Stable and open-market governments in Latin America serve China's key goals of expanding markets and ensuring raw materials.
BY FEDERICO J. TABJA
Distance is not always a problem. Unlike the complex relations of distance that touch us both personally and professionally, the great distance and scant historical contacts between China and Latin American countries has allowed the political and economic relations between them to flow free of any historical baggage.
Unlike what happens sometimes with the United States or European countries like Spain or Portugal, there are no historical episodes that could overshadow the relationship.
However, we admit that the lack of contact is also a historical problem in that the mutual ignorance can lead to misperceptions and disappointments. For example, there is a clear gap between the expectations that have developed, or are developing, bilateral relations in countries like Brazil and Argentina and the intentions of China. Brazil learned this lesson painfully. In 2005, China joined the United States in rejecting the increase in the number of permanent seats on the Security Council of the United Nations. This upset the hopes of Brasilia to receive support from Beijing to become a permanent member of that institution.
The interest in China has been such that even anti-dictatorial regimes in Latin America have maintained diplomatic relations with Beijing, as was the case of Brazil, Argentina and Chile.
Therefore, we can say that the ideological affinity is not a factor with a great explanatory power when analyzing trends in relations between China and Latin America. Practice beats ideological theories.
This explains, for example, that China, after establishing diplomatic relations with Chile during the Allende government, did not have any problem maintaining these relations with the Pinochet regime.
Once we understand this question, what is behind all this? What are the objectives of China in Latin America?
Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in Hong Kong in an interesting business symposium, which was attended by the most renowned political and economic personalities of China. Based on this experience and evidence of the events taking place in the China-Latin America, we can say that Beijing’s goals in Latin America are:
Counterbalancing American hegemony by enhancing multilateral relations.
Diversifying external relations to diversify their export strength.
Maintaining good relations with major oil producers (Venezuela), food (Argentina and Brazil) and other raw materials (copper in Chile, nickel and cobalt in Cuba, and pulp in Brazil).
The United States and Europe constantly pressure China on its internal affairs, especially concerning human rights and the status of Tibet. By contrast, Latin American countries base their interaction with China on always having mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-interference in China's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. A clear example of the success of this position was the vote of the UN Human Rights Commission on April 15, 2004 on actions to be taken before the human rights situation in China. None of the Latin American countries that maintain official diplomatic relations with Beijing voted to take action.
To ensure its objectives in the region (the provision of food, raw materials and energy, and expansion of markets), it serves China to maintain peace in Latin America and the consolidation of stable and open-market governments.
Federico J. Tabja is an associate attorney at U.S.-based law firm Diaz Reus. A former in-house counsel Bank of Chile and Elec Chile Energy, he studied law at Santiago’s Universidad De Los Andes and earned his masters in international business law from Barcelona’s ESADE Law Faculty. Translated from Spanish by Latin Business Chronicle.