depend on interaction between governments. In January, for example, Beijing announced that three Brazilian slaughterhouses had been rehabilitated for export.
The information is from the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo.
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