WASHINGTON - The United States, wary of potential "crossed wires" as
China steps up its involvement in Washington's traditional sphere of influence
in Latin America, plans to start a dialogue with Beijing on the issue.
Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, who oversees Latin American
affairs, said on Tuesday he would visit Beijing in early April, ahead of Chinese
President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington later in the month.
Shannon said the goal of his trip to China was to get a better idea of "how
they feel about the Caribbean and the Americas."
He told reporters traveling with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the
Bahamas for a meeting of Caribbean foreign ministers that he would also go to
Japan and South Korea.
"We're going to begin a series of conversations that will allow us to
understand what the other is up to in the region, to make sure we don't get our
wires crossed," said one official who is involved in organizing the talks with
China but was not authorized to speak for the record.
China's quest for oil to meet surging energy demands and commodities for
other areas of its economy are propelling expanding trade with Latin America.
Chinese interests have included bids for Venezuelan oil, Chilean copper and
soybeans from Brazil and Argentina.
The United States has long been closely involved in the region politically
and economically -- despite periodic resentment in Latin America countries at
the domineering presence to the north.
In an interview with Reuters, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said
that as its economic power grows, China wants a greater role in the world but is
"trying to proceed in a way that avoids antagonism."
While they have growing economic interests in Latin America, the Chinese
"don't want to be perceived in the U.S. as a threat in Latin America because
that would be counterproductive," he said.
China's courtship of Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, worries some
in Washington given that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is one of President
George W. Bush's fiercest critics and has ties with Cuba and Iran, both longtime
foes of Washington.
A White House report on security strategy released last week described Chavez
as a "demagogue" who uses Venezuela's oil wealth to destabilize democracy in the
While China imports small quantities of Venezuelan oil, a
congressionally-mandated group, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review
Commission, has warned "this development may eventually affect the U.S. oil
market, which now absorbs two-thirds of Venezuela's oil exports."
The White House report accused China of "expanding trade but acting as if
they can somehow 'lock up' energy supplies around the world or seek direct
markets rather than opening them up."
The U.S. official who spoke anonymously predicted that Venezuela would not be
the most important part of Shannon's talks and said the new dialogue aimed to
ensure that Washington and Beijing understood each other's interests in the