China spells out strategy for Latin American trade and ties

April 9, 2010 at 10:33 AM
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RIO DE JANEIRO, April 9 (UPI) -- China has set out clear targets to achieve economic, trade and political objectives from the visit of President Hu Jintao to Brazil, Venezuela and Chile, beginning next week.

Chinese officials indicated Beijing was seeking a comprehensive development of China-Latin America relations, one that would encompass all aspects of bilateral exchanges.

China has already scored successes in securing oil contracts, providing military equipment and investing in joint projects, but officials admit Beijing's aim is to widen the achievements and make China's presence felt on the Latin American continent.

The Chinese initiatives to gain an economic foothold in Latin America, following an arms sales pitch by Russian and Iranian attempts to befriend left-leaning Latin American states, have combined to raise concerns in Washington.

While analysts admit that some of the successes of the three countries have much to do with the perceived "neglect" of Latin America during previous U.S. administrations, there is a growing worry that recent series of events have come too fast and in quick succession.

Russia has made no secret of its global marketing of its burgeoning military industries that Russian officials admit need new customers to stay afloat.

The Iranians have used cash and oil to befriend countries that over the years have moved away from Washington or are openly hostile to U.S.-led initiatives. The formation of a South American group of nations with the exclusion of both Canada and the U.S. was a deliberate signal sent northward, with few attempts made by 'moderate' or 'centrist' Latin American leaders to temper the move.

In the case of China, the trade figures are the strongest indicator of gains made by Beijing within a short span of its economic ascendancy. In 2009 China became Brazil's largest trading partner, uprooting the U.S. from a position it had occupied since the 1930s.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Jinzhang told a news briefing in Beijing that Hu will combine his state visit to Brazil with attendance at the second summit of the BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- in Brasilia April 14-17.

At the last BRIC summit in Russia in 2009, leaders of the four countries called for a multipolar world order -- a coded message to the West to get used to its pre-eminence challenged by newly emergent forces in China, Brazil and India.

"China and Latin American countries, all as developing countries, share extensive common interests. China has always attached great importance to its relations with these countries," Li said, in comments quoted by the Xinhua news agency.

China's relations in Latin America have maintained a good momentum of comprehensive and sustained growth with increased political mutual trust, expansion of cooperation and more frequent cultural exchanges, he said.

Li's reference to political trust was seen by analysts in the context of moves at BRIC to promote alternatives to the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency.

After Brazil, Hu will make a state visit to Venezuela April 17-18 and a working visit to Chile on April 18.

Venezuela is China's fifth largest trading partner in Latin America with a trade volume of $7.15 billion in 2009, Xinhua said. Chile is China's second largest partner in Latin America with a trade volume that reached a record high of $17.7 billion in 2009.

China expects to further friendly relations and deepen cooperation of mutual benefit with the three nations and promote a comprehensive development of its relations with Latin America through Hu's visit, Li said.

"I believe that China-Latin America relations would achieve further development with our joint efforts," he said.

Several factors are going in China's favor, analysts said. China has ready cash to engage in joint projects that will help cash-strapped Latin American countries. It has a vast range of goods from industrial and manufacturing inventories to consumer items that are set to become more visible in Latin America, replacing suppliers from elsewhere.

China also has a long-term plan for energy security that has seen its scouts appear in energy markets and hand-pick deals that will guarantee it future sources of energy and also give the country entry into other export markets for refined products, petrochemicals and crude oil.

Although viewed alongside Russia and Iran in the context of recent initiatives aimed at Latin America, China is well ahead of the other two with its ability to expand influence and make long-term investments into closer ties with each of the Latin American countries it has chosen for attention. In his previous visit in 2008, Hu visited and met with government leaders in Cuba, Costa Rica and Peru.

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