China is expanding its influence in Latin America, rebalancing the role of traditional actors in the region. This trend accelerated under the Trump presidency as the US took a hard line with Mexico and largely ignored the other countries.
A geopolitical analyst in Argentina comments, “If China continues to advance in the region, the US is going to have to increase the degree of importance it places on us. The increase in commercial and financial relationships with China gives us negotiating leverage with the US.”
“If China continues to advances in the region, the US is going to have to increase the degree of importance it places on us”
Geopolitical analyst, Argentina
An advisor to the Worker’s Party (PT) in Brazil agrees, “Including China as an actor makes the outlook for the US in Latin America complicated, suddenly the region has options.”
China is currently winning the PR battle in the region, the country’s ‘mask diplomacy’ during the COVID-19 pandemic was a success. “The US had no impact on the region during the pandemic, China was the strong leader,” observes an international relations professor in Mexico, “The US looked weak, they stole equipment that had already been bought by other countries – such as Brazil – while China was making donations and getting good PR.”
The US perspective on Latin America is expected to change under a Biden presidency. The president-elect has a good understanding of and clear vision for Latin America. As Vice President, he was responsible for Latin American foreign relations and clocked thousands of miles travelling the region. Biden has always been a strong advocate of working in partnership with, rather than controlling/bullying Latin America and this is not expected to change (more on this next week).
Despite the anticipated US charm offensive, Latin America can’t just ignore China. The PT advisor explains, “The region won’t want to antagonise the US but it can’t just stop trading with such an enormous market. We believe there is a possibility to continue cooperating with China without irritating the US. Each country is going to have to design how to improve their relationships.”
“The region won’t want to antagonise the US but it can’t just stop trading with such an enormous market.”
Advisor to the Worker’s Party, Brazil
China has established itself successfully as a trading partner with Latin America. This will not change, regardless of who is in the White House. If China wants to expand its influence and gain widespread public and political acceptance in Latin America, it must diversify trade beyond natural resources.
Geopolitically, the ideal situation for Latin America would be close partnerships with both the US and China and an amicable relationship between the two. Dare to dream?