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LatAm in Focus: How Asia-Brazil Trade Shifted Bolsonaro's China View

Bolsonaro and Xinping.

Presidents Bolsonaro and Xi. (AP)

November 07, 2019

In October, Jair Bolsonaro celebrated the anniversary of his election win far from home—on his tour of Asia and the Middle East. @msantoro1978 talks to @luisaleme about how Asia-Brazil trade has shifted Bolsonaro’s views in the past year.
“We’re witnessing the education of Jair Bolsonaro as president in his first year in office,” says political scientist @msantoro1978 in our latest #LatAmFocus episode. He talks about the approach Bolsonaro is taking with China and what it means for the South American giant.

On October 28, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro marked the anniversary of his electoral win far from home. Bolsonaro was in Qatar, finishing a tour that covered China, Japan, and countries in the Middle East. Part of what makes this surprising is that during the 2018 presidential race Bolsonaro struck a chilly tone toward Beijing, saying, “The Chinese are not buying in Brazil. They are buying Brazil.” 

What a difference a year makes. During his recent trip, Bolsonaro said that Brazil and China were “born to walk together” and the two governments are “completely aligned in a way that reaches beyond our commercial and business relationship.” 

“We’re witnessing the education of Jair Bolsonaro as president in his first year in office,” explains Maurício Santoro, a political scientist in the International Affairs Department of the State University of Rio de Janeiro. “He was the first president of Brazil after the return of democracy to speak about China in a very harsh way.” In this episode of Latin America in Focus, Santoro spoke with AS/COA Online’s Luisa Leme about how the growing importance of Brazil-China ties affects not only Bolsonaro’s appeal to his base, but also issues ranging from Amazon deforestation to Mercosur. 

When it comes to investment, Santoro says there is limited consensus in Bolsonaro’s cabinet about the approach to Asia, and regional uncertainty is an underlying hurdle overall. “In Latin America, we still don’t know exactly what we want from our Asian partners,” he says. “There is this huge knowledge gap in Latin America about Asia.”

On the other hand, more than one third of Brazil’s foreign trade happens with Asian countries and 40 percent of exports go to Asia. For Brazil’s agribusiness exports, the number rises to more than half. 

This episode was produced by Luisa Horwitz. The music in this podcast was performed at Americas Society in New York. Learn more about upcoming concerts at