US and Japan Powerless To Stop Upgraded China-Latin America Cooperation

The recently concluded, first-ever ministerial-level talks between China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States was an occasion that neither China nor Latin America took lightly. Despite it being a ministerial-level meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping made an appearance to give an extended speech, while on the Latin American side, three heads of state were present. The participation of these “heavyweights” ensured that the forum never left the international spotlight, for two reasons in particular.

First, the three documents — of which the Beijing Declaration was one — passed at the meeting touched upon many guiding principles containing new ideas, as well as ambitious goals and paths to their implementation, bestowing upon the forum uncommon significance. Remarks within the media that the forum was a “milestone in China-Latin America relations” and “a marriage of the two sides” are no overstatement.

Second, the meeting “upgraded” China-Latin America relations, signifying that economic cooperation will be elevated from a simple business or financial relationship for raw materials, goods or capital to a mutually beneficial partnership with much broader cooperation. This holds value and significance as a model for opening up collaborative efforts between China and developing countries in other regions.

The forum also holds great import for all parties involved, as it is closely tied to their interests. On the part of Latin America, apart from the political need to piggyback off of China’s global influence, on the economic side, they hope for, or one could say require, three things from China. First is the expectation of Chinese loans and investment. Latin America suffered heavily from the Western financial crisis, an economic winter that has only deepened with the slowdown of recent years and steeply falling prices of oil and raw materials. Xi’s pledge that “China will invest $250 billion in Latin America over the next decade” comes as a welcome deluge after the prolonged drought of Latin American countries thirsting for foreign investment to help them survive their present difficulties and launch longterm development.

Second is optimism with regard to the Chinese market. China has been a large market for Latin American oil, minerals and foodstuffs, and now has indicated a desire to increase imports of Latin American manufactured goods. It is not difficult to imagine that Latin American nations will see considerable value in Xi’s promise that trade between China and Latin America over the coming decade will amount to $500 billion.

For a China, which is weighing how to more efficiently make use of its excess production capacity and abundant capital, a Latin America that is large, populous and growing in consumer demand looks to be a worthy choice. In the past few years, economic cooperation between China and Latin America has grown stronger, with bilateral trade increasing at a rate of 30 percent per annum to its current volume of approximately $260 billion for the year. A large number of Chinese firms also view their own developmental prospects quite favorably, one by one foraying into the Latin American market.

But nothing in this world goes exactly as one might wish, and cooperation between China and Latin America will naturally be no exception. Obstacles will arise from the differences in history, culture and political systems between the two sides, and the success or failure of many Latin American political movements will also be decided by the manipulations of external actors, most notably the United States and Japan.

Although in recent years the wind of “anti-Americanization” has blown throughout Latin America, the United States remains staunchly opposed to other influences in the region. Its bedrock principle seems to be that “there’s only enough room for one.” But the United States is on the downslope and unable to satisfy the demands of Latin American nations, and so can do little except sigh its chagrin as China-Latin America relations continue to march forward.

Meanwhile, Japan has long overlooked Latin America, and accordingly has limited influence in the region. Take as an example the fact that Latin American trade with Japan does not even amount to a quarter of that with China. After Shinzo Abe took office, however, he began a drive to expand Japan’s presence in Latin America and work with the United States to check and edge out China. In July 2014, Abe visited five Latin American countries, testing China-Latin America relations all along the way and driving a wedge between China and the United States. In the future, Japan will certainly cause no end of trouble in China-Latin America relations, and although a twig cannot stem a flood, it cannot help but try.

Indeed, the great strides forward taken in relations between China and Latin America are a manifestation of greater changes around the globe and an irreversible inevitability as history continues to unfold. Put through poetry: The mountain cannot stop the river from flowing east.

Lao Mu is a columnist for the People’s Daily Overseas Edition.

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