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Brazil’s Trumpian president softens on China

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XJP with Bolsonaro

Photo credit: Reuters / Ueslei Marcelino

Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil in October 2018, and took office at the beginning of this year. As the New York Times described him, “Mr. Bolsonaro is an echo of the American president: a brash nationalist whose populist appeal comes partly from his use of Twitter and his history of making crude statements about women, gay people and indigenous groups.”

Bolsonaro was also like Trump in another way: He loved to bash China on the campaign trail. “The Chinese are not buying in Brazil. They are buying Brazil,” was a favorite line of his, worrying Beijing as he was elected.

But now, Bolsonaro has backtracked on his harsh rhetoric about China, and instead welcomed the Chinese leader Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 to the Brazilian capital, Brasilia, last week. Bolsonaro had been “under pressure from beef, farming and mining sectors to stay on good terms with Beijing,” Agence France-Presse reports, and the good terms were codified in a series of “largely non-binding agreements on transport, services and investment.”

The softening also helped Brazil secure something far more substantial, according to Reuters: a billion-dollar investment in the port of Sao Luis via China Communications Construction Company.

The bottom line: Few countries other than the U.S. have sufficiently dominant economies to feel able to freely criticize China, without it severely affecting the flow of money from Beijing. Brazil, with its economy floating near a recession, is not in such a position.

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