Bolsonaro to meet China's Xi in bid to balance ties with US

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro arrived in Beijing facing a looming question of whether Brazil should allow Huawei Technologies to build its 5G network.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro arrived in Beijing facing a looming question of whether Brazil should allow Huawei Technologies to build its 5G network.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is slated to meet Chinese leaders including President Xi Jinping in Beijing, as the Latin American leader looks to balance his tilt towards the United States.

Mr Bolsonaro is expected to attend a cooperation forum with Vice-Premier Hu Chunhua before meeting Mr Xi as part of a three-day state visit to the Chinese capital. He will also meet Premier Li Keqiang and National People's Congress chairman Li Zhanshu, the No. 2 and No. 3 ranked members of the ruling Communist Party.

Mr Bolsonaro arrived in Beijing on Thursday (Oct 24) facing a looming question of whether Brazil should allow Huawei Technologies to build its 5G network. The decision risks upsetting the delicate balancing act Mr Bolsonaro has so far managed between China and the US, its first- and second-biggest trading partners.

Mr 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 US$113 billion (S$154 billion) in 2018 and the South American nation is its eighth-biggest trading partner.

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 on 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 will be 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 Mr Hussein Kalout, a Harvard University political scientist and one of Brazil's leading scholars on international relations.

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

Mr Bolsonaro has long been a fan of US President Donald Trump and he expressed scepticism over Beijing's investment prior to his election victory last year, saying the Chinese were allowed to "buy in Brazil, but not buy Brazil". However, he 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, Mr Mourao met 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 Mr 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, Mr Bolsonaro is also set to visit the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, where he will seek further investments from local sovereign funds in renewable energy, defence and infrastructure. Brazil also seeks to calm Arab countries' anxieties over its unabashed support of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.