In 2018, Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) nations saw consolidated foreign relations and rising international influence. LAC's relations with US and China are especially noteworthy.
The US deepened involvement in Latin American affairs and pursued the new "Monroe Doctrine" in 2018.
US President Donald Trump has taken a tough stance against Latin American countries since taking office. Trump strained ties with LAC by proposing to build a wall along the Mexican border and asking Mexico to pay for it, threatening to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement, and restricting the entry of illegal migrants from Latin America.
Despite strong opposition, Trump adopted a zero tolerance policy for illegal Latin American immigrants. He even dispatched a large number of troops to the southern border to prevent the influx of migrants.
In 2018, US President, vice president, secretary of state, and defense minister have made trips to South America. The visits are aimed at seeking closer ties with pro-American LAC countries, targeting nations like Venezuela and Cuba and thwarting the development of China and Russia's ties with LAC. In February, then US secretary of state Rex Tillerson warned that China and Russia are "new imperial powers that seek only to benefit their own people," and took aim at Beijing by saying, "China…offers the appearance of an attractive path to development, but in reality this often involves trading short-term gains for long-term dependency." Then in October, US Vice President Mike Pence groundlessly attacked China by saying that "as you build commercial partnerships with other nations including China, we urge you to focus on, and demand, transparency and look after your - and our - long-term interests."
On September 7, 2018, after Panama, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador established diplomatic relations with China, the US recalled its top diplomats from the nations "over those countries' decisions to no longer recognize Taiwan."
Washington is obviously concerned over Beijing's influence in Central America.
In 2018, China-LAC relations were bolstered by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the idea of community of shared future for mankind, both proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
First, high-level exchanges between the two sides remained frequent. Xi was invited to Argentina and Panama from November 27 to December 5, 2018. In turn, heads of state or government of several LAC countries visited China.
Second, China established diplomatic relations with the Dominican Republic and El Salvador respectively in May and August of 2018, raising the number of Latin American countries having diplomatic ties with China to 24.
Third, BRI has landed in Latin America. The Special Declaration on the Belt and Road, signed at the second ministerial meeting of the Forum of China and Community of Latin American and Caribbean States in Santiago, Chile, in January 2018, saw China-LAC cooperation align with BRI. By the end of 2018, China has signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation within the Framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative with 16 LAC countries.
Fourth, China-Latin America economic and trade relations continue to boom. According to Xinhua, in the first nine months of 2018, the total bilateral trade reached $228.6 billion, a year-on-year increase of 20 percent. With a gradually optimized China-LAC trade structure, China has become the second largest trading partner of Latin America, the third biggest export market and the second largest source of imports.
Fifth, China-LAC cultural exchange has been strengthened. In the past three years, over 1,000 leaders of political parties from LAC countries have visited China, and more than 4,000-plus professionals have been to the country for training and education. The China-LAC Science and Technology Partnership and the China-LAC Scientist Exchange Program have been implemented. Projects like the China-LAC joint laboratories, demonstration farms and Press Center have come to fruition. Besides, China has opened 39 Confucius Institutes and 18 Confucius classrooms in 20 LAC countries. There are over 60 institutions of Latin American studies in China and more than 20 institutions of Chinese studies in Latin America.
Undoubtedly, mutually beneficial China-LAC cooperation will further expand under BRI. As an essential part of China-Latin America cooperation, BRI has played an increasingly constructive role. The plan conforms to the trend of the times, adapts to development, and accords with people's interests in both China and Latin American countries. Undoubtedly, it has broad prospects.
The author is a researcher at the Institute of Latin American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The article was an abstract of a speech by Xu Shicheng at a seminar on the Situation in Latin America and China-LAC Relations organized by the Charhar Institute.
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