This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) and it is acting as an important driving force for China’s relations with Latin America. What has the initiative achieved in Latin America? How should China deal with the hurdles when implementing BRI in the region? Global Times collected the opinion of four experts at a forum on the subject organized by The Charhar Institute.
Lü Fengding, chair of the International Advisory Board of The Charhar Institute
Latin America is rich in resources and has potential for cooperation. More importantly, most Latin American countries are enthusiastic about strengthening relations with China. Although Latin America is very far from us, it has shown commendable zeal in the BRI. For example, more than 20 Latin American countries sent representatives to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing in May 2017. In recent years, China has made great progress in cooperating with Latin America, which shows broad prospects. This relationship is an important part of China’s diplomacy.
The bilateral cooperation in BRI is promising. In the past decades, China has outrun Latin America in terms of development speed and other achievements. Latin American countries realize that a rising China can contribute to their development and that they can learn from its development experience, which indicates huge potential for cooperation, for instance infrastructure. During my last visit to Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, they hoped that China can help their development with funds, technology and experience in infrastructure development.
However, there are still problems with relations. In my view, some Latin American countries still consider China to be in the 1970s or 1980s. We need to strengthen exchanges with these countries and improve mutual understanding. Besides, given the long distance between China and Latin America, we have to manage the cost of cooperation well to make it benefit both sides. Latin America places high hopes on cooperating with China, but we need to do it at our own pace and without haste, and get to have good knowledge of their laws, regulations and cultures to facilitate our cooperation.
Another big problem is that among countries that have “diplomatic ties” with Taiwan, most are Latin American. Hence this region is an important battlefield for fighting “Taiwan independence” and deserves our efforts.
Liu Yuqin, member of Foreign Affairs Committee of The Charhar Institute
It is the natural extension of the BRI to reach Latin America. Since the 21st century, relations between China and Latin America have developed quickly, especially in trade and economy. In 2017, the total volume of Chinese-Latin American trade was more than 20 times that of 2000. Bilateral cooperation is thus beneficial for both sides.
China is transforming its economy and implementing a new round of opening-up, while Latin America is undergoing re-industrialization. Both sides face unprecedented opportunities and meanwhile many problems. The development of our relations is led by trade: importing raw materials from Latin American countries and exporting light industrial products to them. This is not a long-term solution, and the two sides need to upgrade their trade and cooperation. At the time China proposed the BRI, and welcomes all friends cherishing the same ideals to join it, which makes Latin America BRI’s natural extension.
Latin America shows its enthusiasm when China expands the scope of cooperation. While hegemony is rampant in the world, the BRI wins support of developing countries and emerging markets because of its goal of building a community of shared future for mankind. In January, the meeting of China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Forum approved a special declaration on the BRI, which shows that Latin American countries have reached a consensus on the initiative.
The BRI and China-CELAC Forum are two complementary platforms in promoting China-Latin America cooperation. Despite problems like Latin America’s internal disorder and weakening economy, China-CELAC Forum is operating normally. The BRI is not meant to reinvent the wheel, but seeks win-win cooperation for the parties concerned, which is in accordance with China-CELAC Forum’s principle. China and Latin America should make the best use of the two platforms to form better synergy among strategies, and turn each other’s complementary advantages into specific achievements. Besides, it not only benefits Latin America, but also accords with China’s national interests to help the region with modernization.
Wang Hua, member of Foreign Affairs Committee of The Charhar Institute
China’s rise is a great opportunity for Latin America which is looking for another partner beyond the US, and it hopes to hop onboard China’s development train. Besides, China needs a bigger stage, which would be better if Latin America joins in. The BRI will thus become a golden opportunity.
Latin America has no historical or territorial disputes with China, and more countries in the region appreciate China’s achievements in the last 40 years and identify with our development model, hoping to learn from China’s experience.
There are still problems. For example, the two sides lack understanding. We always regard Latin America as a whole, but the countries and dependencies differ in history, culture, religion, language and customs. Such differences may eventually hinder the development of the BRI in Latin America.
Meanwhile, Latin American countries lack the drive for economic growth and make frequent changes in policies because of political reasons. Local governments in China also need to play a bigger role.
The biggest challenge is from the US. Washington regards China as its major rival. Now that Beijing has stepped into Latin America through the BRI, what will the US do? It requires Latin American countries to ensure their own safety and considers China an imperialist power as well as a plunderer. That explains why some countries in Latin America and the Caribbean haven’t established diplomatic ties with China. When the BRI provides greater economic connection between China and Latin America, the US will feel threatened. That’s what we should be vigilant about.
Zhou Zhiwei, a research fellow with The Charhar Institute
The US is the most important international actor in Latin America, and it can’t be ignored while discussing cooperation between China and Latin America. Trilateral relations between China, Latin America and the US thus are the most important issue of the BRI in the region. In my opinion, China and the US are in competition in Latin America, which is an extension of the two countries’ game in the whole world.
China has made great progress in Latin America in trade and investment, while the US has absolute advantages in the regard. Frankly, China has been no match for the US in the region. However, while Latin America welcomes cooperation at the moment, the US is promoting “America First” and trade protectionism, which makes the BRI a great opportunity for the region.
Development instead of security is Latin America’s greatest concern. Thus, as China keeps its momentum in trade with Latin America, the US may worry that its position will be weakened. President Donald Trump’s tough stance has forced Latin America to seek external markets and investments. The biggest problem is that it lacks a production chain because of poor connectivity. If the BRI promotes connectivity in Latin America, the integration of the region will be fostered, and the structural contradiction between Latin America and the US might be exposed.
(Editor’s Note in Global Times)