Xi Aims to Tread Softly in Latin America

After his first foreign tour as president in March, a strategically important journey that began in Russia and took him to three African nations, will begin his second series of overseas visits today in . During this trip, Xi will also stop in Costa Rica and Mexico, before heading to the U.S. for his first meeting with Barack Obama as the U.S. president’s political counterpart. Xi’s visits in and the Caribbean come as China is increasingly pursing ties to the region and setting sights on its resources, and his stop in Trinidad and Tobago follows U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s trade and energy talks in the island nation earlier this week (and President Obama’s trip to Latin America in early May). While this may suggest competition between the U.S. and China in the region, the South China Morning Post reports on Beijing’s cautious approach, and outlines the relationship between China and Latin American countries:

The trip follows a visit to Brazil by US Vice-President , which raised concerns that China and the US are competing for influence in the region.

But mainland experts said Beijing was well aware that Washington perceived Latin America as its “backyard” and would proceed cautiously.

Dong Jingsheng , an expert on Latin American affairs expert at Peking University, said: “China will not let Sino-US ties be affected by Latin America.”

Xi is expected to focus on economic issues and boosting China’s image in the region.

It is estimated that China committed more than US$86 billion in loans to Latin American countries between 2005 and last year, exceeding amounts from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. [Source]

As commentators note a “pink tide” in Latin America—with 14 Latin American states now represented by left-wing presidents— the Global Times emphasizes that Xi’s trip to the region has nothing to do with political ideology:

“As more left-wing parties have come to power in the region, Latin American countries are tending to distance themselves from the US. They now pursue diversity in foreign relations and exhibit their independence,” [He Shuangrong, CASS researcher] said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent reference to Latin America as Washington’s “backyard” evoked strong emotions in the region, with Bolivia expelling a US development agency in protest.

“China’s expanding ties with Latin America are purely about the economy and trade, not political reasons,” said Xu. [Source]

Kerry’s “backyard” comment, mentioned in both articles above, did indeed stir emotions in Latin America. An opinion piece from the Global Times notes the Cold War connotations of the term and its inadequacy to describe the modern world, and the benefits that healthy competition between China and the U.S. could have in both country’s “backyards”:

Recently two “backyards” have been constantly mentioned by the media. One is China’s backyard, and the other is that of the US, Latin America. While the US gets into China’s backyard, China does the same to the US.

[…]The concept of backyard comes with strong Cold War connotations. The world can hardly be divided by regions of big powers’ influence any more. The group competition of the Cold War era has lost its foundation. An integrated world is inevitable.

[…]Latin American and Southeast Asian countries have been undergoing rapid development. They need investment as well as expanding exports and promoting basic infrastructures. As China becomes more powerful, it can do more to seek a win-win situation. Meanwhile, the increasing investment of the US will be bound to be welcomed. Both regions are expecting more investment and more open markets from the US.

In the past two years, Americans have often stressed rebalancing. The best rebalancing could be that the competition between China and the US will result in their increasing investment in Latin America and Myanmar, which will boost trade relations.

[Source]