Negotiated by Lula, Brazilian adhesion to the new Chinese Silk Wheel divides opinions

Ambassadors claim that joining Xi Jingping’s project, which is now 10 years old, would not bring obvious advantages for the country, but former Chancellor Celso Amorim speaks in favor of Belt and Road

SPECIAL ENVOY TO BEIJING – The Chinese government has placed on the negotiating table for the state visit of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to Beijing the formal adhesion to the project of the new Silk Road (Belt and Road), launched by Xi Jinping in 2013. The Chinese initiative is now ten years old. Brazilian participation, still under evaluation, divides opinions in diplomacy and would be a political gesture in favor of China, at a time of exacerbated rivalries and tensions with the United States – the second largest trading partner and main foreign investor in the country.

The plan consists of the formation of a large infrastructure network, using different modes of transport, mainly ports, highways and railways, connecting the continents for the flow of products. The project started by integrating countries from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Neighbors of Brazil are part of the list of 147 participating countries, such as Argentina and Chile.

Brazilian government sources say that Brazil’s accession, an objective pursued by the Chinese, is still under negotiation for the joint declaration that Lula and Xi Jinping will make after the formal meeting, next Tuesday, the 28th. paragraphs.

Chinese pressure for the entry of Brazil, the largest economy in Latin America, is recurrent. Another 20 in the region are already part of and receive Chinese investments in infrastructure, to connect sea and land routes.

Since 2009, China has been Brazil’s main trading partner, with trade last year of US$ 150 billion. In addition to diversifying the portfolio of products, currently anchored in commodities, the government wants to attract more Chinese investment in strategic sectors. Accumulated investments are around US$ 70 billion. In the trade balance, the balance favors Brazil, with US$ 61.8 billion.

Government officials gave conflicting statements. Questioned about the possible adhesion, Ambassador Eduardo Saboia, secretary for Asia and the Pacific at the Itamaraty, indicated that Brazil is not interested in joining the Chinese initiative at this time.

“Regarding the Belt and Road, I understand that Brazil already has a very solid framework, which is the Sino-Brazilian High Level Commission (Cosban). This partnership, this whole structure, has allowed us to achieve objectives that are infrastructure, trade development and investments. They are in line with the objectives of the Belt and Road initiative. It does not necessarily have an added value at this moment”, he said, when detailing the objectives of the presidential visit to Beijing.

Former Chancellor Celso Amorim, Lula’s special advisor, stated that there would be no problems with the Brazilian government’s subscription. Lula’s main influencer in international relations, Amorim told the newspaper Economic value that “he sees no reason” for Brazil not to join the new silk wheel, nor “political damage” with the North Americans.

The declaration is seen by ambassadors more as a political move by the former chancellor. The practical results in favor of Brazil and the consequences in the relationship with Washington, in the evaluation of diplomats specialized in China, are uncertain. For a former Brazilian ambassador in Beijing, it is a “political gesture” in favor of China.

That same diplomat, a specialist in economics, claims that membership would only be a “rhetorical advantage” for Brazil and that the country does not in fact need to enter into the project to develop relations with China. For him, in addition to not being “fundamental” for the Brazilian business community, the Chinese side is the one that most insists on Brazilian entry, and there will certainly be a reaction from the US.

In his first term, Lula made another important gesture for China. In 2004, during a visit by former president Hu Jintao to Brasília, Lula recognized China’s status as a “market economy”, under resistance and criticism from national industry. This would subject anti-dumping proceedings to WTO (World Trade Organization) rules. On the other hand, China promised to privilege Brazil in accessing the internal market. But the status announced to the Chinese was not later confirmed by the Foreign Trade Chamber.

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