China-Latin America 2.0

China and Latin America 2.0: What the Next Phase Will Look Like

Many Latin Americans are delighted by China’s growing presence — and largesse. But there is a clear need for change.

This article is adapted from AQ’s latest issue on China and Latin America | Leer en español | Ler em português

The three global capitals furthest from Beijing are Santiago (11,836 miles), Montevideo (11,895) and Buenos Aires (11,964). When you consider those distances, and the relative lack of historical and cultural ties, China’s expansion in Latin America over the past two decades looks even more extraordinary.

This issue of AQ is a sweeping, nuanced portrayal of the Sino-Latin American relationship as it stands today — deep, sophisticated and increasingly under some strain. China is now Latin America’s second-biggest trading partner behind only the United States. For many countries, it has been #1 for years. Beijing buys not only Colombian oil and Brazilian iron ore, but invests in dams, railroads and electrical grids. Chinese cell phones and SUVs have become popular. Thousands of Latin Americans now study in the Middle Kingdom; many like it enough to stay, excelling in areas like technology and the arts — and building a foundation for even closer ties in years to come.

Many governments are similarly delighted. But there are also signs of a backlash. Leaders in Brazil, Ecuador and El Salvador are calling for change, worried about everything from predatory loans to China’s acquisitions of land and strategic minerals like lithium. There is growing talk in Latin American diplomatic circles of forming a common front to press China for better terms on trade and investment. Beijing’s continued support for the Venezuelan dictatorship has also alienated many.

Perhaps some of this was inevitable; rising powers always undergo a learning process. But it would be wise for all parties to pursue an updated, 2.0 version of the China-Latin America relationship. For Beijing, that means realizing it cannot do business the way it has in parts of Africa and Asia — intellectual property, environmental and labor laws, along with democracy itself, must be respected. For Latin America, it means not taking China for granted, and working to improve the business climate; Chinese trade and investment have quietly gone stagnant in recent years as Beijing focuses on more dynamic markets elsewhere.

The Trump administration has been encouraged by these recent strains, hoping to gain new allies in its global competition with China. But as this issue shows, economic and political ties are already so deep that most governments — even those like Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil — will be loath to hit Beijing too hard. A reset, rather than a rupture, looks like the most likely path forward. It seems China is in Latin America to stay.

Bolsonaro Took Aim at China. Then Reality Struck.

Jair Bolsonaro talked tough on China during his campaign. But his tone has changed now that he’s in office. Deep business ties help explain why.

How Latin America’s Leaders Are – and Aren’t – Working with China

How to deal with China is a key policy question for all Latin American governments. Some presidents have sought to reset bilateral ties, while others are continuing established pro-China policies. AQ looks at how nine governments are managing the relationship

The Reasons for China's Cooling Interest in Latin America

China’s interest in the region has cooled — and that trend will continue, writes a leading expert on Sino-Latin America ties.

A Path for China to Better Understand Latin America

Studying Latin America's culture and history would help officials grasp its politics and economics, writes a Chinese scholar.

China Can Help Save Venezuela. Here's How.

A new government in Caracas will need a strong partnership with Beijing.

Why Washington Is Right to Be Concerned About China in Latin America

As China strengthens ties with Latin America, the U.S. government needs to change how it trades with, and talks about, the region.

How China Is Closing the Soft Power Gap in Latin America

China’s influence in Latin America falls short when it comes to cultural ties. Confucius Institutes across the region are trying to bridge the gap.

Meet the Latin Americans Making It Big in China

China can be a tough place for outsiders. But these five Latin Americans have found success in a wide range of fields, from the arts to information technology and beyond.

As Latin America Goes Right, Can China Keep Its Footing?

After years of negotiating with leftist leaders, China is learning to work with the “New Right.”

The Chinese Brands Latin Americans Love

Chinese companies are gaining a foothold in the consumer goods and services industry in Latin America, especially in the past five years.

How Much Does a Taco Cost in Renminbi?

Don't expect to hear that question on the streets of Latin America anytime soon.

What a Controversial Deal in El Salvador Says About China's Bigger Plans

A mysteriously timed land and tax deal becomes a source of tension for China — and a sign of its growing interest in Central America

China and the Environment: A Struggle for Change in Latin America

Chinese companies gained a reputation in Latin America when it comes to the environment. Cleaning it up will take more than solar panels.

Is Latin America Prepared for China's Booming Tech Investments?

As China fuels innovation in the region, countries must prepare to mitigate the risks.

The Risks and Rewards of China's Role in Latin America

The next chapter in this relationship would profit from looking at the recent past.

What I Learned as a Mexican in China

Misconceptions about China hinder what could be a rich exchange with Latin America.

The Challenge of Doing Business as an Argentine in China

Starting a business is already hard. Starting one in China is another story.

Long View: The 16th-Century Trade Route That Brought China to Mexico

The Middle Kingdom is hardly new to Latin America. One trade route dates back to the 16th century, and had major historical implications.

China-Latin America 2.0: The Economic Footprint

A visual guide to China's financial interests in Latin America.
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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: China-Latin America 2.0, China, Leader

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