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Politics

Brazil's presidential frontrunner urges review of ties with China

Bolsonaro hits out at Beijing's strategy on resource concessions

Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate for Brazil's Social Liberal Party   © Reuters

BRASILIA -- A right-wing Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro says he will review the South American country's relationship with China if he is elected president.

Bolsonaro said during an interview with Nikkei on Wednesday that he is concerned about the way China, Brazil's biggest trading partner, has acquired natural resource concessions.

Winning support ratings of 15% to 20% in the opinion polls, Bolsonaro is leading the presidential race, as the highly popular and left-leaning former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is unlikely to run for election in October after being convicted and jailed for bribery.

China, though an important trading partner for Brazil, is not buying goods from Brazil, but is trying to buy Brazil, Bolsonaro said. He complained that Chinese companies are acquiring rare earth concessions in a bid to shut Brazilian companies out of the mining business.

In contrast, Bolsonaro emphasized Brazil's relationship with Japan, saying that he wants to visit Japan in January after taking office as president to conclude a bilateral free trade agreement and partnership for the development of natural resources.

Brazil has held free trade negotiations through the Mercosur trading bloc, which includes Argentina and other South American countries. But Bolsonaro said Brazil should shift to bilateral negotiations, proposing a bilateral FTA between Brazil and Japan.

Although the U.S. has taken a tough stance against Brazil, through such measures as restrictions on steel imports from the South American country, Bolsonaro said he would be able to get along with U.S. President Donald Trump.

While the government has been heavily involved in Brazil's economy, Bolsonaro, currently a member of the lower house of the National Congress for the conservative Social Liberal Party, said he would advocate small government. He pledged to halve the number of state-run enterprises in the four years from his taking office as president -- from around 150 at present -- through privatization or closure, in order to reduce government debt.

Brazil faces swelling government debt due to the bursting of the resources bubble and the hand-out policies adopted by the leftist government.

Bolsonaro said he would reduce government involvement in the Brazilian economy while simplifying the nation's taxation system.

Corruption occurs in Brazil when the government is involved in economic affairs, Bolsonaro said, adding that he would entrust state-run oil company Petrobras, and infrastructure management companies, to private management. He signaled his intention to root out rampant corruption from the country's political and business circles.

As the government of incumbent President Michel Temer has given up on a bill to raise the starting age for pension benefits, concern is growing in financial markets that Brazil's government debt will rise further.

Bolsonaro said he would work to raise the age threshold, starting with government employees enjoying ample pension benefits, and stressing that he is different from leftist politicians who, he said, have lied to the public.

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