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ARGENTINA | 24-11-2023 14:31

A more moderate Milei embraces trading partners he had shunned

Signs indicate foul-mouthed libertarian who swept to power with radical promises to fix Argentina’s problems may be adopting a more pragmatic approach, at least in foreign policy, as he prepares to take office.

President-elect Javier Milei is quickly toning down his aggressive rhetoric toward Argentina’s largest trading partners, raising the prospect that his administration may not be so disruptive for international affairs after all. 

After calling the Chinese government an “assassin” during an August interview with Bloomberg News and saying he wouldn’t keep relations with Brazil or countries led by “communists” if elected, Milei sounded surprisingly cordial in comments made just a few days after his landslide November 19 win. 

He sent well-wishes to the Chinese people in a social media post Wednesday, thanking President Xi Jinping for a letter in which he congratulated the Argentine leader for his victory and reminded him that relations between Beijing and Buenos Aires were always based on “mutual respect,” with “tangible benefits” for both sides. 

Also on Wednesday he told a local TV that Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva would “be welcome” to attend his December 10 inauguration. And he even patched differences with Pope Francis, an Argentine he once described as the devil’s man on earth. When receiving a call from the Vatican on Tuesday, Milei invited His Holiness to visit Argentina soon.

The about-face is the latest sign yet that the foul-mouthed libertarian who swept to power with radical promises to fix Argentina’s problems may be adopting a more pragmatic approach, at least in foreign policy, as he prepares to take office. 

“It was inevitable, Argentina simply can’t afford to alienate its most important trading partners,” said Benjamin Gedan, director of the Wilson Center’s Latin America Program. “It seems clear that Milei is following the advice of his more pragmatic advisers when it comes to foreign policy, including former president Mauricio Macri.”

Argentina’s total trade with China and Brazil reached US$55 billion last year, almost three times as much its commerce with the US, its third-largest trading partner.

Diana Mondino, Milei’s incoming foreign minister, said during a TV interview Wednesday that the president-elect had never proposed breaking relations with China or Brazil, blaming the media and the opposition for taking his comments out of context.

“There’s no breaking or changing or freezing” relations, she said in that interview. “There can never be.”

Mondino, an economist and close adviser to Milei throughout the campaign, added that Lula will “of course” be invited to the inauguration. “Why wouldn’t he come?”

One issue complicating a potential visit by Lula is the expected presence of his political adversary Jair Bolsonaro in the ceremony. The former Brazilian president is friends with Milei and, while calling him after his election victory, gladly accepted a personal invitation to attend his inauguration in Buenos Aires.

From the United States, Milei received a congratulatory call from President Joe Biden, who won’t be able to come to Buenos Aires due to previously scheduled commitments, according to Mondino. But on Thursday Milei’s office said he also spoke by phone with Donald Trump, who confirmed his presence in the inauguration.

by Manuela Tobias, Bloomberg

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