Save the date! China and Latin America are getting hitched this year.
After several years of courtship and a bit of heavy petting, China and Latin America are ready to take their relationship to the next level.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has summoned the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAC) to Beijing this week for a group huddle to map out a new five-year plan for Chinese trade, investment and financial support in Latin America.
Xi hopes the regional talks, which start today, will lead to a new framework that will allow trade to increase to $500 billion and Chinese investment to scale up to $250 billion in the years ahead. Or, in Chinese political jargon, “forge a hand-in-hand community of common destiny” and “consolidate the ever-lasting friendship.” I do!
If a new China-Latin America deal emerges from this week’s forum in Beijing, it would also up the ante for next April’s Summit of the Americas. That’s when the United States — Latin America’s oft-absent former squeeze — will try to reassert its influence and leadership in the Western Hemisphere after years of traveling overseas.
China expert Kevin Gallagher expects this week’s Latin America powwow in Beijing will be a “pivot point for China-Latin American relations” that will most likely produce a “major set of funding arrangements.”
“It is hard to think about substantive counteroffers that the U.S. can provide,” said Gallagher, an associate professor of global development policy at Boston University and co-author of The Dragon in the Room: China and the Future of Latin American Industrialization.
Margaret Myers, the Inter-American Dialogue’s program director for China and Latin America, says this week’s meeting is “largely a China-driven effort to approach the region as a whole.” It’s a strategy that has worked in China’s dealings with Africa, where Xi Jinping’s government has pledged $20 billion in foreign aid through 2015 under framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation.
Latin America and the Caribbean, however, sometimes have a hard time thinking collectively, especially when there is money on the table.
“There is considerable potential for Latin American nations to use the forum to their advantage by proposing region-wide infrastructure and other projects, but there are many obstacles to even sub-regional integration in Latin America,” Myers said.
Instead, many Latin American countries are trying to convince others in the region how a Chinese-funded project in their country would benefit everyone.
Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís, president pro-tempore of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), inaugurated today’s meeting in Beijing. But he didn’t go all the way to China just to represent CELAC; the Tico president brought six of his top ministers, 12 Costa Rican businessmen, and the head of the Costa Rican state oil company to discuss bilateral trade and investment deals, including a $1.5 billion Chinese refinery that — of course— promises to benefit all of Central America with cheaper oil exports.
Also attending the China meeting are Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose cash-strapped “Bolivarian revolution” needs all the help it can get, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, and Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie.
Argentina’s Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was supposed to make the trip to China, but got sidelined at the last minute with a sprained ankle. Fernández’s unexpected hospitalization is a shame, considering all the extra work her ruling party put in over Christmas vacation to make her trip to China worthwhile. On Dec. 28, Fernández’s party rushed a bill through the upper house of Congress that would give the cash-strapped Argentine government access to Chinese financing in exchange for sweetheart contracts that would allow the Chinese firms to import their own labor— a move that angered Argentina’s influential labor unions.
Fernández will now have plenty of time to think on it during her convalescence (keep it elevated and iced, Cristina. 15 minutes on, 15 minutes off. You’ll be back on your feet in no time).
While some Latin American countries are still going to China hat-in-hand, others are thinking partnership, not charity. Costa Rican President Solís has said his country now wants to “climb this mountain with a different determination from those countries that only ask [for handouts],” according to La Nación.
Indeed, China could soon need Latin America as much as they need it.
“As China consumes more, it will need more from Latin America,” says Myers. “This is especially true of agricultural goods.”
So apparently it will be one of those marriages: China works all day to provide money, but when it comes home at the end of the day it expects Latin America to have food on the table.
-Fusion's Kevin Gray contributed reporting to this article.