The joint opening up to the two major powers of the 21st century is a large part of the challenge of opening ourselves in Uruguay to the world, with an urgency and a sense of national interest which the new administration will have.
The trade agreement that China and the United States recently reached highlights the importance of these two economic superpowers internationally. But it also has huge consequences even for countries at great remove from the centers of power, like those less important countries in our South America.
The United States is still the major world power. This is, above all and before anything else, because of its military power, which far exceeds that of any other country, whether it be China, Russia, India, France or Great Britain. But it is also about economic issues; the heart of innovation and entrepreneurship is still in the United States, above all in California. Washington is a world power in agricultural and industrial production, with its huge and booming domestic market. During recent years, it also has become a major energy producer and exporter, on a par with the leading petroleum producing countries like Saudi Arabia, for example.
In these 40 years, China has made phenomenal changes, which have raised it to second place as a world economic power.
Not only has its growth remained comparatively strong, but it has succeeded in distinguishing itself in technology. With Xi Jinping in command since 2013, it has affirmed its intention to be a world power at the highest level. This is illustrated by its New Silk Road, built through primary investments in infrastructure on several continents across the world, as a way of reaching above all the main commercial centers of Eastern Europe, as well as other regions of Europe and Asia.
With respect to military issues, Chinese investment has increased rapidly. China’s ambition is to become strong in the Asia-Pacific region, where the U.S. military presence is very important. It also wants to begin to become a prominent player in the arbitration of weighty international crisis situations, for example, the evolution of the Iran nuclear problem or the active resolution of terrorism issues in Central Asia.
All of this international strategic dimension seems far removed from us. However, and in spite of the recent bilateral trade agreement, the first tremors from this confrontation of powers is starting to be felt in our region. On the one hand, investments in infrastructure and the exploitation of raw materials of value for Chinese industrialization processes have already reached South America; from Vaca Muerta in Argentina to port and airport infrastructure in Peru or Brazil, the weight of Chinese money and financing is already very important.
On the other hand, the specific confrontation that Washington is having with Beijing has to do with 5G connection. This links competition in cellphone production to competition in the platforms that those cellphones utilize, resulting in a clash between the interests of powerful Chinese Huawei with those of super-powerful U.S. Google. This ends up having consequences for the whole world: If soon it will effectively not be possible to utilize Google's services on cellphones of Chinese origin, then the options for one model or the other will force us into strategic alignments going far beyond the merely commercial or technological.
In this context, the Uruguay of the Broad Front* has been working to open the game to China. From agreements promoting Confucian cultural centers in the country, to becoming the south Atlantic port for the Chinese New Silk Road project, the emphasis has been on pursuing Chinese interests, without, however, defending our own national interests, which surely are advanced through better and broader access to that country’s markets.
Blinded by ideology, the Broad Front has been incapable of deepening links with the major world power, the United States. In 2006, it missed the boat on a bilateral trade opening agreement that would have changed our life, and subsequently was left like a sleepwalker, unable to take a serious initiative on the issue.
The joint opening up to the two major powers of the 21st century is a large part of the challenge of opening ourselves up to the world, with an urgency and a sense of national interest which the new administration, which will start to work in March, will have. The task is possible and achievable. It will require willpower and intelligence, which will not be lacking in the new team at the ministry of foreign affairs.
*The Broad Front is a Uruguayan center-left to left-wing coalition of political parties.