Xi congratulates Lula on Brazil election victory; smoother bilateral ties expected

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Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (known as Lula) on his election as president of Brazil, saying that the long-term friendship and the deepening of mutually beneficial cooperation serve the fundamental interests of the two countries and is conducive to maintaining regional and world peace and stability and promoting common development and prosperity.

Xi said he attaches great importance to the development of China-Brazil relations and stands ready to work with President-elect Lula, from a strategic height and long-term perspective, to jointly plan and lift China-Brazil comprehensive strategic partnership to a higher level so as to benefit to the two countries and their people.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry also congratulated the left-wing politician, who defeated the far-right incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro on Sunday, saying that China wishes Brazil continuous achievements in national development.

The 77-year-old Lula, who governed Latin America’s largest economy for two consecutive terms from 2003 to 2010, will have a third term as Brazilian President after a narrow margin victory, with 50.9 percent to Bolsonaro’s 49.1 percent of the votes in Sunday’s runoff vote, according to media reports.

Chinese experts expect Lula’s return to significantly improve the atmosphere of cooperation between China and Brazil in terms of trade, investment and global governance. Meanwhile, the “new pink tide” represented by Lula’s return also means the strengthening of the autonomy of Latin American diplomacy.

“For Lula, the development of the economy and people’s livelihood will largely determine the stability of his Partido dos Trabalhadores’s rule… Brazil is likely to look more actively to the Asia-Pacific region to tap the potential of the Chinese market and attract Chinese investment,” Zhou Zhiwei, an expert on Latin American studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday.

According to Zhou, Lula’s return is likely to bring back a smoother China-Brazil relationship, which will help both sides find more space and reap dividends of economic and trade cooperation, especially in agriculture and infrastructure construction.

“Brazil may also seek to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) under Lula,” Zhou said. Brazil’s left-wing ruled neighbor Argentina announced its decision to join the BRI in February.

Given that Lula was instrumental in the establishment and launch of the BRICS mechanism during his last stint in office, analysts believe that he will continue to be active and positive about BRICS.

“Lula is likely to place a high priority on cooperation between emerging powers, including BRICS. This means that cooperation among BRICS countries and communication on international hotspot issues and global affairs will be smoother and more stable than under Bolsonaro,” Zhou said.

Despite Lula’s election victory, Bolsonaro’s Partido Liberal remains the largest bloc in the National Congress of Brazil. The latest election has also exposed Brazil’s polarized politics and divisions, and there are concerns that political rifts at home will spill over into foreign policy, similar to what is happening in the US.

“The importance of China to Brazil in the economy and trade is hard to replace. Several interest groups in Brazil have benefited from cooperation with China, including the agricultural and animal husbandry groups with political positions favoring Bolsonaro, which is an important area of China-Brazil economic and trade ties,” Zhou said.

According to data from the Ministry of Commerce of China, by 2021, China had been Brazil’s largest trading partner for 13 consecutive years, and bilateral trade exceeded $100 billion for four consecutive years. In 2021, Brazil’s agricultural exports to China exceeded $40 billion.

Lula’s victory is also viewed as part of Latin America’s “new pink tide”: eight countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile have elected left-wing leaders since 2018.

Yang Jianmin, an expert in Latin American studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that the “new pink tide” can be viewed as China’s opportunity to develop a more profound bond with Latin American countries, whose left-wing politicians support promoting regional integration, rejecting US hegemony in the region, and advocating a more diversified and independent diplomacy.

Nevertheless, experts stressed that Lula may also show a more pragmatic style in his third term, and will have a less anti-America voice. Instead, he may prioritize more practical tasks such as stabilizing the economy and mitigating the negative impact of COVID-19.

US President Joe Biden on Sunday congratulated Lula on his victory following “free, fair, and credible elections,” saying he was looking forward to continuing cooperation with Brazil.

Lula’s emphasis on South-South cooperation and bonding with emerging powers does not mean that he will reject the US. Instead, it’s very likely that he will put greater emphasis on autonomy, equality and reciprocity, which is completely different from Bolsonaro’s alliance with Donald Trump, said Wang Youming, director of the Institute of Developing Countries at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing.

Biden seeks to draw Lula closer so as to woo Brazil against the backdrop of an intensifying great-power competition. Moreover, Lula’s idea of reinforcing protection of the Amazon rainforest is also in line with Biden’s climate policy, Wang said.

 

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