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China's influence in Latin America

Mexico_China While the United States is preoccupied with other parts of the world, China is paying ever more attention to Latin America, sending leaders to the region, opening banks and promising investment.

At this writing, two Chinese leaders are touring the Western Hemisphere. One of them is Vice President Xi Jinping, who is likely to succeed President Hu Jintao early next decade as China’s maximum leader.

Xi left this morning on a tour that will take him to Mexico, Jamaica, Colombia, Venezuela and Brazil, all nations eager to enhance ties with China.

Elsewhere in the region, Vice Premier Hui Liangyu is paying official visits to Argentina, Ecuador, Barbados and Bahamas from Feb. 7 to 19.

Might seem like no big deal, you say? Well, recall that President Hu visited Latin America in November, stopping in to Cuba and Peru. And while Hu was rubbing elbows with most of the major Latin presidents at the APEC summit in Lima, China’s highest ranking military officer was elsewhere in South America on tour.

That officer, Xu Caihou, is vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, which controls the People’s Liberation Army. Only President Hu outranks Xu in the military hierarchy. On his trip in November, Xu toured military installations in Venezuela, Chile and Brazil and promised increased exchanges between the two regions.

For Washington to match this pace of high-level visits, it would have to send President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and a fourth senior official, perhaps Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to Latin America within four months. I doubt will be seeing that.

The Chinese officials aren’t going empty handed either. Just take a look at the $7.3-million national stadium Chinese workers are erecting in the Bahamas, a quick boat ride from Miami. I’m sure Hui will tour the site later this week and receive multiple huzzahs from the Bahamians for this showpiece project.

Xi will be attending a big powwow of Mexican industrialists on Tuesday.

If one were looking for a specific gauge of China’s growing influence on the world stage in relation to the United States, one could do worse that just studying the Beijing-Washington-Latin America triangle.

Consider the trade numbers between China and Latin America and the Caribbean, for example.

Trade between the region and China jumped 13-fold since 1995, from $8.4 billion to $110 billion in 2007. China is now the region’s second biggest trading partner after the United States.

A concrete sign of China’s growing trade importance occurred just a couple of weeks ago.

On Jan. 12, China formally became a member of the Inter-American Development Bank, the leading hemispheric financing arm for long-term development projects. As Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong signed the forms for membership, China also threw in $350 million into bank coffers.

Now the Chinese flag flies along with the other 47 flags of the IDB’s member states.

Another sign of Chinese interest: Beijing has agreed to open branches of the China Development Bank in Mexico, Brazil and two other countries, a sign of intensified trade cooperation. My understanding is that this is a quasi-private bank.

The world has indeed grown smaller. If Latin America was once considered part of the U.S. backyard, it’s now also part of China’s backyard.


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China is making some smart decisions going after a lot of different markets.

Alex S.

Tim, nice posting! but you forgot one issue, namely military ties between the Chinese PLA and Latin America. Cynthia Watson wrote a nice piece about it a while ago

"...One of the earliest methods for the PLA to make in-roads in this region came with the opening of the PLA National Defense University (PLA NDU) in 1985, with its attendant "foreign course" for militaries in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.... The opportunity to study at the PLA NDU is one that has consistently attracted the attention of Latin American military officers, as US ties with the region have ebbed and flowed. Officers from Venezuela, Bolivia and other states on less-than-favorable terms with Washington have attended PME courses in Beijing, brining benefits to bilateral state-to-state relationships and enhancing Latin American militaries that have few educational opportunities abroad."


China's growing influence is certainly tangible here in Peru. Banners welcoming Hu Jintao for APEC still hang around Lima, Chinese automotive and machinery companies take out full-page ads in the local papers, and Chinese mining companies are buying up whole copper-filled mountains in the Andes. Regarding the Beijing-Washington-Latin America triangle, it'll be interesting to watch if the Obama administration starts showing signs of concern over China being on its "turf". Certainly the Obama team won't match the number of state visits to Latin America in the coming months. My sense is they also won't be able to match the speed in which China is setting up free trade agreements in the region either.


U.S. is paying the price for being too agressive towards other nations only to protect the so-called capitalism. It killed too many people on this planet to gain supremacy.


Well the South Americans remember too well the sufferance they endured thanks to the U.S. First, the planted horrible dictators to best suit the U.S. interests. Second, they exploited their natural resources giving the countries a very small %, leaving them in terrible poverty. Who became rich? The big American corporations. I truly believe it's over for the U.S. Bush truly sent his country going down the drain. He did nothing for U.S. He couldn't even fix Katrina.

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"China Rises" is written by Tom Lasseter, the Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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