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Great Power Politics In Latin America

INTRODUCTION


China has become one of the core players in Latin America. Over the years, China's economic and political significance has grown significantly. Such a situation challenged the U.S. influence that continued undeterred with the dismemberment of the Soviet Union to the beginning of the twenty-first century.


It is an illustration on the power politics in Latin America displaying Xi Jinping and Joe Biden.

Illustration by Team Geostrata


The article has argued that the increased integration of Latin America and China in trade, infrastructural development, aid, and political leverage, coupled with a lack of attention by U.S. policymakers, will replace its positional advantage in the region. 


LOSS OF THE U.S. POSITIONAL ADVANTAGE IN SOUTH AMERICA


Such reflections are evident with the observations made by Admiral Craig S. Faller, the former head of the U.S. Southern Command (2021), who argued that the United States is losing its 'positional advantage' in the region.


It has become one of the top trading partners in many countries located in South America. In recent years, it has invested in infrastructural development programs in twenty-one out of thirty-four countries.


The infrastructural programs range from nuclear power to space stations.

Therefore, China's involvement in the region comes at a period when it is viewed with increased suspicion as it aims to challenge the U.S influence for the first time since the codification of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which was against the non-stop colonisation by the extra-territorial European powers in the region.


Therefore, China's involvement in the region by providing billions of dollars through its banks indicates its attempts to fill the vacuum in Latin America without the U.S. regional leadership. 

CHINA'S GROWING ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL SIGNIFICANCE


China's involvement in the region will further support authoritarian regimes and weaken the support for a democratic model of governance in Latin America.


The growth in China's economy will also lead to increased economic interdependence in the region. The U.S. in the region followed the strategies of 'strategic denial' during the Cold War when it aimed to repress communist and socialist movements.


In the period before the Cold War, it sought to prevent European expansionism in the region by its interventions in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Therefore, the U.S. influence in Latin America soon became viewed as an 'international police power'

China's presence in the region remains limited, but its influence has grown exponentially. Concerning trade, the volume of China's bilateral trade with Latin America has grown over the years.


The trade has grown from U.S. $ 12.6 billion in 2001 to U.S. $ 100 billion in 2010. China's engagement in the region does not range only in terms of the exchange of goods and services but also in terms of infrastructural development aiming to boost the economic capabilities of the Latin American countries. 


Such involvements range from investments in copper, silver and oil reserves. In Chile, China's Minmetals Corporation aims to secure deliveries of 55,000 tons of copper in fifteen years. China has outstripped the United States to become the largest oil consumer since 2002 from the region by moving to third place in five years (2000-2005).


In recent years, China has invested in industries focusing on 5G technology, provision of electricity, cloud computing and artificial intelligence to reorient the region's supply chains to China. 


In recent years, China has also developed itself in the region politically along the lines of the U.S., which involved notorious cases of coups in Guatemala to the support of military dictators like Pinochet in Chile. 

China's growing importance is no longer limited only to economic interdependence but also political and economic coercion to champion its economic security-related interests.

China threatened to halt the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in Brazil as the administration of former President Bolsonaro attempted to shut Chinese companies like Huawei out of the 5G auction. Countries like Argentina and Ecuador faced pressures from their ballooning debts that tethered the growth of their industries and set back their economic developments.


Such moves are similar to the U.S. moves in Guatemala when it intervened to protect the interests of the U.S.-based United Fruit Company (UFCO) in the name of containing communism in Latin America.


The political involvement in the case of China does not result only in terms of economic and political coercion but also through the growing privatisation in many Latin American countries.

Over the years, China has invested large sums of money in the legal and public relations sector of Latin America using its 'Going Out' strategy. Such involvements challenge the influence of Western development organisations led by the United States to respond to the social and environmental costs of China's involvement.


Therefore, such involvement signifies China's growing regional political influence and mitigates any attempts to target Chinese firms.


LACK OF ATTENTION BY THE US POLICYMAKERS


The foreign policy of the United States attempted to respond to the Cold War and compete with the Soviet Union, which involved the spread of communism, but the competition with China posed a different set of challenges.


In the case of China, it has conducted 150 infrastructural development projects and aid. Therefore, competing with such power will strain the resources of the U.S., which escapes being a priority of the policymakers and resource allocation.


In 2019, the United States allocated only U.S. $ 3 billion of its aid budget as China's aid grew from U.S. $ 1.7 billion to U.S. $ 124.8 billion, making the region indebted to Beijing.

The absence of extra-territorial powers in the region since the beginning of the twenty-first century made the United States neglect its foreign policy efforts, making China engage in the economic and political realms of Latin America.


CONCLUSION


In conclusion, China's involvement in the region through trade and infrastructural development projects, coupled with increased political development, has challenged the salience of the U.S. power in its backyard.


As per the observations made in the article, China is attempting to respond and fill the vacuum left by the United States as it neglects Latin America in terms of attention from policymakers. Such a gap in terms of policy has enabled China to increase its leverage not only economically but also politically. 

 

BY ANIRBAN DUTTA

TEAM GEOSTRATA

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