05-14-2011, 08:26 AM
The Chinese Dragon Sweeps Through Latin America
| The Chinese Dragon Sweeps Through Latin America |
Time to stand up and take notice — English and Spanish speakers alike.
Any U.S. policymakers who doubt the strategic and economic significance of Latin America should spend a few minutes chatting with their counterparts in Beijing.
Over the past decade, China has been on a wild spending spree throughout the Western Hemisphere — targeting Brazilian iron ore, Chilean copper, Peruvian zinc, Argentine soybeans, Venezuelan and Ecuadoran oil, Uruguayan meat, Bolivian lithium, and other economic resources. The Chinese have flooded the region with both investment and cheap labor (about which more later). They are funding construction of a hydroelectric plant for Ecuador, a satellite for Bolivia, and much else. Beijing already built a satellite for Venezuela, which launched in 2008, and a national soccer stadium for Costa Rica, which opened this year. In March 2010, the China National Offshore Oil Company announced that it was purchasing 50 percent of the Argentine firm Bridas, and Bridas subsequently bought a $7.1 billion stake in the Argentina-based Pan American Energy. In October, another Chinese energy giant, Sinopec, agreed to invest over $7 billion in the Brazilian operations of Repsol, a Spanish company.
China’s fast-growing economy needs massive supplies of petroleum, so we should not necessarily be surprised that Beijing has pursued Latin America’s abundant oil and gas reserves. But we should be somewhat alarmed that, in the face of China’s growing regional presence, the Obama administration continues to treat Latin America as an afterthought. Speaking at Brown University in early April, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (a strongly pro-U.S. leader) criticized Washington’s apparent lack of interest. “While the rest of the world, while Europe and Asia, are strengthening their ties to our region, the U.S. is passive, is disengaged,” Santos said. The hemispheric leadership void has been filled not only by China, but also by Russia, which is enabling Venezuela’s gigantic arms buildup, and by Iran, which has established a strategic partnership with Venezuela and is cozying up to populist governments in Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador.
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