Americas Quarterly: Why is China today so interested economically in Latin America?
Li Jinzhang: After 30 years of reform and economic opening, China has scored remarkable achievements in economic and social development, and its connections with the rest of the world have become closer. China needs the world to achieve development, and the world needs China as a contributor to development and stability.
Latin America is an important part of the developing world. In recent years, China and Latin America have drawn on their respective strengths and economic complementarity. The result has been rapid growth in economic cooperation and trade, and a vigorous boost to their respective economies. These synergies have brought real benefits to our peoples and contributed to global development and stability. Moreover, the potential for future growth in cooperation and trade is huge. We hope to achieve mutually-beneficial cooperation and common development through closer economic cooperation and trade with the region.
AQ: In addition to the countries with which you already have free- trade agreements (FTAs) in Latin America are there others that you see as a priority for China?
Li Jinzhang: So far, China has signed FTAs with three Latin American countries—Chile, Peru and Costa Rica. These agreements have helped expand and balance bilateral trade and improve our trade structure with these countries.
We are willing to consider negotiating and signing FTAs with other Latin American countries and regional trade organizations when conditions are ripe, based on mutual benefit and win-win cooperation.
AQ: What does China see as its long-term economic and political interests in the region?
Li Jinzhang: China and Latin America both belong to the developing world and share broad interests. “China’s Policy Paper on Latin America and the Caribbean,” released by the Chinese government in 2008, states that the Chinese government views its relations with Latin America strategically. From this perspective, we seek to build and develop a comprehensive and cooperative partnership based on equality, mutual benefit and development.
China is also focused on specific policy goals in Latin America. These are:
Promote mutual respect and trust, and expand common ground. China adheres to the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence and works for equality and mutual respect in its relationships with Latin American countries. In this vein, we will continue to strengthen dialogue and communication with the region to ensure that we understand our mutual interest and support each other’s core interests.
Deepen cooperation and achieve win-win results. China wants to become Latin America’s partner in economic cooperation and trade—all with the goal of mutually beneficial development that improves our respective economic strengths and trading potential.
Boost common progress and intensify exchanges. We seek more cultural and people-to-people exchanges with Latin America as a way to enhance our mutual learning. Such exchanges promote the kind of shared experience that allows both sides to contribute to global development and human progress.
AQ: Some observers and analysts have raised the concern that, while China has helped boost economic growth in the region through the consumption of raw materials, China’s manufactured products compete directly with Latin America, thus threatening the region’s ability to move up the value chain. Do you agree?
Li Jinzhang: This view is neither objective nor comprehensive. I do not agree with it. It is true that economic globalization has brought new opportunities and challenges to the international division of labor and the restructuring of national industries. But Chinese–Latin American economic cooperation and trade is not as mechanical and simple as the way you describe it.
If that were so, no one could explain why Chinese–Latin American trade has been growing at an annual rate of over 30 percent for nearly a decade, and why both sides have positive attitudes toward closer economic cooperation and trade. In fact, trade between China and Latin America is basically balanced, and the structure is improving gradually. China and Latin America complement each other more than they compete with each other in product structure, market and attracting foreign investment.
As economic cooperation and trade grow rapidly, it is only natural that there is competition in particular areas. The important thing is that, on the whole, there is continuous and steady progress. Chinese–Latin American cooperation continues to expand in scale and increase in level. The two sides have achieved a basic consensus: they are both committed to using their strengths and tapping their potential so as to become business partners of mutual benefit and promote their common development.
AQ: Given the number of bilateral and regional FTAs that the U.S. (Chile, CAFTA-DR, NAFTA, Peru) and China have with the region, is there a way to improve the coordination of these agreements to create better economies of scale?
Li Jinzhang: China and the U.S. are both ready to contribute to the development and stability of Latin America according to their ability. The development of the Latin American economy has provided space for both countries to cooperate in Latin America. We have an open attitude toward trilateral cooperation among China, the U.S. and Latin America.
At the same time, we believe that relevant cooperation must fully respect the will of Latin American countries, follow the openness and transparency principle, and fully accommodate the concerns and needs of Latin American countries regarding their economic and social development.
AQ: It often appears in China’s relations in the hemisphere that it is closer to, say, Venezuela or Cuba. Does China consider itself to have a better relationship—political and economic—with some countries over others?
Li Jinzhang: China does not draw ideological lines when developing relations with other countries. We believe that various social systems and development patterns should coexist harmoniously.
We are committed to developing friendly relations and cooperation with Latin American countries on the basis of sincerity, friendship, equality, mutual respect, and common development.