Before 1960 Brazil maintained diplomatic relations with three Asian nations: Japan, India, and Nationalist China (Taiwan). In that year, Brazil established ties with the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). In August 1961, President Quadros sent his vice president, João Goulart, to the People's Republic of China as head of a commercial delegation. In August 1974, Brazil broke relations with Taiwan and established full relations with China, four years before the United States. The Nationalist diplomats were evicted unceremoniously from the Chinese embassy in Brasília to make way for the new tenants.
In the 1970s and 1980s, relations with Asia expanded to ten embassies in Brasília. Because of the growing importance of the newly industrialized countries in the Pacific Basin, Brazil installed a legation in Singapore. Although not a major trading partner, India became an important South-South ally in international forums, such as the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), GATT, and the Group of 77 (G-77).
With its gradual economic opening to the West, mainland China has become an important trading partner for Brazil since the 1980s. Petrobrás began oil exploration under risk contract, and engineering services were contracted for mining and hydroelectric ventures. In addition, the Chinese have purchased large quantities of Brazilian iron ore and steel plate.
However, Japan has received the highest priority within the region. Brazil established diplomatic relations with Japan in 1897. The first Japanese immigrants arrived in Brazil in 1908, as the São Paulo coffee planters sought alternative free labor after the abolition of slavery in 1888. This influx of Japanese immigrants continued until 1934, when the new constitution limited foreign immigration to 2 percent of the past fifty years. Diplomatic relations broke off during World War II, but resumed in 1952. Some 100 years after the first waves of immigration, Brazilians of Japanese descent constitute one of the largest ethnic segments of Brazil's population.
In the 1960s, Japan began to invest heavily in various sectors in Brazil, including mining, steel, aluminum, telecommunications, manufacturing, and agricultural ventures (the latter in the Central Highlands plateau region and the Amazon). In return, Japan imported large quantities of iron, other nonferrous ores, unfinished steel and aluminum products, and soybeans and other agricultural products.
In the 1980s, with cycles of recession and decreasing employment opportunities in Brazil, a reverse immigration flux began; some 200,000 Brazilians of Japanese descent traveled to Japan in search of jobs. Their monthly remittances to their families remaining in Brazil have become an important item in bilateral commerce.
In 1992 Japanese companies invested US$1.4 billion in Brazil in the areas of telecommunications, capital goods, mining, and metallurgy. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has sponsored many rural colonization projects in Brazil since the 1950s. In 1995 JICA was using Brazilian technicians and installations to train people from developing countries in Latin America and Africa in industrial job training, community development, education, and so forth.
In mid-1995 the Socialist Republic of Vietnam signaled a desire for closer trade relations with Brazil, thus eliminating Thailand as middleman. President General Le Duc Anh visited Brazil and the Brazilian foreign minister visited Vietnam in the second half of 1995. Brazil's opening to Vietnam was made within the context of Brazil's general Southeast Asian strategy and its view that Vietnam may soon become an "Asian Tiger."
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