Varig Brazilian Airlines is to expand services to Asia with flights to Beijing next year, making it the first South American airline to fly to China. Twice-weekly MD-11 flights from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, flying via Frankfurt to China, will probably start in early 1997, the carrier's Hong Kong-based general manager, Reno Vitale, said. The announcement, which followed the signing of an air services agreement between the Brazilian and Chinese governments two years ago, would further strengthen the airline's presence in Asia, Mr Vitale said. 'Although the details and schedules are still being finalised, the new service should be operational by the beginning of next year,' he said. Varig flies five times a week to Japan and twice-weekly to Hong Kong and Bangkok, via Johannesburg. 'China is an important market for us,' Mr Vitale said. 'Since we launched our direct flights between Hong Kong and Brazil over three years ago, there has been a considerable demand for the service among travellers from China. 'With increasing trade and cultural links between China and South America, the new service makes excellent commercial sense and we are confident that it has great potential.' Mr Vitale said Asia was one of Varig's most profitable regions as a result of growing interest from China in Brazil's commercial and tourism sectors. 'With the turnaround in the Brazilian economy and the growing trade links between China and South America, the new flights will provide a much-needed service, he said.