Rogério Studart is a senior fellow of the World Resources Institute and a non-resident fellow of Brazil's Center of International Relations. Margaret Myers is the director of the Asia and Latin America Program at the Inter-American Dialogue. The Council on Foreign Relations acknowledges the Ford Foundation for its generous support of this project.
The first decade of the twenty-first century saw a considerable deepening of China-Brazil economic and political relations. The two countries have built an extensive trade relationship, with total bilateral trade rising from just over the $3 billion in 2001 to over $44 billion in 2010 and then to $100 billion in 2019. At the same time, Brazil and China intensified political cooperation, including through the development of multilateral arrangements, such as the BRICS grouping—consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—and corresponding multilateral development banks, such as the New Development Bank, of which the BRICS nations are members.
The long-standing political relationship has recently been tested, with bilateral tensions mounting during the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, a longtime China critic. But even under Bolsonaro, Brazil-China economic interaction has continued apace, driven by prevailing economic complementarities and individual Brazilian states' interests, many of which see considerable value in growing their relations with China, regardless of broader geopolitical considerations and Bolsonaro’s harsh rhetoric towards Beijing.
At this moment of profound global uncertainty and unprecedented socioeconomic crisis in Brazil, it is difficult to speculate about the future direction of the China-Brazil relationship. Yet both Brazil and China would be best served by re-imagining their bilateral relationship, with other, more sustainable, though still complementary, interests in mind. As Teixeira and Rossi (2020) and Jaguaribe and Rosito (2020) have suggested, it is possible to reshape the China-Brazil relationship in ways that would better advance both countries’ economic development goals, while also upholding China’s “green” BRI commitments. Brazil and China would have much to gain by adopting a shared commitment to social and environmental sustainability.
For a more thorough analysis of how China and Brazil could build a new relationship based in part on promoting environmental sustainability and green technologies, read the full paper here.