The new Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, in his inauguration speech on Jan. 1 said that he wanted Brazil to be “liberated from socialism and political correctness,” receiving praise from President Donald Trump. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended Bolsonaro’s swearing-in ceremony, with U.S. media reporting that Pompeo hopes to discuss China’s trade practices with Brazil, roping in Brazil to oppose China together.
Bolsonaro has been grouped into the “far-right” camp by some Western media. With a nickname of “Trump of Brazil,” a pro-U.S. and anti-Latin American-leftist stance is his political trademark. He has also criticized China for “buying up Brazil” during his election campaign, but later publicly praised China as Brazil’s “outstanding partner.”
Due to his values, Bolsonaro will probably push for a certain degree of diplomatic adjustment, possibly in favor of recovering and enhancing U.S. influence in South America. This, however, is not necessarily a part of Washington’s wishes for its zero-sum game in Latin America with Beijing.
China has been Brazil’s largest trade partner since 2009 and is the largest buyer of Brazilian soybean and minerals. This has been seen by outsiders as potentially restricting Bolsonaro’s room to maneuver in adjusting Sino-Brazilian relations, especially when his primary mission is to rejuvenate the flailing Brazilian economy.
China is not just an important economic partner of Latin America, but has also enriched the diplomatic options in this region; objectively, it has caused Washington to attach importance to South American countries, with the result that these countries are in a more favorable position when developing relationships with the U.S. and other major countries. Weakening its relationship with China is completely against Brazil’s interests.
From now on whether South American countries go to the left or the right, the trend of increasing diplomatic independence will not change. Being able to simultaneously develop relations on an equal footing with the U.S., China and other non-South American major countries is no doubt much more attractive than being the traditional “backyard” of the U.S.
When China is the country with which Brazil has the largest trade surplus and has also never remarked upon or criticized Brazil’s actions, Washington’s desire to drag Brazil into opposing “unfair trade from China” and being politically cautious of China is akin to squeezing water from a dry towel.
A fundamental sticking point is that geopolitics is no longer the overwhelming clue to international relations in the 21st century; economic interests are carrying ever-increasing weight in international relations in the new century. The probability of war breaking out is diminishing, the security risks to the various countries have correspondingly decreased and ideological conflicts are increasingly sterile. The main pressure on governments has focused on the sphere of people’s livelihoods, greatly shifting the attention of countries in the field of diplomacy.
A large trading nation such as China is receiving more and more warm welcomes, such that even U.S. allies are no longer willing to take sides when the U.S. and China have conflicts. In the past the U.S. could guarantee the safety of its allies and simultaneously support them economically. Nowadays the former bond, for some countries at least, is rusting away, and the latter bond has degenerated, with Washington wishing to use it as a transfusion tube for it to reap profits instead.
For Latin American countries, China really has nothing for them to defend against and they have full sovereignty in how to develop relations with China. In fact, it is the U.S. that they are unable to be completely reassured about. How to prevent relations with the U.S. from damaging their own sovereignty has constantly been a difficult balancing act for South American countries.
We have full confidence in the maintenance of good relations between China and Brazil and the continued expansion of economic cooperation. This is because it is not just China’s wish, but is in the basic interest of Brazil. Bolsonaro is the Brazilian president and national interests will surely guide his formulation of diplomatic policies. Until now virtually no one, including those who dislike China, has been able to find a reason for the new Brazilian president to alienate China.
South American politics have continuously swayed between left and right and these changes are much more related to U.S. interests then they are to China’s. China is a friend and partner of South American countries, without discriminating between leftists and rightists. The Chinese like Brazil and most Chinese do not even know what the left and the right in Brazil signify.