Tuesday, May 26, 2009

China Turning to Brazil for Naval Training

Rob over at LG&M recently broke down the fascinating report that the Chinese are pushing forward their aircraft carrier program. As his IR/military policy posts always are, this one is outstanding, but this part in particular really grabbed my attention:

The PLAN has apparently arranged to begin training its carrier pilots on board the Sao Paulo, Brazil's full deck aircraft carrier.
[...]Sao Paulo, formerly the French Foch, operates A-4 Skyhawks. It appears from this interview that the PLAN has arranged with the Brazilian Navy to train some of its pilots and crews on board Sao Paulo. It's fair to say that this represents a substantial step forward for Chinese naval aviation. This agreement with Brazil will presumably allow the Chinese access to Brazilian naval aviation experts in addition to the carrier itself. This should accelerate the development of Chinese naval aviation
by quite a bit.

I either didn't know or had forgotten that Brazil had an aircraft carrier, and I was certainly surprised to know that it is ahead of China in this regard. Rob does an excellent job outlining why training is so difficult and important. He also does a fine job quickly explaining why China didn't go to the U.S., France, or Russia for training, but I think he misses something. He basically suggests that Brazil was the default trainer for the Chinese, given the reasons the U.S., French, and Russia have to not train China. While it's true in one sense that Brazil was the default ally for China, there was nothing dictating that Brazil had to agree to help China develop its naval power. This isn't a case where China bullied Brazil (and, though it's a gross simplification of complex issues, I like the idea of a country without aircraft carriers threatening a country with an aircraft carrier); through economic agreements, China needs Brazil as much (if not moreso) for its agricultural imports (especially soy), industry, and (down the road) oil as Brazil needs China's money and investment. I certainly don't believe this was a case of Brazil getting forced into an agreement it otherwise wouldn't have made. Yet Brazil signed on happily, with the Minister of Defense going to China later this year to further work out I think it's also evidence of the strengthening ties between China and Brazil, not just economically, but politically.

Of course, I don't envision some future "Sino-Brazilian" hegemon or anything. However, the agreement is mutually beneficial for both China and Brazil; China gets training, and Brazil strengthens its reputation and power as a global force. These efforts have been primarily economic up to this point, but this latest military agreement fits within a broader pattern of each trying to increase its role in international politics. The agreement on the carrier training was apparently part of the private meetings between China and Brazil during Lula's trip to Beijing last week, itself a noteworthy event as China and Brazil strengthened their trade relations in what they hope is a mutually beneficial agreement that would reduce both countries' dependency on the U.S. economy (and also agreed to jointly send 3 satellites into space by 2013). China will send military leaders to Brazil to train, and Defense Minister Nelson Jobim will be going to China in September, presumably when the details of the arrangement will be worked out.

Although Brazil has little it is materially gaining directly from China in this agreement, I think it could be the biggest "winner" here. That a country as powerful as China is turning to Brazil (and only partly out of necessity) is a real coup in Brazil's efforts to demonstrate its equality with the other major world powers. Nothing is assured down the road, but other countries are certainly taking notice of this. I doubt anybody outside of South America is worried about Brazil's military potential, and they shouldn't be; Brazil isn't gunning (no pun intended) for global military domination, and this is certainly not the first time that Brazil has demonstrated its growing power among the biggest international leaders, be it in economic, diplomatic, or military aspects. However, it does mark another major demonstration that Brazil isn't going away anytime soon, and it's a major feather in Brazil's cap in strengthening its position in the international community.