China's $334b courting of Latin America
CHINESE President Xi Jinping pledged yesterday US$250 billion (S$334 billion) in investment in Latin America over the next 10 years, as part of a drive to boost resource-hungry China's influence in a region long dominated by the United States.
Leaders of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or Celac - a 33-country bloc that does not include the United States or Canada - gathered in Beijing for the first time for a two-day forum yesterday.
Mr Xi said two-way trade between China and Latin America is expected to rise to US$500 billion in 10 years.
"This meeting will... give the world a positive signal about deepening cooperation between China and Latin America and have an important and far-reaching impact on promoting South- South cooperation and prosperity for the world," Mr Xi said.
China and Latin America are cooperating on energy, infrastructure construction, agriculture, manufacturing and technological innovation, Mr Xi said.
Deng Yuwen, a Beijing-based political analyst, said China was interested in the region's resources and markets. "Obviously, China has the intention to compete with the US for a greater sphere of influence in the region. But whether this strategy will weaken US influence now is hard to judge."
Matt Ferchen, resident scholar at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy, said China's push would not alarm Washington, with improving US-Cuba ties set to boost US influence.
"The reality of economic- social ties, people-to-people ties, between any country in the region and the US are so much deeper than anything that exists with China," he said. "The Cuba deal changes everything in terms of how the US can set a positive agenda in the region."
China, the world's second-largest economy, is buying oil from Venezuela, copper from Peru and Chile, and soya bean from Argentina and Brazil.
In return, China has invested billions of dollars.
On Wednesday, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said he had secured more than US$20 billion in investment from China, while Ecuador said it obtained a total of US$7.53 billion in credit lines and loans from China.
"To repeat what (former) president Hugo Chavez said, China is demonstrating to the world that a country does not necessarily seek hegemony as it grows stronger," Mr Maduro said in a speech.
The cooperation comes despite some in the region retaining diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province. Out of 22 states that recognise Taiwan, 12 of them are in Latin America and the Caribbean.