Brazil's leftist leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was due to head to China for key talks with President Xi Jinping, has indefinitely postponed his trip to recover from pneumonia, the government said Saturday.
Lula, who succeeded the far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro at the start of the year, had hoped to use the trip next week to reclaim his country's role in global diplomacy, with discussions in Beijing expected to focus on reinforcing trade and the war in Ukraine.
No new date was given for the 77-year-old Lula's trip, the government said, adding that Chinese authorities had already been told of the decision.
Lula had originally been scheduled to leave on Saturday but that was put back by a day due to what his office called a case of "mild pneumonia," which was being treated with medication.
But doctors suggested he put off the trip, which entails some 20 hours of flight time, after a new exam on Saturday.
"Despite the improvement in his condition, the president's medical service recommends that the China trip be postponed" until Lula is no longer contagious, physician Ana Helena Germoglio said, according to the government statement.
Ukraine, trade talks on hold
Just three months into his latest term as president, Lula has already visited Argentina and the United States – and the six-day trip to China, Brazil's largest trading partner, was seen as key to his ambitions.
The official visit had been set to begin on Tuesday with his meeting with Xi, at which Lula had hoped to promote his proposal for mediated talks to end Russia's invasion of the country.
Lula sees China as an "important ally" of his own initiative of creating a group of countries seeking a negotiated peace deal, the government in Brasilia has said.
The Brazilian leader is keen to position the South American giant as a go-between – like he did during his second term, which ended in 2010, during nuclear discussions between Iran and the United States.
However, his diplomatic stock took a hit last year when he came under fire for claiming that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was "as responsible" for the war as Putin.
He has also refused to join Western nations in sending weapons to Ukraine to help it defend itself.
Trade had also been expected to be high on the agenda in Beijing, with a large Brazilian business and ministerial entourage set to head to China.
Last year, commercial exchanges between the two countries surpassed $150 billion.
Bolsonaro also visited China, but that relationship soured after he joined then-US president Donald Trump in blaming Beijing for the Covid-19 pandemic.
Brazil is a huge market for Chinese companies, such as technology giant Huawei.
Lula's health has been a source of concern in recent years.
In November, Lula – who first governed Brazil from 2003 to 2010 – had surgery to remove a lesion from his vocal cords.
The president was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2011, shortly after he left the presidency. He went into remission after undergoing treatment.
by Ramon Sahmkow, AFP