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Argentina's foreign policy erratic, misleading

By Patricio Giusto | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-19 06:35
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This file photo shows Argentina's President Javier Milei waving to supporters from the Casa Rosada balcony, as his sister Karina Milei looks on, after his swearing-in ceremony, in Buenos Aires, Argentina Dec 10, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

There are pillars of Argentine President Javier Milei's foreign policy that were anticipated as he talked about them during the presidential campaign, such as his strong desire to realign with the United States and deepen relations with the European Union. During the campaign, his emphasis was also on boosting certain bilateral relations, such as Argentina-Israel ties, for personal reasons.

His new approach to foreign policy could have been defensible and even justifiable within Argentina as a consistent foreign policy strategy. Yet Milei's first foreign policy signals seem based eminently on ideological positions, prejudice and misperceptions, as is the case with his China policy.

Broadly speaking, Milei and his close aides appear to have a misleading view of the current state of international relations. To put it in another way, in a century which many say is of China and Asia, Argentina seems to be retreating toward an Atlantic-centric approach with the US at its epicenter, which is characteristic of the 20th century.

There's no doubt Brazil and China will continue to be Argentina's main economic partners. But despite softening his tone toward Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva after being elected, Milei may find it very difficult to appropriately manage Argentina-Brazil relations. From now on, we can expect minimum political interactions between the two biggest countries in South America. This in turn will have a negative impact on the functioning of MERCOSUR — Spanish initials for the Southern Common Market, which is a regional integration process initially launched by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay and later joined by Venezuela and Bolivia, with the latter still complying with the accession procedure, and Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana Peru and Suriname being associated members.

Argentina's relationship with China will likely be even more complicated under Milei, not least because the new Argentine administration seems to misunderstand what China represents today for the world, and how important it is for Argentina's interests.

For instance, what does Buenos Aires gain by provoking Beijing on the most sensitive issue for China: the Taiwan question? Some of Milei's political aides have also made some pathetic remarks in favor of the Taiwan island.

China is the second-biggest trade partner of Argentina, as well as the main source of investment in big infrastructure projects. It has also provided invaluable financial support for Argentina via currency swaps, not to mention the deepening cooperation both countries have fruitfully forged in fields such as science, technology, education, sports and tourism.

Argentina and China have been comprehensive strategic partners since 2014, with the former joining the Belt and Road Initiative in 2022. This mutually beneficial relationship should not be endangered by an ideology-driven foreign policy.

Another issue affecting Argentina's relationship with China is Milei's refusal to join BRICS. Instead of taking advantage of joining BRICS after the decisive support of Argentina's two main trade partners, Brazil and China, Milei chose to stay away from the grouping, arguing that it is a "geopolitical club" in which Russia and Iran also participate.

But what about Brazil, India and South Africa, as well the five new members: Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates? The misleading assessment is a denial of the fact that BRICS is a grouping in expansion which offers huge diplomatic and financial opportunities to Argentina. Rejecting BRICS also meant the absurdity of turning those countries away.

Diana Mondino's first trip abroad as Argentine foreign minister was to Paris, where she joined French officials in conversations on another "geopolitical club", the G7, which could be a "good "club from Milei's naïve libertarian perspective. But unlike BRICS, Argentina has no chance of being included in the G7.

On the other hand, Mondino said Argentina wants to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which is an organization of a different nature and with different objectives than BRICS. Another poor decision driven by ideology.

Milei, who has already demonstrated a capacity for learning and made timely pragmatic turns in other political realms, still has time to prevent an erratic and misleading foreign policy from being the Achilles' heel of his presidency.

The author is the executive director of the Observatory of China-Argentina Relations, visiting professor of China Foreign Policy at Zhejiang University, and an associate professor at UCA(Argentina).The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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