Some countries in Latin America appear to find Beijing’s approach appealing after decades of US mistreatment. This is how China is moving into Washington’s hemisphere.
China’s “list of Latin American inroads is long and striking,” according to a Forbes piece that was published on Monday, and “Washington has yet to manage much of a response.” In addition, it states that “Chinese trade with Latin America has increased at a striking 31% annual rate on average to the equivalent of about $450 billion a year” in the 21 years after China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO).
China is now “South America’s largest trading partner and is second only to the United States for trade with all Latin America.” It has “signed free trade agreements with three countries, Chile, Costa Rica, and Peru and began negotiations with Ecuador last February.”
All of this is taking place in a region where, according to the article, the US “has exercised all but untrammeled hegemony.” In fact, under what is known as the Monroe Doctrine, the United States has made unrivaled dominance of the Americas one of its primary security and foreign policy objectives for close to 200 years. It has conducted countless wars, coups, and other acts of political meddling in order to achieve this.
But despite this, the region’s nations are moving closer to China. Practically no country in Latin America has experienced stability or prosperity as a result of American hegemony. In actuality, it has frequently connoted misery, injustice, and anarchy. Beijing has no specific plans to “politically dominate” Latin America, but growing ties between the two parts of the world are a consequence of the continent’s decades-long treatment at the hands of brutal neoliberalism, which is also the reason why a tidal wave of leftist governments are taking power in country after country. The newest example is Lula, the new president of Brazil, who takes office in the midst of a severe economic downturn. He will undoubtedly strengthen his relationship with China as a member of BRICS.
The United States is viewed by Latin American nations as an oppressive partner who does not care about their respective interests rather than a protector or benevolent supervisor. In order for the US to maintain hegemony in the Western Hemisphere, which American officials frequently refer to as “our” hemisphere, it is believed that its neighbors should continue to remain impoverished, divided, and weak. Can you envision, for instance, allowing Brazil to prosper and grow into a wealthy nation capable of competing with the US in terms of power? Additionally, South America has served as a “guinea pig” for US-led economic imperialism and the compelled implementation of radical free market ideology, particularly in the 1980s with the IMF. Naturally, this benefits American businesses, whose hegemony and wealth hinder local economies from actually growing or competing. Due to the poor quality of living, there is a “brain drain” of talent moving to the US.
But China’s foreign policy is distinct. Beijing positions itself as offering a shared pathway to growth by lending experience from its own model and engaging in what it refers to as “win-win” collaboration, whereas the United States has mostly focused on “opening” up the markets of other nations to dominate them. To do this, China provides access to its sizable 1.4 billion customer base, as well as financing and state company expertise to quickly assemble infrastructure, such as in the fields of energy and transportation, without imposing any political restrictions. Due to ideological and institutional disparities, the United States and its allies plainly cannot compete in delivering these benefits.
China’s investment is not entirely free of political constraints. Beijing would not work with governments that acknowledge Taiwan’s independence, and over the past 20 years, numerous Latin American nations have revoked their recognition of Taiwan’s independence. These countries have either demonstrated a fundamental knowledge of national sovereignty and non-interference, which they have not seen from Washington, or they have judged doing so to be less significant than the more direct and destructive influence of their much closer northern neighbor.
According to the Forbes article, “Apart from direct loans to governments, most Chinese investment has concentrated on energy development, petroleum refining, and power generation. Presently, Power China has 50 ongoing projects across 15 Latin American countries.” Since naming China as its number one geopolitical foe, the United States has long pushed to give a “alternative” to the Belt and Road Initiative, promising to invest billions in infrastructure throughout developing countries. Argentina was the most recent Latin American country to join Belt and Road, joining in January of this year. A nuclear power facility is one of the primary projects on which the two countries will collaborate.
The alternatives put forth by the US and other G7 nations have predominantly been rhetorical, overly reliant on private sector goodwill, and promoted under a never-ending cycle of shifting names and rhetorical soundbites, such as “Blue Dot Network,” “Build Back Better,” and “Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment.” Unlike Belt and Road, which is a comprehensive and meticulously defined vision with consistency in its goals, few of them ever seem to take. While the US has no other purpose, goal, or vision beyond from to merely oppose what China is doing, China can promote its benefits. As a result, it has never presented a strong argument for Latin American nations to cut ties with Beijing.
Given the aforementioned, the US should try less political meddling and more investment if it is serious about competing with China in Latin America. Due to political-economic structures that maintain the status quo or, in the case of Cuba and Venezuela, are subject to ongoing sanctions, two centuries of US interventions and regime changes have not resulted in a continent that is prosperous or content. Instead, they have left behind a wide range of stagnant economies that have never surpassed the so-called “middle-income trap.” Beijing provides a solid and reliable alternative, one that includes market access, infrastructure investment, and a future-oriented strategy. It is challenging to contest that.