Two days before the end of 2013, when much of the Western professional world was on holiday break, an article appeared in the Argentine journal La Politica confirming the collapse of talks between the Argentine government and Chinese financiers to help fund $21.6 billion in hydroelectric facilities to be built on the Santa Cruz river.[i]
The failure of the negotiations is significant in itself, since it is one of the first times that a Chinese denial of a major loan request by a country named as a “strategic partner” has been made public. Even more importantly, however, the events leading up to the present failure provides important insights regarding how the Chinese style of maintaining a relationship with a partner nation and exercising its influence differs from that of the West. The story -- which connects presidential diplomacy to multi-billion dollar deals over manufactured goods, soy oil, trains, and hydropower -- illustrates the nuances, contradictions and complexity of Chinese engagement in Latin America and the Caribbean, and how the Chinese are learning to use their unique type of ‘soft power’ in the region.