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Brazil's Lula cancels trip to China because of pneumonia

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
Posted at 3:54 PM, Mar 25, 2023

Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has canceled his trip to China after contracting pneumonia, the presidential palace said on Saturday.

Lula, 77, was admitted to a hospital in the capital of Brasilia with flu-like symptoms and was diagnosed with “bacterial and viral bronchopneumonia due to influenza A,” the palace said in a statement, quoting a medical note signed by Dr. Ana Helena Germoglio.

The leftist leader’s health was reassessed on Saturday and, despite improvement, he was advised to “postpone the trip to China until the cycle of viral transmission ends,” the medical note said. His press office later confirmed that the trip had been canceled.

Chinese authorities have been informed, “with the reiteration of the desire to schedule the visit on a new date,” the palace said.

Lula had been expected to leave for China on a multi-day visit on Friday or Saturday, but the trip was pushed back on Friday.

A delegation composed of ministers, senators, lawmakers and hundreds of businessmen - including more than 100 from the agricultural sector - had been set to accompany Lula during his first state visit to Brazil’s biggest trade partner since taking office in January.

The trip’s cancellation is “bad news” for the government as the visit was “an opportunity for Lula to reconnect with business elites, especially in the agribusiness, who have been very much pro-Bolsonaro,” said Oliver Stuenkel, a political scientist from the Getulio Vargas Foundation think tank.

The Brazilian president and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping were scheduled to meet next Tuesday. Trade, investment and climate change were on the agenda and 20 bilateral agreements had been expected to be signed, according to a statement Thursday from the presidential palace.

Lula, who rarely postpones or cancels trips due to health reasons, traveled to Argentina in January and the U.S. in February, marking a departure from Brazil’s foreign policy under former far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who showed little interest in international affairs or travel abroad.

The cancellation “will raise questions about to what extent Lula can sustain the very intense diplomatic activism” seen in the first three months of his presidency, Stuenkel said.

Pedro Brites, an international relations expert at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, said the postponement of the trip was a lost opportunity to switch the focus to more positive issues for the government “after a turbulent week.”

On Wednesday, federal police cracked down on a gang accused of plotting assassinations and kidnappings of public officials including Sen. Sergio Moro, who was the lead judge in the Carwash trials which led to the arrest of prominent politicians including Lula.

The then-former president spent over a year in jail before his conviction was annulled. In 2019, Moro became Bolsonaro’s Justice Minister.

The leftist leader on Thursday suggested the police operation was a setup by Moro, prompting fierce criticism by opposition politicians and discomfort among allies.

Rescheduling Lula’s visit to China will be a challenge due to the very crowded agendas of both leaders, said Stuenkel, but he predicted Lula “will really try to make this happen during the first half of the year” due to the high domestic and international importance of the trip.

Lula had been intending to normalize and strengthen ties with China after a rocky period of tensions under former far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro.

Commercial ties continued but political relations with China soured during Bolsonaro’s term -- a particular low point came when Bolsonaro’s son Eduardo blamed the COVID-19 pandemic on the Chinese Communist Party in March 2020.