Brazil’s Lula puts Ukraine peace on his agenda in China
By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA (Reuters) – President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva departed Brazil on Tuesday for an official visit to China, where he aims to convince President Xi Jinping to form a group of nations to mediate an end to Russia’s war with Ukraine.
Lula’s visit, postponed from March for health reasons, aims to reset relations with Brazil’s largest trade partner following a frosty four years under his far-right predecessor Jair Bolsonaro.
Lula is also seeking to put Brazil back on the international stage after a period of relative isolation by Bolsonaro, who spurned his country’s traditional role in multilateral forums and drew criticism for not protecting the Amazon rainforest.
When he meets Xi on Friday, Lula has said he will suggest a proposal to mediate peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, an initiative that among Western leaders has only been welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron.
“I am convinced that both Ukraine and Russia are waiting for someone else to say, ‘Let’s sit down and talk,'” Lula told journalists last week.
Lula has suggested a peace solution could be the return of newly invaded territory, though not Crimea – an option that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has rejected outright.
For his initiative to advance, Lula needs China to send a message to Russia, said a European diplomat in Brasilia.
“Lula knows that China is the only country Russia will listen to,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity and adding: “People are waiting to see if it gets some traction from other countries, like France and Germany.”
Lula’s foreign policy adviser Celso Amorim flew to Moscow in March to push for peace talks, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit Brasilia on April 17.
Before arriving in Beijing, Lula will visit Shanghai to attend the inauguration of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff as head of the New Development Bank set up in 2014 by the BRICS group of major emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
Lula’s trip to China was originally scheduled for the last week of March but postponed after he caught pneumonia.
“The fact that President Lula is to lead a large delegation to China for a state visit soon after his recovery fully reflects the great importance China and Brazil attach to this visit and to the development of bilateral relations,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday.
Lula will travel with a delegation of eight cabinet ministers, including Environment Minister Marina Silva, and five governors from Brazil’s northeastern states, including Bahia, where a Chinese consortium is building a record-breaking bridge.
Some 20 agreements to be signed include creation of a sixth satellite in a joint program started in 1988, which will be used for monitoring the Amazon, Brazil’s foreign ministry said.
Brazil is also expecting China to set up a fund to help with forest recovery and sustainable development in Brazil, including green hydrogen production, Silva told Reuters.
Brazilian planemaker Embraer SA may sign a deal for the sale of 20 commercial jets to a Chinese airline, two people familiar with the matter said, ending the company’s dearth of new business in China since the 2016 closure of a joint venture at a factory in Harbin.
China overtook the United States as Brazil’s top trading partner in 2009 and is a major market for Brazilian soybeans, iron ore and oil. Brazil is now the largest recipient of Chinese investment in Latin America, driven by spending on high tension electricity transmission lines and oil production.
During the Bolsonaro presidency, many Chinese companies paused plans with the federal government and instead pushed ahead on business with state governments, especially in the less affluent northeast where Lula’s Workers Party is strongest.
By 2021, investment by Chinese companies in Brazil recovered to the level of 2017, according to the China-Brazil Business Council, which forecasts steady growth in coming years.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Additional reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia and Gabriel Araujo in Rio de Janeiro; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)