While the United States was preoccupied with the Middle East during the Global War on Terror, it turned a blind eye toward Latin America allowing China to make significant inroads in the region.
China is trying to become the superpower in the region at the expense of the U.S. by economic and military means.
In a recent piece for the Center for International Maritime Security, Captain Steven Arango, USMC, wrote that China’s influence is not superficial.
“China’s actions seep through all levels of Latin American governments, even down to city halls. China is not simply a regional challenge; it is a global challenge as demonstrated in Latin America. To ignore Latin America is to ignore the critical inroads developed by the United States’ chief competitor in its backyard,” he said.
China’s military influence in the continent is strengthened through exchange programs and arms sales; it doesn’t yet have bases in Latin America. China is building relationships with Latin American military leaders while getting them to turn their backs on the United States.
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The Chinese are conducting military education and officer exchange programs on a large scale. Since 2015, China has trained more Latin American officers through its officer exchange program than the U.S., and the difference between the two grows each year. Retired SOUTHCOM commander Admiral Craig Faller, testified to Congress that the Chinese train five times as many Latin American officers as the U.S. does.
China first began selling inexpensive small arms to Latin America, but has since been selling aircraft, radar systems, and armored vehicles too. Every arms sale opens the door for more technicians, trainers, and maintenance personnel, further strengthening China’s relationship with the buying country, Arango points out.
China’s economic influence on the continent
China’s trade with Latin America reached $450 billion in 2021; China is already South America’s leading trading partner and is rapidly approaching the United States as the top trading partner in all of Latin America. China has entered free trade agreements with Chile, Costa Rica, and Peru and is in negotiations with Ecuador.
China has heavily invested in 50 ongoing projects in 15 Latin American countries with most being on energy development, oil and gas refining, and power generation. As it has done in Africa, it is building ports, dams, railroads, and solar and wind projects on the continent as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Despite China’s predatory loan practices, 20 countries in Latin America have signed on to the BRI.
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A case in point is Ecuador’s Coca Codo Sinclair project, a massive $19 billion dams, highways, bridges, schools, and healthcare construction project purported to raise Ecuador from poverty to prosperity, but which has now become an enormous scandal in the country.
Ecuador couldn’t pay its debt to China, so it had to sell oil to China at a heavily discounted price, China then sells at market price, producing a huge profit. Further, Ecuador couldn’t pump enough oil to pay back its debt, so it moved oilfields into the Amazon, deforesting more of the region.
“China took advantage of Ecuador,” said Ecuador’s energy minister, Carlos Pérez, back in 2018. “The strategy of China is clear. They take economic control of countries.”
The economic contracts with China also come with the contracting parties shifting their recognition from Taiwan to China. Only 20 years ago, all of Latin America recognized Taiwan’s sovereignty; now only eight countries do. China has recently used the promise of loans and infrastructure investments to the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua to get them to no longer recognize Taiwan.
Latin America is very vital to the security of the U.S., and Washington can no longer turn a blind eye to its neighbors to the south.
Feature Image: Ecuador and China sign a civil aviation agreement in 2013. (Photo by Fernanda LeMarie/Cancillería del Ecuador)
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Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib says
Looks like the Monroe Doctraine needs not just dusting off but also CPR, otherwise the Yankees would be yanked out of Latin America for good !
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