Brazil's leftist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will meet Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing this week to discuss trade and Ukraine mediation, having overcome the pneumonia that forced him to postpone the trip.
Lula, 77, also hopes to reclaim Brazil's role on the geopolitical stage following a period of isolation under his far-right predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro.
Expected to arrive in China on Tuesday, Lula, who was originally due to visit the Asian powerhouse from March 25 to 30, will meet Xi on Friday.
They "will talk about the war in Ukraine," Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira told reporters, with Lula hoping to promote his proposal for mediated talks to end Russia's invasion of the country.
By the time Lula returns home, a group of mediator countries will have been "created," said Vieira.
Lula, who has been president of Brazil twice before, is keen to position the South American giant as a go-between, as he did in 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 his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
He has also refused to join Western nations in sending weapons to Ukraine to help in its defence.
And on Thursday, while Lula said that "Putin cannot keep Ukrainian territory," he qualified that statement by insisting that Zelenskyy "cannot want everything."
He also suggested that Kyiv renounce its claim to Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014 – words that did not endear Lula to authorities in Ukraine.
"There is no legal, political or moral reason why Ukraine should give up even a centimetre of its land," Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said on Twitter.
"Any mediation efforts to restore peace must be based on respect for the sovereignty and full restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity in accordance with the UN Charter," he said.
China, for its part, has proposed a 12-step resolution to the conflict, based on a ceasefire and dialogue, a plan Xi discussed with Putin during a visit to Moscow last month.
"Those are basic conditions" for peace, said Vieira, judging Beijing's proposal as "very positive."
Ukraine's Western allies have heavily criticised Xi's approach as tacitly supporting Moscow's invasion.
In a joint statement with French president Emmanuel Macron, who was visiting Beijing, Xi pledged on Friday "to support any effort in favour of a return to peace in Ukraine."
But Moscow has rejected any "political solution" to the conflict.
And after Lula's chief adviser Celso Amorim met Putin in Russia last month, the Brazilian diplomat told CNN it would be an "exaggeration" to say that the doors were open for a negotiated peace.
Trade no longer tops agenda
Just over three months into his third term as president, Lula is making his third major foreign trip, having previously visited Argentina and the United States.
China is Brazil's largest trading partner and key to Lula's ambitions to re-establish the South American giant on the global geopolitical stage.
Officials in Beijing also see Brazil – a leader in the global south – as a linchpin in their strategic and economic plans.
Lula's original trip was due to put trade at its core, an important topic even if the focus has shifted.
Last week, ahead of his arrival, China hosted a forum for 500 Brazilian and Chinese business people that resulted in the signing of more than 20 cooperation agreements
One of those was to allow business transactions between the two countries to be carried out in reais and yuan rather than US dollars.
Bilateral trade between the two countries reached a record of more than US$150 billion in 2022.
Brazil was also the main destination for Chinese investment in Latin America from 2007 to 2020, worth US$70 billion according to the Brazil-China Business Council.
But this trip will be primarily political.
From Beijing, Lula will travel to Shanghai, where his domestic political ally Dilma Rousseff, who succeeded him as president in 2011, recently took over as head of the New Development Bank, also known as the BRICS bank.
During Lula's last two terms, from 2003-10, Brazil joined Russia, India, China and South Africa in creating the BRICS group of emerging economies.
On his way home, Lula will visit the United Arab Emirates.
by Ramon Sahmkow, AFP