US Visit to Brazil Intended to Balance Lula’s Tilt Toward China


(Bloomberg) — The first US delegation to visit Brazil since President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s high-profile trip China last month is highlighting the different approach that the world’s two largest economies are taking to investment in the South American country.

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Without mentioning China by name, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said American investment in Brazil isn’t “just some fluffy, flashy announcements.”

Speaking in Brasilia on Tuesday, she said US investment supports more than 700,000 high quality jobs as part of what she described as the “long-term strategic relationship that we have with Brazil.”

The context for her comments was clear, coming just weeks after Lula’s trip to Beijing, where he promised cooperation with China to “increase trade and balance global geopolitics.” That visit was notable for new economic agreements and the Brazilian president’s suggestion that the dollar should no longer be the world’s default trade currency.

Thomas-Greenfield’s trip unfolds as both Russia and China are making overtures to other countries in the Western Hemisphere. China is Latin America’s top export market, as well as an increasingly important financier through loans from the China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China.

Brazil has also tacked toward China on Ukraine, and Thomas-Greenfield on Tuesday said the US was “disappointed” in Lula’s recent comments suggesting that Kyiv and Moscow share blame for Russia’s invasion. Speaking with reporters after meeting with Brazil Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira, she focused on Brazil’s UN votes in favor of peace resolutions in the Ukraine conflict.

Lula met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last month, but doesn’t plan to meet with Thomas-Greenfield. The US ambassador to the UN, a member of President Joe Biden’s cabinet, did meet with Lula’s wife, Janja Lula da Silva, in Brasilia Tuesday. They discussed global food insecurity and the spread of hate speech, according to a statement from Brazil’s first lady.

In February, Biden hosted Lula at the White House.

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Brazil views the US as an important ally in defense of democracy and racial equality, according to two government officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly about Thomas-Greenfield’s trip. But China has become an important partner for other reasons, as Lula sees China as crucial to his goal of reviving Brazil’s industry. Still, one shouldn’t preclude the other.

During his trip to China last month, Brazil’s president articulated an expansive view of the two countries’ relationship.

“Our interests in the relationship with China are not just commercial. We have political interests and we have interests in building a new geopolitics so that we can change world governance by giving more representation to the United Nations,” Lula said during a meeting with Zhao Leji, the chairman of China’s National People’s Congress standing committee, in Beijing last month.

Thomas-Greenfield said the position of the US “is that we don’t tell sovereign countries who to choose to partner with.”

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Yet in other remarks comments Tuesday, she highlighted the democratic values that the US and Brazil share — drawing a sharp contrast with authoritarian governments.

“This is a long-term strategic relationship that we have with Brazil,” Thomas-Greenfield said. “As the hemisphere’s two largest democracies, I think it is important that our two countries continue to work together to promote our values, democracy and human rights as we move forward to work on issues both in the region and around the globe.”

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