Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 05/2015

Brazil-China Relations

Loro Horta

March 2015

International Crisis Group


Chinese leaders consider relations with Brazil to be of utmost importance. Brazil’s vast reserves of natural resources, its massive agricultural sector and market potential for Chinese exports make Brazil one of China’s top foreign policy priorities. Within the past decade, Sino-Brazilian ties have soared with trade reaching US$22 billion in 2007 and Brazil becoming China’s main South American trading partner. In early 2009, China even surpassed the United States as Brazil's largest trading partner with two-way trade reaching a staggering US$43 billion. Both countries have cooperated in various sensitive technology sectors such as satellite and military technologies, and are expanding these exchanges. Today, Brazil accounts for 40 per cent of China’s total agricultural exports and is therefore extremely important for food security of the Asian giant as well. Many observers have argued that China’s growing relations with Brazil is likely to lead to an alliance between the so-called "third world giants" to balance American and Western hegemony. While there are indeed several complementarities between the two emerging economies and while both countries share some common political beliefs regarding the international system, many issues of contention will remain and perhaps be aggravated as Sino-Brazilian ties develop. Alliances have very different meanings in the post-Cold War context, and they no longer imply rigid military and economic blocks confronting one another. The concept of “strategic partnership” is a better framework to look into new power relations in the 21st century. Despite some tensions in Sino-Brazilian relations, both nations can be expected to grow closer to one another. The positive aspects of their relationship far outweigh the problems and tensions inherent in most relations among major powers. The Sino-Brazilian strategic partnership is likely to produce significant changes in the balance of power in the Americas. China's growing ties to Brazil, however, will not necessarily lead to a dramatic loss of influence for the United States. While China has gained an impressive economic presence in Brazil — and in the region — economic influence does not always translate into political and strategic dominance. The economic power of the United States remains the dominant force and its century old relationship with Brazil continues to have a strong appeal among the Brazilians. Arguably, China's growing influence in the Americas, to an extent, is a result of previous U.S. administrations' neglect of the region's needs and it remains to be seen what effect would a more attentive U.S. administration will have in facing China's growing influence in Latin America.