30 July, 2009 — Council on Hemispheric Affairs
On November 5, 2008, the Chinese government released a policy paper on Latin America and the Caribbean, as it had previously done so for Europe in 2003 and for Africa in 2006. Although it may not come as a huge surprise that Latin America is the most recent region for which China has formally spelled out its foreign policy position, the region has been historically perceived as being under the United States’ sphere of influence. Perhaps the importance of the Chinese policy paper lies in the timing of its release. The release of the paper deliberately coincided with the unfolding of the current financial crisis; this congruence of events has allowed China to expand its influence in this somewhat neglected region without attracting any lasting venom from the U.S. China’s policy paper formally evidences the importance of Latin America and the Caribbean as part of China’s growth plan for its long-term strategic interests. Most of all, this includes access to raw materials as well as a plethora of natural resources, the infiltration of new foreign markets, the reduction of diplomatic support for the Republic of Taiwan, and the strengthening of Beijing political standing on the global stage through strong alliances cemented with the developing world.
The policy paper’s general context
The policy paper explicitly states its main objective is to ‘clarify the goals of China’s policy in this region, outline the guiding principles for future cooperation […] and sustain the sound, steady and all-around growth of China’s relations with Latin America and the Caribbean.’ In the economic realm, China expresses an interest in investing in energy, mineral resources, forestry, fishing, and agriculture, areas important to expanding China’s productivity. Additionally, the Chinese government seems to show interest in infrastructure projects not directly related to its economy, albeit essential in the transportation of natural resources, and proposes to fund these projects in order to be perceived as a partner in development. Furthermore, China expresses its desire to increase military diplomacy and sale of equipment to the region. Although many of the report’s statements are merely rhetoric and general in scope, the paper helps formalize China’s economic, diplomatic and military ties with Latin America, which were first proposed by then President of China Jiang Zemin in 2001.
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