Since 2009, China has been Brazil’s top trading partner. In 2021, exports to China accounted for 31.3% of the total goods exported by Brazil, worth about $88 billion.

Also from the point of view of direct investments, China is an important partner for Brazil. In 2021, Chinese companies invested $5.9 billion in Brazil; it is estimated that Brazil was the country that received the most Chinese investments in the world in 2021, with a share of 13.6% of the total.

Having made these brief premises, it is clear that for Brazil the building of increasingly better relations with China is of fundamental importance and it is in this context that Lula’s trip to China (13-15 April 2023) should be analyzed.

What first assessment can be made?

From an economic point of view, Lula’s visit (with 8 ministers and a succession of entrepreneurs from various areas) led to the signing of 15 bilateral agreements, which not only concern sectors with low added value (minerals and agricultural products) but also areas more strategic and high-tech, including the joint development of a satellite (CBERS-6) to monitor deforestation in the Amazon and other Brazilian biomes.

But the real relevance of this trip is to be found in the political messages that Lula sent not only to China, but also to the USA and to the world in general.

He defended the use of local currencies for international payments, without the intermediation of the dollar, between the countries of the BRICS bloc

– In the joint final memorandum, he subscribed to the existence of only one China, emphasizing that Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory

– During a visit to Huawei (accused during the Trump presidency of espionage and excluded from 5G in the USA), Lula declared that “no one will prevent Brazil from developing relations with China”

– Immediately after his return to Brazil on April 17, Lula received the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, in what was his first official visit abroad since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022

If we add that Lula has accused the United States and the European Union of encouraging the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, not recognizing the latter as a country attacked and invaded, the picture of a probable crisis between Brazil and its western partners is now drawn.

The United States and the European Union reacted harshly to these provocations and Lula immediately changed his speech. During an official lunch with the President of Romania on April 18, Lula condemned the territorial violation suffered by Ukraine. To avoid new impromptu statements, Lula read a speech drafted by the presidential staff.

Abandoning the traditional policy of neutrality to take the side of China and Russia is a very dangerous challenge for Lula and for the whole of Brazil.

Claiming a more active and independent role in international relations is one thing, openly siding with the antagonists of the West is another. While Brazil's geopolitical significance has always been modest, it is still the United States' major ally in South America.

Given that China is an essential trading partner and that without the investments of companies and pension funds from the United States it would not survive for long, Lula seems destined to transform itself into a “servant of two masters”, like the Goldonian character who cleverly manages to eat to his fill, but that to do so only creates misunderstandings and trouble.

If, on the other hand, he wants to be recognized as a true statesman, Lula must first of all begin to ponder facts and words. Speaking "off the cuff" works in the electoral campaign, but not in the management of international relations in a country like Brazil.