Brazil-China defense cooperation: a strategic partnership in the making

Abstract / Resumen / Resumo

For the past two decades, China’s economic and commercial presence in Latin America has attracted considerable attention from the scholarly and policy making community (Fung and Garcia Herrero 2014, Gallagher 2016, Myers and Wise 2016). Nonetheless, this only reveals part of a wider set of relations that have been developing between Chinese and Latin American actors. In order to shed more light onto these ongoing interactions, we draw on the literature on strategic partnerships (Grevi 2010, Holslag 2011, Wilkins 2012) to focus on an emerging, yet largely unnoticed, area of increasing cooperation between China and Latin America, that of military and defense cooperation (Ellis 2012, 2016). Our analysis is centered on China’s interaction with Brazil in these specific sectors and our research is based on primary sources such as diplomatic communication, Brazilian and Chinese media reports, official documents as well as semi-structured interviews with policy makers and academics.

We look at domestic developments related to defense aspects within the two countries and we address the origins, developments and challenges associated with these initiatives. Our findings show that in spite of political and societal differences, Brazil and China have been able to establish a successful partnership. We contemplate a series of defense cooperation initiatives dating back to the early 1980s and we analyze how this aspect of the bilateral relationship has expanded, becoming more institutionalized particularly after the early 2000s. At the same time, we do not take the bilateral cooperation at face value, we critically examine some of the initiatives and discuss the limitations and challenges that still exit, as well as the broader geopolitical interests that motivate the two countries. We conclude by providing insights about the future of Brazil-China defense cooperation, including ways in which such cooperation can be strengthened.