Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was in the Chinese financial hub of Shanghai on Thursday as he looks to boost ties with the South American giant’s biggest trade partner and win political support for attempts to mediate the conflict in Ukraine.
Lula arrived late Wednesday and is due to meet with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing on Friday before concluding his visit on Saturday.
The Brazilian government says the sides are expected to sign at least 20 bilateral agreements during Lula’s trip, underscoring the improvement in relations following a rocky patch under predecessor Jair Bolsonaro.
In Shanghai, Lula will also attend the official swearing in of close adviser and former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff as head of the Chinese-backed New Development Bank.
The institution posits itself as an alternative to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank that are controlled mainly by the US and its Western allies. It is focused on the so-called BRICS group of developing nations made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Established more than seven years ago, the bank has approved 99 loan projects totaling more than $34 billion, mainly for infrastructure projects, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.
Much of that credit has gone to Brazil for projects such as a metro system in the business capital of Sao Paulo.
During his meeting with Xi, Lula is expected to discuss trade, investment, reindustrialization, energy transition, climate change and peace agreements, according to the Brazilian government.
China is Brazil’s biggest export market, each year buying tens of billions of dollars worth of soybeans, beef, iron ore, poultry, pulp, sugar cane, cotton and crude oil. Brazil is the biggest recipient of Chinese investment in Latin America, according to Chinese state media, although Lula has spoken against outright Chinese ownership of Brazilian companies.
One of the agreements Lula will sign in China will be for construction of the sixth satellite built under a binational program that will monitor biomes such as the Amazon rainforest.
China also recently ended a ban on Brazilian beef imposed in February following the discovery of an atypical case of mad cow disease.
Politically, the left-leaning Lula’s visit is a sign of Brazil’s reemergence in global relations since he replaced Bolsonaro in January.
The often-abrasive right-wing populist and members of his family at times caused friction with Chinese authorities on issues from the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic to controversial telecommunications company Huawei. Bolsonaro was a noted admirer of right-wing nationalists and showed little interest in international affairs or travel abroad.
Lula, who will visit a Huawei research center in Shanghai on Thursday, made trips to Argentina and Uruguay in January and the US in February, signaling the importance he gives to international affairs, experts said. He toured the world during his first presidency from 2003-2010, particularly in his second term, when he visited dozens of countries, and has visited China twice before.
A key piece of Lula’s outreach abroad is his proposal that Brazil and other developing countries, including China, mediate peace over Ukraine.
However, his suggestion that Ukraine cede Crimea as a means to forge peace has angered Kyiv and its closest backers.
China has also sought to play a role in ending the conflict, though in a manner highly supportive of Moscow. It has refused to condemn the invasion, criticized economic sanctions on Russia and accused the US and NATO of provoking the conflict.
Russia and China declared a “no limits” relationship in a joint statement last year and Xi reaffirmed the closeness of ties by meeting with President Vladimir Putin Moscow last month.
A Chinese peace proposal presented in February contains aspects in common with Lula’s, such as ceasing hostilities and starting negotiations, but says nothing about the return of Ukrainian territory seized by Russia and its separatist allies.