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Latin America in the middle of US-China tensions



THE US-CHINA RELATIONS


The whole world has been paying attention to how China and the United States are going to work together now with the Biden Administration. What we do know now is that there is a bipartisan consensus between the Democrats and the Republicans about the principle that China is a “strategic rival” for the United States and that also includes their concern on the role that China has been playing the last couple of years in Latin America.


In one of President Biden’s latest speeches, he stated that he would make sure to put values back in the center of US’ Foreign Policy, including the way his team is going to handle the US-China relations. With these declarations, it was clear for the world that the negotiation style of the US with China was going to change at all levels.


On March 18, a High-Level diplomatic meeting was held in Alaska between the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken and the Chinese Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, Yang Jiechi along with the Foreign Minister of China, Wang Yi. As analyzed by the international media, this meeting has been qualified as “unusually undiplomatic”, especially because this was the first meeting between US and China under a new American administration.


The US and China disagree in a lot of bilateral topics. One of the main topics is Trade. The US accuses China of unfair practices, such as stealing intellectual property, keeping its currency low and putting up barriers to trade. For its part, China wants the big trade tariffs imposed by the Trump Administration on Chinese goods to be eliminated. It also accuses the US of “suppressing” Chinese tech companies, such as Huawei.


Other topics where China and the US do not agree are human rights and democracy. The US accuses China for genocide and human rights abuse and also for affecting de democratic rights in Hong Kong with a recently introduced security law.


What the world is perceiving is that U.S. – China trade relations are likely to remain tense after the latest diplomatic talks. At stake is one of the most valuable trading relationship in the world.


What the world is perceiving is that U.S. – China trade relations are likely to remain tense after the latest diplomatic talks. At stake is one of the most valuable trading relationship in the world. China is currently the United State’s third-largest goods trading partner – a partnership that generates more than 900,000 U.S. jobs. China is also the third largest export market for American farmers and annual trade in agricultural commodities. China is the US’ largest supplier of goods imports.


HOW DO THESE TENSIONS AFFECT LATIN AMERICA?


In 2019, Chinese companies invested $12.8 billion dollars in Latin America, concentrating on regional infrastructure, such as ports, roads, dams and railways. During COVID-19, Latin America is also reliant on China, whose middle class drives demands for beef, copper, oil and soy from Panama, Chile, Uruguay, Colombia and Brazil. These are commodities that are helping the region to maintain the economic instability less serious – and naturally, China will always be the primary customer.


COVID-19 also presented another opportunity. China has provided approximately over 200 billion masks, 2 billion protective suites and 550 million testing kits to 150 countries and seven international organizations around the globe. The pandemic opened a new diplomatic opportunity that China did not have before. Latin American countries such as Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia have received millions of Chinese vaccines that contribute in the fight against this virus. These vaccines represent hope in Latin America and China has been providing that to the region with its cooperation.


For most Latin American countries, the best way to react to growing geopolitical tensions between the US and China is to stay neutral. Given Latin America’s proximity to the United States but also growing economic interests with China, leaders across the ideological spectrum in Latin America have mainly decided to stay pragmatic and maintain a productive relationship with both countries. But it is unclear how sustainable that strategy will be in the long term. After being subject to diplomatic pressure from both the United States and China (both with completely different styles of handling foreign affairs), Latin American countries will have to finally “pick sides” on specific topics.


In technology for instance, it is possible that the region’s nations will opt to join different spheres, which could make their technologies largely incompatible.


Latin America has already paid a heavy price for its inability to jointly tackle challenges as raging transnational crime, refugee crises, and incoherent responses to political crises. Yet the geopolitical toll for diverging decisions in strategic topics around China or the US could create irreversible obstacles to greater regional cooperation in the future.


The conclusion to this document is that China and the US not working together and attacking one another will not only affect both of them but also the rest of the world. The world needs that these two wold powers unite and collaborate for the future of humanity.

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