Lula vows partnership with China to ‘balance world geopolitics’

Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has said he wants to work with Beijing to “balance world geopolitics” as he wrapped up a three-day visit to China aimed at deepening relations between the two nations.

“We want to raise the level of the strategic partnership between our countries, expand trade flows and, together with China, balance world geopolitics,” said Lula, who since returning to office for a third term in January has sought to reassert Brazil’s role on the international stage.

In particular, the 77-year-old has championed creating a more multipolar world and reviving multilateral organisations — themes close to the heart of Beijing’s international diplomacy.

Lula was warmly welcomed to China, where he was greeted by cheering children dancing to the Brazilian song Novo Tempo and was lauded by Chinese president Xi Jinping as his “good old friend”. The two sides signed more than a dozen accords — worth $10bn — in areas ranging from infrastructure investment to the construction of satellites and trade facilitation.

Brazil and China are both members of the Brics association, a group of developing nations also including India, Russia and South Africa, which Lula has sought to reinvigorate since returning to office.

During a speech in Shanghai on Thursday, he called on the group to come up with an alternative currency to the dollar for use in trade between them.

“Every night I ask myself why all countries have to base their trade on the dollar,” said Lula, raising eyebrows among policymakers in Washington.

The Brazilian leader struck a further note of defiance to Washington in another speech given alongside Xi, during which Lula noted he had visited the Chinese telecom company Huawei, which is subject to US sanctions.

“Yesterday we made a visit to Huawei, a demonstration that we want to say to the world that we don’t have any bias in our relationship with the Chinese, and that no one will prohibit Brazil from improving its relationship with China,” Lula said.

During an earlier meeting with Zhao Leji, head of the country’s rubber stamp parliament and the third most senior official of the Communist party, Lula underlined his ambition of rebalancing the world order.

“Our interests in the relationship with China are not just commercial. We have political interests and we have interests in building a new geopolitics to change world governance by giving more representation to the United Nations,” said Lula.

The focus on multilateralism is a marked departure from the approach taken by his predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, who prioritised bilateral ties with the US under former president Donald Trump and other nations led by populist leaders such as Hungary and Israel.

“It is a universalist foreign policy,” Mauro Vieira, Brazil’s foreign minister, told the Financial Times last month.

Ahead of the visit to Beijing, Lula had said he would discuss with Xi the creation of a “peace club” of countries to mediate an end to the conflict in Ukraine.

In a joint statement on Friday, the two countries emphasised that the only way out of the Ukraine conflict was through negotiation. But while the message on Ukraine reflected some of China’s points, it did not fully mirror Beijing’s position paper on the conflict that the west has criticised as pro-Russia.

“Lula believes that Brazil has something to contribute, particularly when it comes to the Russia-Ukraine war. Many people understand this as a naive [but] Lula understands China is a key actor in trying to put pressure on Russia,” said Felipe Loureiro, a professor of international relations at the University of São Paulo.

“The difficulty is that China has a clear pro-Russia stance, even though it positions itself as a neutral country.”

Lula failed to appear at a press conference in the Brazilian embassy scheduled for late on Friday night, with aides saying he was too tired. But finance minister Fernando Haddad said the country’s overtures to China were not intended to alienate the US. 

“The country [Brazil] is too big to be choosing partners,” Haddad told journalists. “Brazil has the size to do partnerships with these big blocs and with other countries in bilateral accords. It doesn’t make any sense that you are forced to make a choice that if you get close to one, you have to distance yourself from the other.” 

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