Saturday, June 13, 2009

Brazil and China: A More Intimate Military Relationship?

Traditionally, Brazil and Japan have had close relations. The Japanese foreign ministry reports that it has loans of 326,500 million yen, grants of 1,955 million yen and technical cooperation programs valued at 97,700 million yen (2006) with Brazil. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA), Japan-Brazil Relations. Japanese direct investment was reported for 2007 at $501 million (2007). Id. Economic cooperation is grounded on natural resources and heavy industry. "Usiminas (Usinas Siderurgicas de Minas Gerais) (producing 4.03 million tons of crude steel a year), Amazon aluminum refinery (processing 340,000 tons of aluminum a year), Senibra project (paper pulp resources development, producing 370,000 tons of pulp a year), Cia. Siderurgica Tubarão (producing 3 million tons of slab a year), Carajá iron mine development (producing 33 million tons of iron ore a year), Cerrado plain agricultural development (180,000 ha)." ID.

But that relationship can be explained, in part, can be explained by the large and vibrant Japanese immigrant community in Brazil. Immigration began in 1908 and now accounts for about 1.5 million Brazilians of Japanese ancestry. Thus the relationship between these states has been as much personal--at the individual level--as it has been institutional. The Imperial War Museum in Japan, for example, includes quite poignant letters from the sons of Japanese immigrants returning to fight in the Imperial military forces. Yet it is at that personal level that relationship between Brazil and Japan has been least positive. Describing it in its most positive terms, MOFA has described the issue as follows: "Concerning Brazilian residents in Japan, they have been increasing in number dramatically since the 1990 revision of the Japan's Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act, and the number has reached approximately 320,000 as of 2007. As their stay in Japan has extended over a long period, some problems such as social security, education, crimes have arisen. To deal with these problems, both governments are organizing working group meetings." Japan-Brazil Relations, supra.

But it appears that the Brazilians have been energized to do more than that. It is with some interest, then, that one ought to consider the slow shift in emphasis within Brazilian elites, from an emphasis on Japan to one more directly and intimately focused on China. And the change is not about economics, but military relations, the consequences of which might be viewed as threatening to Japan, and India.
In a May 9 interview with Brazilian defense, strategy and intelligence news website Defasanet, Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim stated that Brazil and China had reached an agreement to train personnel from the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in Brazil. In the interview (available in Portuguese), Jobim announced that the two sides reached a training agreement to stage PLAN officers aboard the NAe Sao Paulo, Brazil’s Clemenceau-class aircraft carrier (Defesanet, May 13). L.C. Russell Hsiao, PLAN Officers to Train on Brazilian Aircraft Carrier, China Brief Volume: 9 Issue: 12 June 12, 2009.
The agreement is especially important to Chinese plans for greater naval presence globally. "noted that the Chinese wanted aircraft carriers for power projection, and that he hopes naval cooperation between Brazil and China can serve as the gateway for defense cooperation in other areas (Defesanet, May 13, Xinhua News Agency [Spanish], May 20). Jobim is planning a visit to China in September or October, which analysts say is likely to finalize the training agreement." Id.. But such an agreement would aid the Brazilians, as well--especially in their long range plans to secure functional independence from the Americans in economics, politics and now military affairs.
On September 6, 2007, Lula signed an executive decree mandating the creation of a group of Cabinet ministers who would have one year to decide how to resume the technological development of the three branches of the armed forces and to devise a security and national defense strategy for the next 10-15 years. [3] In announcing his plan to Army, Navy, and Air Force officials, Lula asserted that the plan needed to link the development of the armed forces to the country’s economic and technological development. Brazil’s Pursuit of a Nuclear Submarine Raises Proliferation Concerns, WMD Insights, March 2008 Issue.
There are additional benefits--principally financial, as the Chinese may pay for the privilege of training. "Although the details of this alleged agreement are still unknown, given the chronic lack of funding for the NAe Sao Paulo within Brazil’s national budget, some observers speculate that a part of the deal may involve the Chinese paying for some of the restoration of the aircraft carrier in return for some real on-deck operational experience for its carrier officers." L.C. Russell Hsiao, PLAN Officers to Train on Brazilian Aircraft Carrier, China Brief Volume: 9 Issue: 12 June 12, 2009. This is especially important to China, as it attempts to enter an exclusive military club: only the "United States, France, Russia and Brazil are the only four naval forces that have operational aircraft carriers capable of launching and recovering conventional aircraft." Id. It may also serve an intelligence function--and acquiring an intimate knowledge of Brazilian naval vessels, along with its technology and approaches to warfare. This is particularly fortuitous as Brazil and France have recently entered into agreements on the transfer of military technology. "El convenio, que forma parte del plan de acción para una sociedad estratégica entre ambas naciones, prevé la construcción de cinco submarinos, incluido uno nuclear, y 50 helicóperos para las fuerzas armadas brasileñas." Francia transferirá tecnología militar a Brasil, Xinhuanet Dec. 24, 2008 (though this deal appears to involve submarines, including nuclear subs and helicopters). India and Japan will likely pay close attention.

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