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China wary of stepping into US backyard

(Global Times)

08:49, July 04, 2012

Latin America has been seen as the US backyard ever since the launch of the Monroe Doctrine in the late 19th century.

In contrast, the main relationships China had with countries in the region in the 19th century were established through Chinese immigrants to Latin America.

In recent years, especially in the past decade, the relations between China and Latin America are developing rapidly with the growth of Chinese strategic impact in the region. Trade is at the core of the relations at the moment, but they are also expanding into other areas as well.

However, although China's influence in the region is growing, we still cannot say that China is already vying with the US for regional influence in Latin America.

In the US, there are politicians talking about "China-US competition" in Latin America, and some US media have also discussed so-called Chinese penetration in Latin America.

Such statements could easily fool people into thinking this competition is real. Sometimes, such hype is encouraged because playing up the impact of external forces can help consolidate relations between allied nations in the area.

It should be stressed that all exterior regional powers have established strong economic and trade ties with Latin American nations.

But they make different choices when further engaging with countries in the region. Japan, for example, has never tried to challenge the US dominance in Latin America.

China is now the world's second largest economy and like the US, it has its own interests in Latin America. I think it would be normal for both China and the US to express concern about whether interests of its own will be influenced by the other side.

The US wants to know if China intends to throw support to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, especially after China signed an investment agreement worth $40 billion with Venezuela last year. Also, since Cuba is likely to finish its power transition in the next few years, China would like to see the US not meddle in the issue and leave Cubans on their own.

The Chinese government has been making efforts to not leave an impression of a race for influence in Latin America. For example, in 2008, China chose to issue its first policy paper on Latin America and the Caribbean region after the US presidential election, managing to prevent the issue being hotly discussed during the campaign.

Latin American nations will look forward to more investment from China in the future and expanding their trade ties. It is expected that China will surpass the EU as Latin America's second largest trade partner by 2015.

But at the moment, many products that Latin American nations export to China are raw materials and resources, which could raise concern among locals whether they can really benefit from closer ties with China.

The good thing is that China has already realized the issue and is making efforts to avert it. During Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to the region last month, he sent a strong signal that China does not seek a trade surplus with countries in the region, but seeks relations of mutual equality and benefits.

US policymakers have already realized that it is impossible to stop China's growing influence in Latin America. Therefore, it chooses to instead shape Chinese policy in the region.

In 2006, China and the US held their first ever dialogue over Latin America affairs and this year they held their fifth one.

This kind of dialogue mechanism could help ensure China and the US jointly play constructive roles in the region and avoid misunderstanding and confrontation.

The article was based on a recent speech on "China-Latin America-US relations" at Tsinghua University by Gonzalo Sebastian Paz, a professor at Elliot School of International Affairs of George Washington University.


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