Will Bolsonaro stick to pro-Washington policy?
On New Year's Day, Jair Bolsonaro took office as Brazil's president, ushering in a pro-US foreign policy. He claimed Brazil is open to hosting a US military base to counter Russian influence in the region and will move Brazil's Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
However, Bolsonaro's pro-US stance will not lead to a change in the country's long-term foreign policy toward China. In the short run, there would be an interim observation period during which the new administration will try to weigh its foreign policy toward China. But in the long term, the new president will prefer ties with China.
Bolsonaro, a former Army paratrooper who has been in the congress for almost 30 years, lacks governing experience. Therefore, his knowledge about China, China-Brazil relations and diplomatic affairs, especially foreign policy toward China, is limited. It can explain why he was not friendly toward China during his election campaign, when he claimed, “China isn't buying in Brazil. It's buying Brazil.”
Furthermore, in early 2018, Bolsonaro became the first Brazilian presidential candidate to visit Taiwan though Brazil supports the one-China policy. However, it is likely that after becoming increasingly aware of China-Brazil relations, his foreign policy will become more practical and rational.
In the presidential campaign, Bolsonaro pledged economic growth, which is his priority. To bolster the economy, the new administration needs to boost exports. China is Brazil's biggest trading partner, overtaking the US in 2009. China and Brazil are economically complementary. According to a South China Morning Post report, trade between Brazil and China crossed $100 billion last year, and Brazilian exports to China sat at $66.6 billion, a 32 percent rise from the previous year.
Besides, Brazil plans to attract more investment to boost its economy. China is the country of choice with the ability and will to invest in Brazil. Therefore, if Brazil wants to improve its economy and stature, it must gain the support of China, which is the world's second largest economy.
In the long run, China-Brazil relations may be more important than US-Brazil ties. Currently, the US is concentrating on revitalizing its manufacturing and tightening foreign investment rules. Therefore, it won't be wise for Brazil to rely on the US for help to develop its economy.
As the largest country in Latin America, Brazil has avoided being in US spotlight, trying to be independent and making its presence felt through regional alliances and multilateral institutions. However, Bolsonaro wants to change this. He seeks to abandon multilateralism and shows a diplomatic tilt to the US.
Bolsonaro is a big fan of US President Donald Trump and his slogan during the election campaign, “Brazil before everything,” resembles Trump's “America First.” His moves in the beginning would resemble Trump's. So he will strengthen ties with the US but make fewer efforts for multilateral and South-South cooperation.
Nevertheless, Brazil is still a developing country, not as strong and confident as the US, so it is impossible for Brazil to be totally unilateral or bilateral. It should focus on South-South cooperation. Influenced by a global economic slowdown in recent years, Brazil suffered from a deep recession that began in 2016.
If Bolsonaro wants to fix Brazil's economy, cooperating only with the US and developed countries is not enough. Brazil has to strengthen its cooperation with developing countries, emphasizing South-South cooperation.
Brazil is an important BRICS member and there is also an interim observation period to see whether “Brazil before everything” can affect BRICS and South-South cooperation. In the era of globalization, no country can achieve long-term development without cooperating with the rest of the world. Bolsonaro has to turn to multilateral cooperation.