Por Sergio M. Cesarin *
During the Xi Jinping government, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has played an important role in providing political capital and spaces of greater influence in the region in favor of China over the United States. Particularly important factors have been the sustained growth of the Chinese economy as a demand for exportable Latin American products, the regional reception of Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI), productive associations in manufacturing and services sectors, and Chinese financing for infrastructure works, among others. others.
In the days of Xi Jinping, China’s strategy towards the region has been consistent and persistent. The guarantee stance adopted by China on globalization and world free trade brings the region closer to its sphere of interests. As expressed by President Xi Jinping, the Chinese aspirations to build a “less asymmetric globalization”, promote “mutual international cooperation” and promote the construction of a “Community of shared destiny for humanity” are consistent with interests and values Latin Americans.
Since the rise to power of President Xi Jinping, China’s trajectory as an emerging power has evolved under the paradigm of the “Chinese dream” on restoration, development and modernity towards the middle of this century; On the political level, this horizon serves to consolidate the presidential figure as the maximum leader and center of the main decisions on public policies; economically, the vision of a restored China drives the reconversion of the national productive apparatus through active policies on scientific and technological development, as well as the projection of its military power towards the region and the world.
Xi Jinping and the transformation of contemporary China
Throughout this entire trajectory – past and present – the presidential leadership has been and is unquestionable. A leadership built on the basis of a normative reengineering in the party statutes that allows Xi Jinping to remain in power indefinitely, thus ending the institutional arrangements and interfactional balances within the Communist Party of China (CPC) established by Deng Xiaoping at the dawn of the reform process.
The arguments used to confirm the centrality of its figure as a “nucleus” (hexin) support the need to guarantee internal stability and ensure governance in times of growing domestic and foreign tensions (read conflict with the United States), support the anti-corruption campaign as key instrument to guarantee party discipline, expand state participation in the national economy, persist in the construction of technological power, promote plans on military modernization in order to ensure the country’s defense against external threats and protect surrounding maritime areas considered by China under their sovereignty (South China Sea).
Internally, the leadership style of President Xi Jinping has been characterized by abandoning the predominant style of “democratic centralism”, refloating a discourse based on the ideological supremacy of Marxism-Leninism as the political guide of the Party, the rejection of Western values, standards on human rights or pro-democratic forms of political organization, allusions present in speeches and pronouncements addressed to political cadres, officials, the Armed Forces, businessmen and society in general.
In the external sphere, the adoption of assertive positions by Xi Jinping shows features of the militarization of Chinese foreign policy in the region, less conciliatory positions with respect to issues Sensitive factors such as reunification with Taiwan under the government of the pro-independence Progressive Democratic Party (DPP) or the democratization of Hong Kong, increased military activity in the South China Sea, persistent border tensions with India, and escalating tensions (political, commercial and military) with the United States.
While the human rights situation of ethnic minorities such as the Uyghur, or doubts about China’s responsibility at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic eroded its international image, a mix between “Wolf warriors” and “vaccine diplomacy” tempered the negative impacts on their soft power, once again locating the country as a promoter of the “universalization” of vaccines, considering them a “global public good” (GPG).
In this context, in the post-Trump era and under the Biden presidency, “bipartisan efforts” by the United States persist to contain China. The strategy shows various facets; neutralize Chinese efforts to reformulate the “old institutions” inheritors of the 20th century world order, contain its military expansion in the South China Sea and the Indo-Pacific (IOR), sustain its advantages in areas of high technologies, reaffirm alliances with Asian partners (coalitions between democracies), avoid Chinese cyber espionage and mitigate the bilateral trade deficit. In this context, faced with an unstable world, China and Latin America and the Caribbean in general, evaluate mutual advantages and disadvantages over an approach that arouses misgivings in Washington.
China-Latin America relations
The incorporation of Latin American countries to the Chinese global plans on connectivity under the global approach partnership (OBOR / BRI), and integrating them into the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), are lines of action encouraged under the presidency of Xi Jinping. Faced with this scenario, a United States with a more conservative and militaristic profile is reluctant to consent to the expansion of the Chinese presence in LAC and aspires to rebuild trust and regain lost regional spaces of influence.
Without renouncing historical principles of action in the international system, a powerful China in the 21st century could only aspire to change a world order, largely inherited from the 20th century. The empathy achieved by China in LAC enables the opening of formal and informal diplomatic channels by governments, encourages business activism, the development of studies in the academic field, and greater mutual knowledge. As happened during the Cold War, despite US precautions, the perception of China as a “partner for regional development” prevails and presupposes the future densification of a Sino-Latin American cooperative agenda. (OR)
* Coordinator of the Center for Studies on Asia Pacific and India (CEAPI) of the National University of Tres de Febrero (UNTREF) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Master of Arts from Peking University. Member of the China and Latin America Network: Multidisciplinary Approaches (REDCAEM).
* Column initially published on the REDCAEM portal.