Lula's trip to China was marked by several signals about what may be his foreign policy in his third term. In his speeches, Lula suggested that he will continue to bet on partnerships with the global south and emphasized his criticism of organizations linked to or controlled by the US. Lula's trip was well received by Chinese partners and brought new hope to bilateral and intra-BRICS relations.
Undoubtedly, the most prominent point in his pronouncements was his support for the de-dollarization of international economic relations. Lula questioned the need to use the dollar as a global commercial currency and expressed his support for the "idea" of creating a currency for the BRICS - or starting to trade in national currencies.
"Why can't we do trade based on our own currencies? (...) Who was it that decided that the dollar was the currency after the disappearance of the gold standard? (...) Why can't a bank like that of the BRICS have a currency to finance trade relations between Brazil and China, between Brazil and other countries? It's difficult because we are unaccustomed [to the idea]. Everyone depends on just one currency", he said during a press conference.
With this, Lula reiterated what he had mentioned previously, during a trip to Argentina, in which he proposed the creation of a currency for Mercosur and another for the BRICS, both with the aim of advancing economic de-dollarization. To his supporters, this sounds like a big sign that Lula is distancing himself from the US and turning towards greater participation in building a multipolar world. However, this seems like an overly optimistic analysis.
De-dollarization is part of the multipolar world, but it is not its essence. Many countries, even US allies, have been seeking to de-dollarize their international transactions in recent years. Japan, for example, has traded with Beijing without the dollar since 2011, as well as Australia since 2013. Also, the EU has traded with Iran without the dollar since 2020. France recently started its de-dollarization process and Switzerland will certainly start this process soon, as it began to get rid of some of its dollar reserves.
In fact, economic de-dollarization is a technical and pragmatic measure, whose purpose is much more to generate economic benefits than to operate any geopolitical transition. In Brazil, the measure has even been supported on a large scale by businessmen and parliamentarians linked to the agribusiness sector, which is the main segment of the Brazilian economy and whose biggest partner is precisely China. Recognizing the Chinese interest in de-dollarization, there is internal pressure from the Brazilian business community for Lula to de-dollarize the economy. Therefore, it is a technical and pragmatic issue that does not mean much for Lula's foreign policy agenda.
It is also necessary to emphasize that before traveling to China, Lula repeatedly stated that the main subject of his meeting with Xi would be to discuss the Ukrainian crisis. He planned to show his "peace club" proposal to the Chinese president and garner support, but apparently this was not a relevant topic in the talks. Both presidents limited themselves to generic declarations of support for peace and negotiations, without any more emphatic mention of Lula's "peace club" project.
Considering that Lula planned the terms of his project in advance with American and European politicians, having even signed a joint statement with Biden condemning the Russian special military operation, it is most likely that Xi has refrained from giving any deep support to the Brazilian president. China and Russia are at their closest moment in history, with unlimited cooperation in all areas. Certainly, Xi would not agree to participate in a "peace club" supported precisely by the states that are waging war against Russia. Therefore, the Ukrainian subject ceased to be the main topic of the tour.
Furthermore, Lula signed interesting agreements with China in the field of space cooperation. A memorandum of understanding was also made in the semiconductor sector. The balance of the trip was positive for Brazil and advanced the de-dollarization agenda, but it did not significantly change the analyzes that point out that Lula is closer to the West in this third term. In the same sense, Lula also did not revoke his support for prioritizing the EU-Mercosur agreement over the China-Mercosur agreement, which shows that his position of ambiguity remains.
It seems that Lula plans to continue maintaining this ambiguity. He develops his foreign policy based on a merely multilateralist, not a multipolar, mentality. Lula and his team are acting as if the current world scenario were the same as in his first terms, when there was no possibility of contesting the US unipolar geopolitical order, with the emerging countries only seeking greater economic development through multilateralism.
This reality has absolutely changed, and it is now possible to build a really polycentric system, where emerging countries also have a political role, not merely focused on economic and commercial development through multilateral cooperation. It is hoped that Lula's team will realize this in time and take more relevant measures towards multipolarity, ignoring American pressure.