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An Important Relationship
How Sino-Brazilian ties fare under new leadership?
By Evandro Menezes de Carvalho | NO. 39 SEPTEMBER 29, 2016

Performers form the shape of the Brazilian national flag at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on August 21 (XINHUA)

The world watched what happened in Brazil closely. Government changes generate uncertainties in other nations that hope to preserve or enhance their trade relations and investments made in the country. But changes of government in the most controversial situations create even greater uncertainty. The new president, Michel Temer, has just two years and a few months to complete his term and seems to have few opportunities to leave a personal mark on Brazilian foreign policy. There is not enough political capital to go beyond the basics, though, sometimes the basics become essential. Foreign policy in Brazil is currently driven by the urgency to overcome the economic crisis. For this reason, Brazilian diplomacy tends to operate in "automatic mode," without bold initiatives and without a presidential diplomacy that marked the latter years in both the (Luiz) Lula and (Fernando Henrique) Cardoso administrations.

Forums such as the BRICS and G20 will only make sense for the government if they are going to be useful for the improvement of the Brazilian economy. Controversial issues that might generate political costs for Brazil will not be part of their agenda. Thus, with regard to the BRICS, the focus will be given to the New Development Bank. There will be no presumption for a common political position in other international forums. In this sense, Brazilian diplomacy tends to converge with the views and decisions taken by the developed countries of the West.

The current Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Serra, has a long history in Brazilian politics and everything indicates that he will exercise the chancellor's functions with an eye focused on internal political events. Considered as one of the candidates likely to run in the 2018 presidential election, Minister Serra has split his schedule between meetings with Brazilian politicians and authorities, and commitments with ambassadors, diplomats and other actors dedicated to international issues.

Will that mean a cooling in the Sino-Brazilian relationship?

This was probably one of the questions most asked of Brazilians in China this year. During the long impeachment process it was obvious that the Chinese Government was concerned that its relationship with Brazil would change significantly in the case of a possible Temer government. After all, nearly 14 years of relationship with Brazil under the chairmanship of the Workers Party (PT), China was adapted to PT diplomacy—even though Dilma Rousseff's foreign policy has been incomprehensibly timid compared to the active diplomacy of Lula.

However, with the Temer government there is the possibility of Sino-Brazilian relations continuing its upward journey, albeit with more advantages to the Chinese. The Investment Partnership Program (IPP) announced by Temer provides for the grant or sale of more than 30 projects in the areas of energy, airports, roads, ports, railways and mining. China is clearly interested in this program and is one of the few countries with the financial capacity to participate in the auctions. The agreements signed with Brazil during President Temer's China trip back this up. Agreements were signed involving mega businesses, such as the sale of 50 Embraer aircraft, investments in Petrobras SA, steel construction in Maranhao, and a Chinese stake in CPFL Energia.

Nevertheless, relations with China are too important to be treated in conventional diplomacy standards. It is necessary to consider the fact that, today, China is an economic and world political leader with a high degree of influence on the future of humanity. It would be a mistake to try and advance the relationship with China without taking into account the political and institutional spaces it attaches significant importance to—especially when Brazil itself is an integral part and founder of some of these spaces, such as the BRICS and G20. Furthermore, deepening a strategic partnership with China implies not only a positive role in these forums, but also a better understanding of contemporary China. The upcoming BRICS Summit in India is the perfect opportunity for Brazil to affirm its commitment to initiatives that expand the fields of our diplomacy beyond the North and South Atlantic.

The author is a professor at Getulio Vargas Foundation's School of Law, Brazil

Copyedited by Dominic James Madar

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