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Feature 051214 Romero

Monday, May 12, 2014

 

China Sets its Sights on Latin America, Starting with Venezuela

 

By María Teresa Romero

 

Eastern Imperialism Taking Root, Competing with US Dominance in Western Hemisphere

 

While the Obama administration in the United States and the European Union focus all their attention on the intensifying crises in Ukraine and Syria, and are distracted by supposed negotiations with Cuba, the Chinese government continues its penetration and influence in Latin America. The region has become essential in its geopolitical strategy, and it’s no coincidence that it spends 13 percent of all its foreign investment there.

 

This is further evidenced by the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s recent tour of Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil, and Argentina in mid-April. This was done in preparation for President Xi Jinping’s planned visit to Brazil in July, when he will attend the BRICS summit — a meeting comprised of representatives from Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

 

However, as analyst Rogelio Núñez has put it, this visit served primarily “to reaffirm Chinese regional alliances, especially with Cuba and Venezuela, where economic interests and ideological similarities unite.”

 

In Cuba, the Chinese government seeks to insert itself into the supposed process of reform and economic opening and compete with European and North American interests that are already present on the island. In Venezuela, it seeks to ensure repayment of debts and protect multiple investments and bilateral agreements. China and Venezuela have invested US$12 billion in a fund to develop joint projects in energy, oil, mining, communications, construction, infrastructure, science, and technology, and have signed over 300 agreements in this regard.

 

Last March, the two countries approved the renewal of one of three portions of the Joint Chinese-Venezuela Fund and renewed a $5 billion line of credit. In addition, Chinese officials have authorized more than $30 billion to Venezuela in loan-for-oil agreements.

 

In the last 13 years, trade between China and Venezuela has increased steadily, from about $358 million in 1999 to nearly $20 billion presently. China has emerged as Venezuela’s second largest trading partner, just behind the United States, while Venezuela has positioned itself as China’s fifth largest commercial center in Latin America and the Caribbean.

 

However, the Chinese foreign minister’s recent visit to Venezuela on April 21, during the second leg of his Latin America tour, was not strictly motivated by commercial interests. There were also political motivations at play. Anonymous sources have reported that the meeting between Wang Yi and his Venezuelan counterpart, Elías Jaua, also focused on China’s concern for the Venezuelan government as a result of the instability in the country. Although Yi is said to have been supportive of the government’s response to student protesters and other opposition forces, he recommended further dialogue with the opposition, to be facilitated by UNASUR. In the end, it was all done to further strengthen the government of Venezuela and the stability of Nicolás Maduro’s regime.

 

While we cannot be certain, it is very likely that this chain of events indeed happened. During his visit, Wang Yi publicly stated, “we are friends and partners. We understand and support 21st Century Socialism. As a friendly country, China is naturally paying attention to how the situation develops here in Venezuela.” He added that he remained confident that the differences between the Venezuelan government and the opposition would be solved “through the avenue of political dialogue.”

 

These political maneuvers are not just characteristic of Chinese pragmatism, executed to safeguard their economic interests. They are also part of the nation’s plan as an emerging power to secure political influence in a region where the United States has traditionally held sway. It wants to become a new player on the Latin-American geostrategic chessboard, and in doing so, put Western powers in check. Of this there is no doubt.

 

We must not forget that China’s foreign policy is influenced by a realpolitik approach to international relations, nationalism, Marxism-Leninism, and an eagerness to compete head to head with the United States. The Asian giant is at work spreading its imperial ambitions covertly through commerce, but the time will come when these ambitions reveal themselves to be overtly political and ideological.

 

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This commentary, "China Sets Sights on Latin America, Starting with Venezuela," was first published in PanAm Post on May 1, 2014, and reposted per a Creative Commons authorization.  Translated by PanAm Post staff.  María Teresa Romero is a journalist with a Ph.D. in political science, specializing in international politics. She is a professor at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, a columnist in several Venezuelan and international newspapers, and the author of several books. Follow her on Twitter at @mt_romero.

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