Op-Ed Contributors

Tapping the potential

By Sun Hongbo (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-04-16 08:19
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Common strategic interest will bring China close to Latin America as both seek development in a new global order

Relations between China and Latin America have seen a remarkable "leap forward" since the beginning of the century, helping to bolster multilateral international politics. President Hu Jintao's visit to Brazil indicates that the Chinese government is keen to promote the relations, which it considers strategically important.

Along with its booming economy and rising influence on the international stage, China's economic interests are expanding. Consequently, its strategic interests are spreading from adjacent areas to others further away. Latin America, as a crucial emerging market, also has increasing interests in China. Despite trade friction between them, China and Latin America, amid a dramatic realignment of international powers in the post-financial-crisis era, can assist each other strategically. Based on a common aim of economic development, the potential of complementary trade and business relations can be further exploited.

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From a traditional geopolitical standpoint, China and Latin America can be remote from each other and might not seem as natural partners. Hence, the strategic importance has long been ignored.

But in recent years, economic ties have become closer and the spillover effects of China's economic development have extended to Latin America. Therefore, their interests have become deeply tied together. From the perspective of international politics, Latin America is an emerging power that may propel the world toward multipolarization.

Latin America has also become a pillar of growth centering on Brazil. It possesses the potential to change the international structure in the Western hemisphere. In addition, Venezuela, Argentina and Chile are powers that are able to influence regional and international affairs. China has established strategic partnerships or comprehensive cooperative partnerships with the regional powers, enhanced the capability to manage bilateral relations, and fostered the institutionalization of relations. China is also developing more balanced and mature bilateral relations with Latin American countries.

When devastating earthquakes hit Haiti and Chile, China was impartial in offering humanitarian aid, even though Haiti had no diplomatic relations with China while Chile was the first country in South America to establish diplomatic ties with China.

China has to look at its interests in Latin America at a strategic level. The changes in the international structure, fueled by the global financial crisis, have brought about new strategic interests for China in Latin America. These interests are not merely the demands of a fast-growing country for natural resources, but the growing influence of the Chinese economy on this region. Conditions are now mature for China to develop "strategic spots" in the region.

There are many advantages to these.

First, Latin American countries, especially regional powers with rising national capability, are keen to diversify their foreign relations. Second, the rapid development of China has made it more inviting for Latin America. Third, with the growing unpopularity of US hegemony in the Western hemisphere, Latin America is readjusting its relations with the northern titan. Fourth, the emerging powers in the region, represented by Brazil, are active on the international stage and balance the soft power of the traditional hegemony. In short, China's strategic interests in Latin America are stimulated by the changing international order.

We have to admit that China's aid to Latin America and imports from the region are asymmetric. To solidify and expand China's diplomatic ties in the region, the country's input of diplomatic resources and gains from economic interests are imbalanced. For example, Caribbean countries that have diplomatic relations with China are key targets of aid. Chinese aid to Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela and Chile, from which China has imported increasing amounts of natural resources, however, are insufficient.

For sectors in which China and Latin America are complementary, the benefits of trade and investment are apparent and could spin off to other parts of society. But in the sectors where China and Latin America are competing with each other, Chinese exports have brought pressure on several countries in the region. Aid can be adopted as a means to compensate the countries.

Still, cultural relations have lagged behind the development of trade and business ties. Due to geographical distance and cultural differences, the peoples of China and Latin America do not understand each other deeply. The view of China in Latin America is a dilemma: On the one hand, Latin Americans think investment and trade with China may benefit their development. On the other hand, there are doubts and even fears for China's growth. It is therefore urgent to promote communication between the peoples.

The author is a researcher with the Institute of Latin

American Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(China Daily 04/16/2010 page8)