Bolsonaro says China part of Brazil's future

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro after their bilateral meeting in Brasilia on the eve of a BRICS summit (AFP Photo/Sergio LIMA)

China is increasingly part of Brazil's future, President Jair Bolsonaro said Wednesday, signaling a more pragmatic approach to the Latin American country's biggest trade partner.

Standing alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia, Bolsonaro said he hoped the two countries could not only increase but also "diversify our trade relations."

"China is becoming more and more part of Brazil's future," Bolsonaro said, after the two men signed largely non-binding agreements on transport, services and investment ahead of a summit of BRICS countries.

Xi echoed the positive sentiments, expressing hopes for the two countries to "strengthen multilateralism and build an open world economy."

Their meeting -- the second in as many months -- was one of several to be held on the sidelines of the annual BRICS get-together that will focus on economic growth and innovation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa are attending the two-day gathering, which also included a business forum.

Xi, whose country is locked in a bitter trade war with the United States, told business leaders that "mounting protectionism and bullyism" were hurting the global economy and trade.

Putin agreed, saying "protectionism is thriving" as a result of slowing economic growth.

- 'Right direction' -

Bolsonaro -- an ardent admirer of Trump with whom he shares a contempt for multilateralism -- has been under pressure from Brazil's powerful beef, farming and mining sectors to stay on good terms with China.

He had threatened to torpedo the relationship during last year's election campaign when he accused China of "buying Brazil," and his pro-business government has been trying to repair the damage ever since.

The BRICS summit is the first time Bolsonaro, notoriously awkward at public events, has hosted a major international gathering since he took office in January.

It could provide cover for him to talk to Xi without appearing to be disloyal to Trump, Luis Fernandes of the BRICS Policy Center in Rio de Janeiro, told AFP recently.

Speaking at the business forum, Bolsonaro said "opportunities abound" in Brazil under his administration that has made reviving economic growth a top priority.

"Never before has this country been at the level that it is today," Bolsonaro said.

"Brazil is moving in the right direction."

Bolsonaro has broken with tradition at this year's summit by scrapping the BRICS Plus meeting that enables the five members to meet with the host's neighboring countries.

The BRICS leaders will meet Thursday before issuing a joint statement.