by Evan Ellis

Evan Ellis, Phd, is a research professor of Latin American Studies at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute with a focus on the region’s relationships with China and other non-Western Hemisphere actors.  He has published more than 190 works, including the books China in Latin America: The Whats and Wherefores (2009), The Strategic Dimension of Chinese Engagement with Latin America (2013) and most recently China on the Ground in Latin America (2014). He has presented his work in a broad range of business and government forums in 25 countries on four continents and given testimony on Chinese activities in Latin America to the US Congress, and appears regularly as an expert on Latin America-China relations in the media.

We thank the author for his permission to publish the article below, which was originally published in Global Americans.

Last week, I was in Rio de Janeiro for a series of engagements at Brazil’s prestigious Naval War College.  The pinnacle event of my trip-a conference on China attended by almost 500 Brazilian officers and civilians-highlighted how much the strategic environment of Latin America has changed, and with it the importance of Brazil in China-Latin American affairs.

As I sat in the front row, with a group of Brazilian Admirals, China’s Charge d’affaires in Brazil, Song Yang, extolled his country’s achievements and shared the highlights of last week’s 19th Communist Party Congress.  It’s hard to say which of these impacted me more, Song Yang’s dynamism and fluent Portuguese, or the respectful seriousness with which my Brazilian hosts considered the opportunities offered by the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Since 2003, Chinese companies have invested $46.8 billion in Brazil across 87 projects-far more than in any other country in Latin America. Less known, however, is the fact that Brazil is increasingly becoming a significant military partner for China in the region.  Soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have attended Brazil’s internationally renowned jungle warfare school in Manaus, putting the school in an elite club in the region, joined by Colombia’s Lanceros course.  The experience was reportedly so positive that a delegation from the school traveled to China to discuss helping the PLA to set up its own school in the south of China.  The PLA also served for 8 years, from 2004 through 2012, in the Brazil-led United Nations peacekeeping force in Haiti, MINUSTAH.

While Brazil, like other nations in the region, regularly sends small numbers of personnel to China’s National Defense University for short courses and diplomatic tourism, the Brazilian Navy has gone further, sending its officers to the year-long commander’s course in Nanjing.

Brazil-which has its own defense industry-has not bought large quantities of Chinese military equipment, as Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru have.  But it has bought an Antarctic research ship from the Chinese, and Chinese defense companies are strong contenders for important Brazilian defense procurements.  China Shipbuilding Industrial Corporation (CSIC), for example, is one of the contenders in the initial phase of the Brazilian Navy’s acquisition of a new frigate.  The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation(CASIC) is similarly bidding for a role in SisGAAz, the Brazilian military’s integrated system to secure its maritime border.

The U.S. “Brazil Myopia”

As the U.S. works to advance its policy objectives and interests in the Western Hemisphere, the enormous potential of Brazil as a partner, and the cost of ignoring it, is often overlooked…. Continue Reading