Bolsonaro Meets China’s Xi in Bid to Balance Ties With U.S.

(Bloomberg) -- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro met Chinese leaders including Xi Jinping in Beijing, as the Latin American leader looks to balance his tilt toward the U.S.

At a forum in Beijing on Friday, Bolsonaro said that China and Brazil “were born to walk together” and the two governments are “completely aligned in a way that reaches beyond our commercial and business relationship.” At the same event, Vice Premier Hu Chunhua said that China was willing to increase its imports of agricultural and industrial goods from Brazil, and the two nations can also deepen cooperation in areas such as infrastructure.

Later, Bolsonaro met Xi as part of a three-day state visit to the Chinese capital. He also met with Premier Li Keqiang and National People’s Congress Chairman Li Zhanshu, the No. 2 and No. 3-ranked members of the ruling Communist Party. Xi said that China’s plan to develop relations with Brazil from a “strategic and long-term perspective” has not changed and prospects for mutually beneficial cooperation will get even better, CCTV reported.

Bolsonaro Meets China’s Xi in Bid to Balance Ties With U.S.

Bolsonaro arrived in Beijing on Thursday facing a looming question of whether Brazil should allow Huawei Technologies Co. to build its 5G network. The decision risks upsetting the delicate balancing act Bolsonaro has so far managed between China and the U.S., its first- and second-biggest trading partners.

Xi is expected to pay a reciprocal visit to Brazil next month while in South America for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum meetings in Chile. China’s vast appetite for commodities helped drive up total trade between the two countries to $113 billion in 2018 and the South American nation is its eighth-biggest trading partner.

Agricultural Goods

China will probably grant more approvals in the coming weeks for Brazilian meat plants to export to the Asian nation, Brazilian Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina said in a video posted on her Twitter account Thursday. China last month granted permission to 25 additional Brazilian beef, pork and poultry plants to ship to the Asian country, raising the number of approved facilities to 89.

While the Brazilian president was accompanied by his foreign and agriculture ministers for this week’s state visit, members of his economic team are set to come at a later date. “The absence of senior economic advisers suggest there won’t be any major announcements besides a possible increase in commodity deals,” said Hussein Kalout, a Harvard University political scientist and one of Brazil’s leading scholars on international relations.

Around 40% of Brazilian exports, mostly commodities, head to China. Chinese companies also invest heavily in Brazil, which is seeking foreign investors to participate in its privatization program to accelerate its sluggish economic growth.

Huawei Decision

Bolsonaro has long been a fan of U.S. President Donald Trump and he expressed skepticism over Beijing’s investment prior to his election victory last year, saying the Chinese were allowed to “buy in Brazil, but not buy Brazil.” Bolsonaro, however, has since toned down some of his criticism and adopted a pragmatic approach.

In May, he sent Vice President Hamilton Mourao to smooth over any awkwardness with Beijing. While there, Mourao met with Huawei’s billionaire founder Ren Zhengfei and said that Brazil had no intention of restricting the firm’s activities in the country. The company has been active in Brazil for over 20 years.

Huawei’s bid to build Brazil’s 5G network is widely expected to be discussed, although Bolsonaro told journalists in Japan on Tuesday that the issue wasn’t on his radar. Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo recently said Brazil would choose its 5G partner soon.

After China, Bolsonaro is also set to visit the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, where he’ll seek further investments from local sovereign funds in renewable energy, defense and infrastructure. Brazil also seeks to calm Arab countries’ anxieties over its unabashed support of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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