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All-Expenses-Paid Trip to China Dazzles Brazilian Lawmakers

Samy Adghirni

(Bloomberg) -- China’s efforts to dazzle Brazilian lawmakers with its technology, infrastructure and energy projects are starting to pay off, with the latest congressional group returning to Brasilia excited by deepening ties between the two countries and unconcerned about U.S. cybersecurity fears.

While relations between China and President Jair Bolsonaro had a rocky start, legislators always kept a good rapport with the Chinese. Just last month, Brazil’s deputy government leader in the Senate, Chico Rodrigues, led a delegation of five lawmakers who traveled to the Asian country on an all-expenses-paid trip, including business class flights, courtesy of Beijing. Among their stopovers: a showroom belonging to Huawei Technologies Co., the tech giant viewed with great suspicion by the U.S. State Department.

Before his trip, Rodrigues had no fixed opinion about Huawei’s ambitions to build Brazil’s 5G network, a project that is scheduled to open for bids next year. He returned home as an unabashed cheerleader of the Chinese company.

“Now I strongly support Huawei,” he said in an interview in Brasilia. “The company has the best operating system and the best costs.” Technological needs are more important than concerns over spying, he added. On Friday he reiterated his support for the company on the Senate floor.

No Strings Attached

The lawmakers said no money from Brazilian taxpayers was spent during the trip. In Brazil, it’s legal and even politically acceptable for congressmen to embark on trips financed by foreign governments as part of bilateral relations. Invitations from China have been abundant due to growing trade between both countries and come without strings attached, three of those lawmakers said.

For the past decade, China has been Brazil’s top trading partner, largely due to its vast appetite for commodities. Total trade between the two countries reached $113 billion in 2018. Chinese companies also invest heavily in Brazil, which is seeking foreign companies to participate in its privatization program to accelerate its sluggish economic growth.

In the past, Bolsonaro expressed skepticism over China’s investment in Brazil, saying the Chinese were allowed to “buy in Brazil but not buy Brazil” and stressing a desire to align his foreign policy with that of U.S. President Donald Trump. In office, however, Bolsonaro has toned down some of his criticism and adopted a pragmatic approach. He sent Vice President Hamilton Mourao in May to patch up wounds caused by his anti-China rhetoric and will visit the Asian nation himself, later this month.

President’s Son

Rodrigues and the other lawmakers from various different parties -- including the president’s eldest son, Flavio -- also visited Alibaba, China National Petroleum Company and China Railway Group. The trip included stopovers in Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou as well as meetings with high ranking officials from the Communist Party. The Brazilians also saw lawmakers from Russia and India at their hotels, Rodrigues said.The politicians’ visit helps to strenghten cooperation between the two countries, the Chinese Embassy in Brasilia said in a statement. “For us, interparlamentary relations are an important part of the relations between states,” the note said. In January, another delegation of lawmakers visited China. Most of them were members of Bolsonaro’s PSL party and their visit came in for criticism by some of the president’s own supporters.Three congressmen who took part in the more recent trip said in interviews they expected concrete results from the meetings they had. Senator Iraja Abreu, who said he was impressed by Chinese handling of pollution, mentioned possible solar energy projects. Senator Rogerio Carvalho said he sees potential oil and gas investment in his northeastern state of Sergipe.“By dealing with lawmakers, the Chinese have a broader and more sophisticated understanding of how a country works,” Carvalho said.

--With assistance from Flavia Said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Samy Adghirni in Brasilia Newsroom at sadghirni@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Juan Pablo Spinetto at jspinetto@bloomberg.net, Bruce Douglas, Walter Brandimarte

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