II Case studies: China-South America

Brazilian foreign policy to China in the 21st century (2003–2019): Trends, transitions and implications

Danielly Ramos Becard and Antonio Carlos Lessa


By the end of the day on 15 August 1974, the team that led the negotiations for Brazil’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) assessed with undisguised satisfaction the results of this complex diplomatic operation, which put an end to the Brazilian government’s strange self-imposed silence towards the great Asian communist country. In that winter afternoon in Brasilia, there came to an end one of the most difficult operations implemented by Brazilian diplomacy in Republican times. This would have dramatic consequences not only for the future of both countries but also for the global strategy Brazil had been trying to implement since 1967.

Brazil took longer than what was reasonably expected to establish ties with the PRC. After denying recognition in 1949, and accepting Taiwan as the only China, Brazil took an active part in China's international ostracism. From 1949 onwards, very little contact was established between the two countries, and efforts to achieve a rapprochement were tainted by Brazil’s domestic political change, by the strong anti-communism common to Brazil’s foreign policy since the beginning of the Cold War, as well as by changes in both countries’ foreign policy strategies.

Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Pent had already established relations with Beijing years before the Brazilian government began the negotiations that led to recognition in 1974. The United States had already begun their own rapprochement strategy with China as of 1971, when Beijing took over a permanent seat at the United Nations’ Security Council, in substitution of Taiwan. Therefore, Brazil's remarkable delay in normalizing relations with the PRC had important consequences in at least two strategic dimensions. The first was the loss of active participation in Latin American regional politics in regard to a key issue in the early 1970s’ international agenda, which was the intensity of relations the PRC established with the Western world. The second dimension was Brazil’s apparent loss of touch with North American global strategic interests, as Brasilia did not follow Washington’s policy change towards Beijing directly and immediately. Although relations between Brazil and the United States had had new points of friction since 1967, in practice Brazil tended to continue its alignment to North America in issues of global policy whose impacts did not immediately affect Brazilian interests. This can be noticed, for instance, in the maintenance of Brazil’s traditional stances towards the Middle East.

Brazil's policy change towards the PRC is due to multiple and complex reasons and this chapter aims to analyse within a historical perspective the development of Chinese-Brazilian relations from 1974 to 2019, in a narrative structured around the idea of strategic partnership building. It is divided into three parts, in which we propose to conceptualize the evolution of this relationship as of 1974, briefly considering its background and motivations, and adopting the Brazilian State’s perspective as a reference to organize the proposed analysis.

In the first part, we analyse the period between the victory of the Communist Revolution and the consequent creation of the PRC in 1949, and the establishment of diplomatic relations with Brazil in 1974. The anti-communist-inspired Brazilian foreign policy during most of this period contributed to enhancing China’s oblivion, limiting contact and delaying the establishment of official relations.

The second part is dedicated to an analysis of the period between the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1974 until the beginning of the 1990s. We propose that this is the moment when the basis of cooperation between the two countries has been laid. This would lead to the founding of the strategic partnership, which we will try to conceptualize based on the historical sense of preferential relations assumed in Brazil’s long-term international insertion. Despite both parts’ will to establish a creative relationship, the period is marked by lethargy because a considerable number of cooperation fronts that were opened at the time, such as the space programme, took some time to prosper. Moreover, there was an effort to strengthen commercial ties, which was limited by economic circumstances in both countries, as well as by the strength of preferences imposed by Brazil’s more traditional relationships.

The blossoming of the Chinese-Brazilian strategic partnership, China’s fast ascension to the top of Brazil’s trade flows, and the establishment of foundations for China's dynamic presence in the country are the main focus of the third part. We will test the concept of strategic partnership in the light of effectiveness in political, economic, scientific and technological cooperation agendas. In addition, we seek to analyse the current challenges in bilateral relations, especially in the context of Jair Bolsonaro's government, highlighting some aspects that stand out in his rhetoric and early practice during his first year in power.

1 From international ostracism to recognition (1949-1974)

Brazil and the PRC had their backs to each other during the long period that stretches from 1949 to 1974. The reasons for this estrangement are manifold in both Brazil’s and the PRC’s point of view.

The foreign policy implemented by different Brazilian governments since the Second World War had a clearly anti-coimnunist motivation, strongly based on the ideas of Westernization derived from the influence of the United States in Brazil. Therefore, Brazil did not hesitate to maintain recognition of the Republic of China, in Taiwan, as the legitimate expression of China's sovereignty, after the communist revolution’s victory in the continent in 1949. The few official contacts established with the PRC were frustrating, and their results were basically non-existent.

Brazil was part of the international majority led by the United States that acted systematically to reinforce the PRC’s international ostracism. This choice is due to the nature of political cooperation between Rio de Janeiro and Washington, as well as the natural distrust the recently established Chinese regime inspired in Brazil. It was not just about an anti-communist prejudice, which was sufficiently strong to also explain the swinging relations Brazil kept with the Soviet Union. In the case of the PRC, there was the fear of ideological contagion that stemmed from the perception that the Chinese Revolution was inspired by a youthful revolutionary fervour that had weakened in Soviet-inspired movements.

Since Brazil was mainly motivated by the search of consumer markets for its traditional products, it is understandable that, ideological restrictions put aside, the Chinese economy’s huge limitations after 1949 rendered any rapprochement with Beijing meaningless. On the other side, China settled into the spaces that existed within the Cold War, and it is understood that its interest towards Latin America in general, and Brazil specifically, was also irregular until at least the early 1960s.

Ernesto Geisel began his government (1974-1979) with a totally de-ideologized and depoliticized foreign policy and a high level of political pragmatism. In this context, the "exclusionary relationships” were revised one by one in a few months. The establishment of diplomatic relations with the PRC might have been one of the most dramatic steps, as well as one of the most difficult achievements in Geisel's foreign policy. The Brazilian government feared that the establishment of Chinese-Brazilian relations might be ill-interpreted by the more conservative segments of the military regime. In April 1974, a mission of Brazilian exporters visited Beijing; in August the same year, a Chinese trade mission returned the visit, which was the first since 1964. In August 1974, diplomatic relations were established. Naturally, the huge potential market China had to offer was not only considered but it was also an inducing factor in this important political shift. This should be added to the problem of energy dependence: Brazil exported steel, sugar and cotton; in return, it got oil, coal and pharmaceutical products.

The fact is that the Brazilian diplomacy’s expectations at the time in regard to the PRC were certainly overblown. The PRC had a large consumer market, but only a potential one. For Brazil, the rapprochement with the PRC also had important symbolic significance, related to two crucial dimensions: from the standpoint of the internal political debate, these new relations acted in favour of the idea of a depoliticized and de-ideologized pragmatic foreign policy. From the international point of view, relations with the PRC have demonstrated the potentiality of the strategy for diversifying external ties, which was vigorously implemented by the

Geisel government as a mechanism to balance the deteriorating trend found in relations with the United States, which has deepened from 1974.

At the moment diplomatic relations were established, the Chinese economy was still severely disrupted, and lack of resources indicated that fluid and voluptuous trade relations were still far from coming to reality. The PRC strained to broaden its international insertion, also aiming to find its place in world politics. In 1972, Deng Xiaoping announced the end of the Socialist Camp, and identified China as belonging to the Third World; in 1974, Mao Zedong developed the Three Worlds Theory.1 With this shift, China aimed to establish itself as an autonomous entity in the socialist world, as well as an emerging leadership among developing nations. The establishment of relations with Brazil had an intrinsic value for the PRC. It had large symbolic significance, demonstrating its capacity of autonomous international insertion, and the viability of a new universalist project with which it sought to mitigate historic Western preconceptions, according to which the country used its foreign policy as a form of revolutionary catechism.

2 From lethargy to strategic partnership (1974-1993)

After the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1974, the relationship between China and Brazil went through a long period of lethargy. The economic crisis in Brazil during the 1980s forced the different governments to insist on a foreign policy strategy that focused on opening new consumer markets and building surplus in the country’s trade flows. In this sense, the commercial and financial components were in fact decisive when establishing foreign policy priorities. As mentioned previously, the Chinese consumer market remained a mere promise for Brazil for a long time. In this sense, Brazil’s focus on Asia was Japan, with which it maintained active and dynamic trade and investment flows.

In comparative terms, on the one hand, Sino-Brazilian trade flows were only a fraction of those maintained with traditional partners. The state of trade relations demanded all parts' attention and energy, in order to overcome the lack of dynamism. Until 1979, trade balance was sensibly in favour of Brazil. As of the 1980s, however, Chinese oil imports tipped the scales, allowing China to obtain constant surpluses in its relations with Brazil for four consecutive years. Following the record results reached in 1985, when the trade flow reached over USS1.2 billion, thanks to sales of Chinese oil (US$400 million) and Brazilian ore and steel products (US$640 million), trade between Brazil and China experienced significant decline.2 Political relations blossomed slowly. The 1980s were a time of mutual discovery. The first high-level visits followed one another, making way for a fruitful cooperation agenda in many different fields. Foreign Affairs Minister Ramiro Saraiva Guerreiro began a cycle of visits in March 1982. This first mission prepared for a visit from the president, in May 1984, when Joao Batista Figueiredo (1979-1985), the last president from the military regime, signed the first scientific and technological cooperation agreements, as well as commercial additional protocols.3

One of the most noteworthy milestones in the bilateral relationship was Jose Sarney’s (1985-1990) visit to the PRC, the first president after Brazil's redemocratization, in July 1985. During this work mission there began one of the most important projects of bilateral relations. The cooperation agreement for the development of geostationary satellites, signed during Sarney’s visit, became an important political hallmark at the time. This was the first cooperation programme for the development of advanced sensible technology between two developing countries, which bolstered Brazil’s and China’s common rhetoric with a concrete action and demonstrated the viability of cooperation for national autonomy. Space cooperation proved a complex issue, both because of material difficulties (especially due to lack of financial priority on Brazil’s part), and of shared management of developed and launched equipments.4 Space cooperation is in fact a milestone in the bilateral relationship. It led the way for a number of cooperation opportunities in many fields. In the 1980s, more than 20 bilateral agreements were signed - including basic science and technology, nuclear energy, cultural and educational cooperation - which allowed for the institutionalization of relations and supervision of future actions. The 1980s were also the moment of mutual knowledge, when missions from both sides increased in number, in search for new business opportunities and the building of foundations to increase trade flows.5

In 1983, the PRC became the second-largest Asian market for Brazilian exports, but the difficulties increasing trade flows were manifold. There were limitations relating to the lack of credit for exportation and of knowledge on both sides about market opportunities, as well as difficulties in terms of freight, and overconcentration in few export and import products.6 On the one hand, there was still, therefore, a great effort to be made in order to turn bilateral relations into a first-order priority for Brazilian diplomacy. On the other hand, a broad view of the foreign policy strategy in both countries shows a considerable number of points of convergence in different levels. For example, on the political level, there were noteworthy converging points of view in alliance strategies in multilateral fora, as well as in science and technology cooperation, in order to break the monopoly held by developed countries.7 Likewise, China and Brazil also presented similar stances in regard to other international issues, such as the opposition to the United States’ human rights diplomacy, and common responsibility in South-South multilateral cooperation, especially the opposition to trade protectionism in developed countries.

Brazil’s international strategy went through radical changes as from the end of the Cold War, which led to the collapse of ideas that ensured consistency to the political practice of national developmentalism, along with the unstoppable advance of economic liberalism. This imposed new priority sets, including bilateral relations, such as the surrender of defensive stances on the so-called global issues (environment, human rights, non-proliferation, among others), as well as growing interaction with and participation in regional integration processes. One remarkable shift at the time is the idea to start building more consistent strategies to approach regional powers, the so-called “whale countries”, such as China, Russia and India - countries with large territories and populations, as well as growing economic and political influence. There are also important initial efforts around the traditional concept of “strategic partnership”, according to which the country would try to label the process of deepening bilateral relations that offered greater potential economic gains and political cooperation. A strategic partnership in Brazil's international experience would therefore be the expression of an agenda defined bilaterally, based on political convergence and economic projects, designed by mechanisms of political coordination (regular summit meeting and joint committees), as well as specific agendas (energy, sustainable development, trade, investments, etc.). The persistent aspect of any strategic partnership would be an unusual density of trade and investment flows, high-level political debates, the possibility of science and technology cooperation, dynamic communication channels, convergent agendas in multilateral forums and involvement in joint development projects.

What might be said about the state of the relationship between Brazil and China in the beginning of the 1990s is that it evolved satisfactorily both in economic and political aspects, with extremely positive impact in other dimensions, such as science and technology cooperation. This general state was recognized in 1993, when the expression “strategic partnership” was used for the first time in reference to the bilateral relationship. This happened during a visit by Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, who said Sino-Brazilian relations were equivalent to an authentic strategic partnership. Although the meaning of this last term and the mechanism for its development were not defined at the time, the truth is that it would be widely used by both countries to synthesize the growing quality of the bilateral relationship from that moment on.s

3 Terms and challenges in the strategic partnership

between Brazil and China

Since 1994, first with President Itamar Franco (1992-1994), and later in both Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s (1995-2002) terms in office, relations between Brazil and the PRC quickly evolved into a model of constructive cooperation. The understanding between both partners in the space field and consistently increasing trade flow led relationship to a new level.

From the mid-1990s to the first years of the 2000s, political cooperation maintained traditional lines, but there was more convergence in new issues of international politics that emerged in the early 21st century. There were, for example, converging positions on the effects of September 2001 attacks, when both Brazil and China took critical stances to practices adopted by the United States. Similarly, both countries' intentions at the WTO could be seen as convergent, since Brazil sought the further liberalization of agricultural products, always aiming to establish more equitable rules, while the possible admission of China into the organization had support from Brazil.

China’s growth in Brazil’s system of international interaction as of the 2000s is undeniable. Since 2002, China became Brazil's largest client in Asia, surpassing

Japan, and multiplying agreements of productive cooperation. During the first four years of the 2000s, Brazilian exports to China increased by 352%, while imports grew 106%.9 The constant increase of Chinese presence in Brazil's foreign trade might be explained by the growing commodities demand, which leveraged Brazilian exports. China’s path towards the top of the list of Brazil’s main economic and political partners was long but had no setbacks. This process accelerated as of 2003, when the cycle of Workers’ Party governments began, led by Luis Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-20 Ю).10

During his two terms in office, Lula da Silva implemented a foreign policy in which one can identify slight continuity with the general guidelines of the previous cycle's international strategy, when it came to wider issues and more general strategies. For instance, there was the determination to strengthen a multipolar international order, with the general goal of valuing multilateral spaces. However, there is a distinctive change of style in policy, and a persistent quest for international protagonism, which are translated into extravagant ambitions, such as the demand for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Similarly, Brazil sought to play a leading role at the Doha Round negotiations at the WTO and other issues, such as the G20 during the 2008 global financial crisis and the climate change agenda.11 Lula’s first big international trip was to China in 2004, in order to celebrate the 30th anniversary since the establishment of bilateral relations. The delegation was enlarged by representatives of more than 300 business groups from many economic sectors, becoming the largest delegations of Brazilian businesspeople incorporated into a presidential trip. During the trip, Lula da Silva showed Brazil’s support in a number of issues that were of Beijing's interest, such as the status of market economy claimed by China, besides cooperative stances at the UN Human Rights Commission, in order to hinder resolution projects that censured the country’s human rights situation.12

During the mid-2000s, some criticism emerged on the change in the nature of Sino-Brazilian relations. This is due to the clear alteration of roles played by both Brazil and China in international politics and economy. For example, the possibilities of technological cooperation were being seen as increasingly limited, especially because China gained a capacity of investment that was infinitely larger than Brazil’s. Similarly, political convergences have been seen with increasing disbelief since China became critical of Brazil’s greatest foreign ambition, such as reforming UN institutions and trying to gain a permanent seat in the UNSC. In fact, Beijing explicitly denied support for both ambitions.

In a nutshell, the bilateral relationship had in fact evolved, with growing complexity, both due to the exponential growth of trade and financial flows, and to the political agenda. Aiming to mitigate tensions and establish ways to manage them, the two governments tried to develop specific bilateral mechanisms. One of the most noteworthy was the establishment of the Sino-Brazilian High-Level Commission (COSBAN) in 2006, responsible for the coordination of many aspects of the bilateral relationship, as well as the Strategic Dialog in 2007. Other instruments were created to facilitate engagement in different sectors of society, especially the business world. The aim was to create a more cooperative environment that would reduce frictions stemming from the trade relation’s great asymmetry. That is the case for the so-called China Agenda and the Brazil-China Financial Dialog, established in 2008. These spaces complemented the efforts made by the Brazil-China Business Council (CEBC), instituted by major Chinese and Brazilian companies in 2004.13 Relations with China were also accommodated in a broader multilateral framework as of the BRICS creation in 2008. Brazil's participation was strongly developed during the final phase of Lula’s government, when Brazil still aimed to maintain its protagonism in the formulation of the BRICS’ political and economic agenda. In the following years, Brazil’s profile was intimidated by the assertiveness of China and Russia, and its interests were tied to the potential of the economic cooperation agenda.14

The growing demand for commodities turned China into Brazil's main trade partner in 2009. The country also began a vigorous investment policy in Brazil, with growing presence in strategic sectors, such as transport infrastructure, telecommunications, oil digging and electric energy.15 From the begiiming of Dilma Rousseff's government (2010-2016), criticism to the changing nature of the bilateral relationship grew. The political debate in Brazil, both among economists and other specialists and in the Brazilian Parliament, began to perceive the exponential growth of commodity exports as a serious risk, which was leading to deindustrialization and to Brazil’s growing dependence on China. The fast and growing Chinese presence in Brazil’s economy led to an unusual anti-Chinese sentiment in some important political environments. This was felt in political groups of different ideological inclinations, both at the right and the left. For instance, segments of the Workers’ Party were truly bothered by the fact that China quickly gained the power to seize important market shares in strategic sectors. Therefore, at least until 2015, it was possible to pinpoint some hostility from the Brazilian government to Chinese investment growth in some sectors, such as energy. This was the case, for example, in the Chinese company State Grid's attempt to purchase shares in companies that generate, transmit and distribute energy, such as Neoenergia in 2010, as well as part of the shares in Companhia Paulista de Fore a e Luz (Sao Paulo Power and Light Company) in 2013.

The political and fiscal crisis Brazil went through from 2015 onwards was an important aspect for the establishment of a favourable environment for Chinese business and diplomacy in the country. This process evolved in two directions. The first, of an economic nature, related to the quick growth of Chinese investments in the Brazilian economy, in both absolute and comparative terms. The second relates to the strategic importance China assumed for Brazilian diplomacy during the severe political and economic crisis that began in 2015.

China’s growth in Brazil’s productive infrastructure sector was fast and steady. This trajectory accelerated as of 2012, when Dilma Rousseff’s government produced serious imbalances in the energy sector’s regulatory system, which led to severe losses in concession holder companies.16 Many of those companies went through financial difficulties due to sudden changes in their business plans. Similarly, the succession of corruption scandals investigated in the so-called Operation Car Wash from 2014 onwards, involved some of the largest players in the large-scale construction industry, who were also major shareholders in a number of ventures in the electric sector.17 These companies saw the need to quickly sell part of their investments in order to deal with the financial difficulties caused by the interruption of new public works contracts. This factor, added to the aforementioned disruption in the electric sector, compelled the whole industry to quickly offer a large portion of their assets. This was the opportunity Chinese state companies had been waiting for to quickly acquire important, high impact positions in Brazil’s electricity generation and transmission systems.

From a political point of view, the announcement of mega investments in these sectors was veiy good news, which could compensate the quickly eroding popularity of the government led by Dilma Rousseff vis-a-vis the public opinion and the political sectors that began to abandon the coalition that supported the Workers’ Party in office since 2003. During the Chinese Prime Minister’s visit to Brazil in May 2015, bilateral relations reached a peak in visibility in a moment of deteriorating public debate. Li Keqiang and Rousseff signed 35 cooperation agreements in eight different areas, involving USS53 billion.ls Thus, Beijing granted an important political trump card in a moment of severe crisis for the RoussefFs government, offering the possibility to present the Chinese partnership as a foreign policy asset of the first order. It must be noted that between 2003 and 2018, Chinese capital invested in Brazil totalled US$69.2 billion.19 In 2017, nine out of ten major acquisitions of Latin American companies by foreign companies took place in Brazil, seven of which involved Chinese buyers. The acquisitions referred to companies in the electricity, oil, infrastructure and agribusiness sectors.20

Bilateral relations regained prominence in the political debate during the 2018 presidential elections, when then-far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro mentioned many times, in derogatory terms and with brutal simplifications, the nature of Sino-Brazilian trade relations and China's strong presence in Brazil's economy. Bolsonaro's successive declarations both during the electoral process and even after he had been elected, reduced the bilateral relations to an undesired relationship of subordination and economic domination, in strongly Chinaphobic terms.21 This was the first time since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1974 that a Brazilian leader referred to China and to the bilateral relations in clearly derogatory terms. Few days after Bolsonaro’s victory was announced, China Daily expressed in an editorial the Chinese government's strong reaction to this reductionist approach to the bilateral relationship.22

In December 2019 there were not yet sufficient elements for a consistent analysis of the international strategy’s general lines in Jair Bolsonaro's government, whose mandate began in January 2019. On the one side, some moves indicated rupture with traditional stances in Brazil’s international praxis, the most notable of which was the cautious approach towards the United States, put in practice since at least the 1990s. Therefore, Bolsonaro’s first international movements indicated the establishment of a new process of alignment with the United States, especially motivated by the undisputed admiration that the Brazilian president displays for Donald Trump, as well as the unrestricted support for policies implemented by the United States worldwide, especially in Latin America. The aligmnent of

Bolsonaro’s Brazil with the United States was undeniably useful for the evolution of Trump's policy to contain China's influence in Latin America. The demoniza- tion of China is a fact, and the need for contaimnent in global terms was a key element of Trump’s diplomatic rhetoric and practice, which had direct and indirect repercussions for the political and economic enviromnents in different regions of the world. Therefore, Bolsonaro’s dissemination of a reductionist and Chinapho- bic rhetoric must be understood as a very serious factor for the future of bilateral relations. The president's violent rhetoric towards China was pointed out in other circles with decision-making power in the foreign policy agenda as a high and unacceptable risk for Brazil’s international interests. Surprisingly, this hostility towards China continued after the inauguration, as it undermines the interests of a large part of pioneer social groups in supporting Bolsonaro’s electoral ambitions as agribusiness representatives, whose exports have been growing steadily thanks to flourishing relations with China in the last 20 years.

In turn, some prominent actors outside diplomatic circles have set their tone in an attempt to mitigate the damage caused by statements by President Bolson- aro and Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo regarding China. The most prominent spokesman for moderation and the pursuit of understanding is Vice-President Hamilton Mourao,23 a retired general who has been making public statements on the foreign policy agenda. He has been proposing temperance and understanding in fronts that proved contentious, acting in this way since the first few months of government. One for the recurring themes in Mourao’s statements on the foreign policy agenda is China. Mourao has been pointing out the need to establish a creative and respectfiil agenda which preserves cooperation ties and favours the growth of economic relations. He knows, as well as the rest of Bolsonaro’s government, that Brazil depends on China. By the end of 2019, China was the main destination of Brazilian exports, with 27.8% of products exported by Brazil. The difference to the second place, the United States, was 14.7%. China’s participation in Brazilian foreign trade surpasses even that of the European Union bloc, which was 16.3%. Chinese diplomacy has been acting swiftly to counterbalance the United States’ policy to contain the country’s influence in Latin America, and to restore the quality of relations with Brazil. Bolsonaro was invited to make an official visit to China, which happened in August 2019, when Beijing offered Brazil a rapprochement path for the great Chinese project of infrastructure investment, the BRI, and to choose Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei as a potential provider of 5G technology to Brazil.


Relations between Brazil and the PRC have grown steadily since the diplomatic resumption in 1974, without setbacks or serious crises. In reality, no other bilateral relationship on Brazil’s part assumed such critical importance so quickly as the Sino-Brazilian relations, both in global and comparative terms. Beginning with sparse and disorganized contacts, in a political context that was strongly influenced by the ideological prejudice characteristic of the Brazilian military regime, the two countries were able to organize complex and glowingly positive relations in very little time.

In Brazil, although Chinese investments have not added enough to diminish the weight of traditional partners (notably the United States, Japan and some European powers), the astounding growth, as mentioned previously, became one of the most relevant political facts for the country's international insertion in the early 21st century. With such growing, diversified economic presence, focused on economic sectors that hold strategic importance for Brazil (most notably infrastructure, but also electric energy, oil and agribusiness), China presents to Brazil the bilateral relationship of largest potential. This is so because Brazil is moved by a known economic hypersensibility when managing its bilateral relations. For this very reason, the profile that was quickly developed by Chinese presence is closely linked to a perception that the relationship is capable of fulfilling interests.

A strategic partnership is a relationship of unusual political and economic density, singled out by potential cooperation in different realms. The dense and complex path of political and economic cooperation between Brazil and China throughout the nearly five decades analysed in this chapter is evidence that the bilateral relationship is an emerging model of strategic partnership. It is undoubtedly one of the most important assets in Brazil’s international insertion, which Jair Bolsonaro's far-right govermnent and its desired alignment with the United States is having enormous difficulties to avoid.


This study was partially funded by the Coordenacao de Aperfeicoamento de Pessoal de Nivel Superior (CAPES).


  • 1 Altemani de Oliveira (2004).
  • 2 Becard (2008:120).
  • 3 In August 1984, Chinese Foreign Minister Wu Xuequian visited Brazil. Since then, at least once every two years, senior officials from Brazil or China have exchanged visits. Between November 1985 and December 2019, visits by high-ranking officials totalled 54, 21 of which involved Brazilian presidents in China or Chinese prime ministers or presidents in Brazil. Four of these state visits were made by Brazilian heads of state (Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, 2009; Dilma Rousseff, 2011; Michel Temer, 2017; Jair Bolsonaro, 2019) and three by Chinese (Hu Jintao, 2010; Xi Jinping, 2014, 2019). This is one of the most significant high-level representation figures in Brazil’s bilateral relations. See details in MFA Brazil (2020).
  • 4 The CBERS (China-Brazil Earth-Resources Satellite) Programme aimed to build and launch geostationary satellites. Since the beginning of the programme in 1984, five satellites were launched (1999, 2003, 2007, 2013 and 2014). In 2013, the 2013-2022 Space Cooperation Plan was signed, which foresees continuity of the CBERS Programme and broadens space cooperation to other sectors, such as meteorological satellites, launching services and personnel training.
  • 5 In 1985, as a sign of Chinese interest, more than 30 PRC trade missions visited Brazil in order to retrieve information on trade operations. In 1987, circa 70 Chinese official missions went to Brazil dealing with different economic realms, see Becard (2008).
  • 6 Idem.
  • 7 Altemani de Oliveira (2010).
  • 8 Idem.
  • 9 Barbosa and Mendes (2006).
  • 10 Lessa (2010).
  • 11 Cervo and Lessa (2014).
  • 12 Niu (2010).
  • 13 Becard (2008:177).
  • 14 Becard et al. (2019).
  • 15 Becard and Macedo (2014).
  • 16 These imbalances were caused by Provisional Measure 579, from September 11,2012, which established rules for the early renewal of an important set of concessions for the generation, transmission and distribution of electric energy.
  • 17 Operation Car Wash investigated the embezzlement of public funds initiated in contracts by the state-owned oil company Petrobras. Since 2014, the corruption scandal involved dozens of political and business leaders, who were investigated and prosecuted, which led to the fatal erosion of Dihna Rousseff’s government. It also triggered the political crisis that led, among other considerable results, to the President’s impeachment in August 2016.
  • 18 Matoso (2015).
  • 19 SEAIN (2018).
  • 20 Unctad (2018).
  • 21 It should be noted that Bolsonaro travelled to Asia between February 22 and March 3, 2018, visiting South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. His stay in Taiwan led to an immediate reaction from the PRC’s embassy in Brasilia, which published a public note violently condemning the gesture, considering it a blatant violation of the "One-China” policy and an attack to the strategic partnership between the two countries.
  • 22 China Daily (2018).
  • 23 Efforts to contain the anti-Chinese Rhetoric in Bolsonaro’s foreign policy had significant results with Vice-President Mourao’s trip to China in May 2019, to take part in a relaunch meeting for COSBAN, whose works had been halted since 2015.


Altemani de Oliveira Henrique. 2004. “Brasil-China: Trinta Anos de Uma Parceria Estra- tegica”, Revista Brasiteira de Politico Internacional, Vol. 47, Nol, pp. 7-30.

-. 2010. “Brasil e China: Uma Nova Alianca Nao Escrita?”, Revista Brasileira de

Politico Internacional, Vol. 53, No 2, pp. 88-105.

Barbosa de Freitas Alexandre, Mendes Camargo Ricardo. 2006. “As Relacoes Economicas Entre Brasil e China: Uma Parceria Diflcil”, FES Briefing Paper, Sao Paulo.

Becard Silva Ramos Danielly, Lessa Antonio Carlos, Granja e Barros Ana Flavia. 2019. “Brazil in the BRICS after 10 Years: Past, Present and Near Future Perspectives” in The International Political Economy of the BRICS, First edition, Li Xing (ed.), New-York, London, Routledge, pp. 135-149.

Becard Silva Ramos Danielly, Macedo Bruno Vieira de. 2008. О Brasil e a Republica Popular Da China: Politico Exteiva Comparada e Relagdes Bilaterais (1974-2004), Brasilia, Funag.

-. 2014. “Chinese Multinational Corporations in Brazil: Strategies and Implications

in Energy and Telecom Sectors”, Res’ista Brasileira de Politico Internacional, Vol. 57, No l,pp. 143-161.

Cervo Ainado Luiz, Lessa Antonio Carlos. 2014. “O Declinio: InserRe>ista Brasileira de Politico Internacional, Vol. 57, No 2, pp. 133-151.

China Daily. 2018. “No Reason for ‘Tropical Trump’ to Disrupt Relations with China: China Daily Editorial”, October 28.

Lessa Antonio Carlos. 2010. “Brazil’s Strategic Partnerships: An Assessment of the Lula Era (2003-2010)”, Revista Brasileira de Politico Internacional, No 53, pp. 115-131.

Matoso Filipe. 2015. “Brasil Assina 35 Acordos Com a China Em Visita Do Premie Li ICeqiang - Noticias Em Politica”, G1 - Politica, May 19.

MFA Brazil. 2020. “People’s Republic of China” (www.itamaraty.gov.br/index.php?option= com_content&view=article&id=5988&Itemid=478&codjpais=CHN&tipo=ficha_ pais&lang=en.)

Niu Haibin. 2010. “Emerging Global Partnership: Brazil and China”, Revista Brasileira de Politica Internacional, No 53, pp. 183-192.

SEAIN - Secretaria de Assuntos. 2018. “Boletim Sobre Investimentos Chineses No Brasil - No 7”, Brasilia.

UNCTAD. 2018. World Investment Report 2018, First edition, Geneva, UNCTAD.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >