(Adds planned CCCC investment, context)
By Marcela Ayres and Jake Spring
BRASILIA, Nov 13 (Reuters) - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Chinese President Xi Jinping praised their countries’ strong bilateral relations at a meeting on Wednesday, as sources said a Chinese state firm was prepared to announce a major Brazil port investment.
The leaders’ comments showed how far relations have come since Bolsonaro’s repeated bashing of China on the campaign trail last year, which sparked concerns that he could disrupt one of the world’s biggest trading partnerships.
Still, there were few major announcements at the start of Xi’s visit to Brasilia, only a few weeks after Bolsonaro’s official visit to Beijing.
Later during the visit, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) is expected to announce an investment in the northern Brazilian port of Sao Luis, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
One of the sources, who requested anonymity because details have not been made public, said the port was part of the largest announcement of foreign direct investment in Brazil this year. Another said there would also be news on a rail project.
Chinese investment has become increasingly important to Brazil’s oil and gas, power and transportation sectors, while China’s demand for iron ore and agricultural goods make it the top Brazilian trading partner.
China’s growing presence made it a target for Bolsonaro’s nationalist rhetoric in last year’s presidential campaign, including a repeated complaint: “The Chinese are not buying in Brazil. They are buying Brazil.”
Since he took office, diplomats and business leaders in both countries have influenced the former army captain to tone down his anti-China rhetoric.
“We want to more than expand, we want to diversify our trade relationship,” Bolsonaro said at an event with Xi on Wednesday.
China and Brazil announced a list of agreements including an accord to allow the transfer of convicted prisoners between the two countries, protocols to allow an expansion of the fruit trade and broad memorandums of understanding to cooperate on transportation, investment and the services sector.
Leaders of major developing nations known as BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - are meeting in Brasilia on Wednesday and Thursday.
While diplomatic ceremonies highlighted common ground, not far across town a dispute over the Venezuelan embassy highlighted differences on one of Latin America’s most pressing diplomatic issues.
Supporters of President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido came to blows on Wednesday after representatives for the latter entered the embassy in Brasilia in what Venezuela’s foreign minister called a forceful invasion. (Reporting by Marcela Ayres and Jake Spring Editing by Brad Haynes and Marguerita Choy)