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How come Brazil didn't join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) even though it is a member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and a member of the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank)?

You can see that Brazil is considering joining the Belt and Road Initiative, but hasn't yet joined it.

In an article I published with a colleague from the University of São Paulo, we point out that the economic relationship between Brazil and China follows a pattern of interest coupling. That is, there is a convergence of interests in both countries' economic sectors. In this article, we use the example of soy. On the one hand, we have China with an internal demand for soybeans, and on the other, Brazil, with significant dependence on the export of commodities to sustain its GDP.

We understand that this coupling of interests may become more robust with Brazil's adherence to the BRI. Therefore, we share the opinion with Karen Vasquez, who understands that the partnership between Brazil and China can produce "joint added value," which would greatly benefit Brazil.

Did Brazil give any explanation as to why it's still considering joining after all these years?

The only article cited by the Wikipedia article links to the quoted article above and it mentions the benefits, but doesn't say why Brazil still didn't decide to join the BRI.

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    Maybe I am confused here but how does China building roads that helps them trade with Asia,, Europe, The Middle East, and Africa going to help Brazil?
    – Joe W
    Aug 16, 2023 at 17:06
  • 2
    Please spell out all acronyms in a question at least once in the future.
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 16, 2023 at 17:06
  • Actually, from the original BRIC, only China is in BRI, as its founder. Russia is in some unspecified relation, India and Brazil are definitely not there. It becomes funny when you consider that B R I is the list of countries who are not in BRI.
    – alamar
    Oct 18, 2023 at 19:22
  • @JoeW BRI has expanded to South America as well en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belt_and_Road_Initiative#/media/… It's a pretty amorphous program these days: Feb 2 at 5:51
  • They were unlikely to join during Bolsnaro's term. I'm less sure why Lula is on the fence. Feb 2 at 5:57

2 Answers 2

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Question:

How come Brazil didn't join the Belt and Road Initiative even though it is a member of the BRICS and a member of the AIIB?

Short Answer:

Brazil because the BRI is more controversial than BRIX or AIIB. It's fraught with economic risk and or China's military expansion into your country.

Answer:

BRICS is an informal group with rather diverse interests. It's not a binding alliance. It's a small handful of countries who have agreed to discuss common interests mainly economic, in the hopes they can grow into something larger. Joining is a no brainer as their is little to lose. I'll note that to date only 1 BRICS country has joined China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), South Africa. I'll also note that at the last BRICS meeting the Russian President changed his mind about attending after several discussions about his arrest if he did. That China and India military have had several confrontations on their mutual boarder over the last few years and tensions remain high. That collectively they are a long way off from their stated goal of competing with the G-7, an organization which has excluded China and Russia in recent years while also reaching out to emerging countries like Brazil, South Africa and India.

Similarly the AIIB doesn't commit or restrict a country from it's own autonomous activity. The UK is a member of the AIIB. It's not nearly as controversial as BRI.

Why is the BRI controversial. It's a large initiative by China where they identify large scale mega projects in foreign countries. Then offer to finance said projects. The proposals generally have the host country borrowing money from China, and paying it to a Chinese company. The Chinese company then bring in Chinese workers to build the mega project; which the Chinese say will pay for itself over time. It's controversial because if the mega project doesn't generate enough profit, the host country is left with a sizable debt they may struggle to repay. Now after 10 years this early criticism of the program has come true a number of times. It's also true that China is mixing it's military and economic asperations within the BRI. The BRI deals have lead to PLA military expansion into the host countries either as a provision of the initial investment, or a negotiated settlement after the mega project failed to perform economically.

Question 2 Did Brazil give any explanation as to why it's still considering joining after all these years?

Brazil's previous two presidents Michel Temer and Jair Bolsonaro used the potential of joining the BRI as a carrot to encourage less risky economic ties with China. China stressing the importance of joining during summits with the Brazilian leaders politely listening and seemingly agreeing in principle. Both held talks and openly discussed joining the BRI program but never did. China has been very motivated to sign up Brazil to the program. It's as of yet unclear whether the new president who took office this year, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is playing from his predecessor's playbook or whether he's actually going to pull the trigger.

Improving Brazil's roads, rail, or harbors would improve it's ability to trade and would be enticing to Brazil. Improving ties with Brazil which is a potentially large market for China would likewise be attractive to the Chinese.

From Comments:

"It's controversial because if the mega project doesn't generate enough profit, the host country is left with a sizable debt they may struggle to repay." - this is often mentioned by liberals, as if the West does not lend and then expect its money back. China also employs local labour, it just doesn't bankroll the local (and often rather corrupt) liberal capitalist class to organise the work - that's the real annoyance to Western liberals.

First let's agree on what we can in your comment:

this is often mentioned by liberals

  1. True, if by liberals you mean non-isolationists.

China also employs local labour

  1. True, China has at times used local laborers when the host countries have objected. Cambodia and Malaysia come to mind. Even So Chinese firms primarily hire local laborers for low-skill positions, limiting the possibility of skills transfer. Meanwhile this criticism of China's belt and road initiative remains

Thus, millions of Chinese are potentially employed by BRI projects. These people, hired via convoluted chains of subcontracting, isolated in ...

as if the West does not lend and then expect its money back

The World Bank is made up of 121 countries and are not just Western Countries and those countries are not predominantly governed by liberals. The countries which owe the most money to the World Bank are India, Indonesia and Pakistan, and with nearly half century of participation none have bee coerced to host foreign militaries to service that debt. And of coarse the G-8 does have a history of forgiving debt when projects don't work out.

G8 cancels debt of the world's poorest countries

  • Benin,
  • Burkina Faso,
  • Ethiopia,
  • Ghana,
  • Madagascar,
  • Mali,
  • Mauritania,
  • Mozambique,
  • Niger,
  • Rwanda,
  • Senegal,
  • Tanzania,
  • Uganda,
  • Zambia.
  • Guyana,
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua.

that's the real annoyance to Western liberals.

I don't think Western Liberals nor Conservatives are annoyed. I think they just make note of China's behavior which annoys China.

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  • "It's controversial because if the mega project doesn't generate enough profit, the host country is left with a sizable debt they may struggle to repay." - this is often mentioned by liberals, as if the West does not lend and then expect its money back. China also employs local labour, it just doesn't bankroll the local (and often rather corrupt) liberal capitalist class to organise the work - that's the real annoyance to Western liberals.
    – Steve
    Aug 18, 2023 at 9:19
  • @Steve, responded at the end of my answer.
    – user47010
    Aug 18, 2023 at 15:34
  • I appreciate the response, but I don't think you actually contradicted what I said, merely proved it. For example, one of your links complains how the Chinese broke Greek strikes - yet that's exactly what the liberals have been doing for decades, often by offshoring to China and the Far East no less, or by introducing free movement in the EU (which allowed the unionised Greeks to be replaced by Eastern Europeans)!
    – Steve
    Aug 18, 2023 at 19:40
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Pointless

The Belt and Road Initiative is an infrastructure project to facilitate the transport of goods. Have a look on a map. The only possible connection between the two countries is a direct sea route. The only infrastructure that would be needed are ports and Brazil already has them. The transport network from the mines to the main ports might need some upgrades, but that is limited because often the ore is transported by river barges.

Chinese investment might be useful only to upgrade the facilities in the main ports, but when a Chinese company invest in port facilities they ask for something in return. For example in Greece they took over the management of their most important port. In Sri Lanka it is still not clear but they might get a military base.

So the result is that given the geography they could get little from the participation in the project and it is unlikely that it would be worth it.

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  • Half the countries in South America didn't see it "pointless" though and signed up some MoU with China. commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/… Feb 2 at 5:55
  • @Fizz There are a lot of different reason for a country to sign an agreement. However we here can comment on the evident reasons not on what comes from backroom dealing.
    – FluidCode
    Feb 16 at 17:52

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