In a conference shortly after the end of the meeting in Washington, Ebrard reported with a positive “spin” what happened, but in reality they were setbacks for López Obrador.
Will Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador know what Minister of Foreign Relations Marcelo Ebrard did in Washington last week? Will Ebrard have told him the details of the agreement in the High-Level Economic Dialogue? Did López Obrador approve what was signed in his name? If he was not aware or not properly informed, then what happened in the negotiations during the Donald Trump administration is going to happen again. For the Democrats to approve NAFTA, Mexican negotiators ceded so much that the the U.S. negotiators thought that it was a trap, because they had given up everything the U.S. wanted without prioritizing Mexican interests, as former governments had done.
What happened in the background in Washington did not come out in the press conference headed by Ebrard shortly after concluding the meeting. What he reported with a positive spin was a setback for the López Obrador agenda. Not only did the summit with President Joe Biden on Sept. 23 not materialize, but there was no opening of the border for non-essential traffic, nor was there any attention to López Obrador’s proposal to fill Central America with trees. But what he failed to even outline is what is fundamental: It creates a new strategic framework for the bilateral relationship.
According to the basic working document published by the White House, there are four pillars to this redesigned bilateral relationship. Three of these were established during talks between former Presidents Barack Obama and Enrique Peña Nieto in 2013, but the revolutionary content for relations is found in Pillar III, “Securing the Tools for Future Prosperity.” What is the White House talking about? It is talking about building a strategic alliance to support the U.S. in its long-term struggle against China and Russia.
López Obrador has already begun to put up barriers against China after having opened his arms, and he proposed that Latin American leaders block the advance of Beijing’s economic power, suggesting commercial alliances with the U.S. After the meeting on Sept. 9, this tactical alliance has become a strategic alliance as far as Mexico is concerned. Pillar III signals that both countries “will support regulatory compatibility and risk mitigation on issues related to information and communication technologies, networks, cybersecurity, telecom and infrastructure, among others.” These 26 words may not sound like much, but their context shows the depth of what was agreed upon.
The second bullet point in this pillar proposes, “Enhance cross-border data flows and interoperability between the United States and Mexico.” This proposal relates to China within the U.S. struggle for world supremacy, where it has engaged in a technological war.
In April 2020, then Attorney General William Barr warned that the dominance of telecommunications groups with 5G technology — the fifth generation of mobile phones — is one of the greatest threats to the security and economy of the U.S. due to the risk that China, a power in the field, could monitor and track its enemies. “Our economic future is at stake,” said Barr. “The risk of losing the 5G struggle with China should vastly outweigh other considerations.”
Forty percent of the infrastructure in the 5G market, Barr noted, is controlled by the Chinese telecommunications giants Huawei and ZTE, platforms where millions and millions of dollars will circulate in the global digital economy. It will alter the balance of power so that, this time, it leans toward Beijing. The U.S. and some of its allies have been trying to contain Huawei through sanctions, such as the one that Washington imposed this year, which created losses of $50 billion through losing part of its market.
The Chinese technological giants are one of Washington’s nightmares; since 2015, Washington’s message to Mexico is that they have no problem with Chinese investments in Mexico except in this area.
Barr also mentioned other technological areas that represent risks and threats, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing, which is capable of deciphering data codes and getting into any system that it wants to. Pillar III references this concern in its first bullet point, which states, “Develop opportunities to strengthen cybersecurity protections in global supply chains,” which Ebrard referred to vaguely in his press conference.
This is a major issue. In the first half of this year, Russian hackers attacked Colonial Pipeline, a U.S. corporation, and halted the largest oil pipeline in the United States by stealing a password. This caused energy shortages throughout the Atlantic coast. They also attacked JBS Foods, a giant meat processing firm, interrupting operations in the U.S., Canada and Australia. Last December, SolarWinds was hacked, affecting software supply chains throughout the world and exposed the vulnerability of U.S .cyber defense systems.
The dialogue, according to the White House document, “will strengthen our partnership to better ensure that the United States and Mexico meet the challenges of our time and ensure that our peoples can thrive.” The general lines will have to be developed through compatible and cross-border policies in each of the countries in a strategic redefinition of the bilateral relationship. And that implies that, in this era where there is a new cold war — although digital — Mexico took sides.
Did Ebrard’s commitment count on the authorization of the president who thought differently? Who knows? However, it is a profound change that implies a political and strategic realignment with the U.S. — typical in times of war, not peace.