Officials rebut Tillerson on claim that China is making region dependent
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson claimed that in Latin America, China “offers the appearance of an attractive path to development” that “often involves trading short-term gains for long-term dependency”.
The reality is that China is actually promoting the region to develop independently.
Tillerson will wrap up his first visit to Latin America on Wednesday to reassert US influence in a region that US President Donald Trump made little effort to engage in the first year of his presidency.
In listing the priorities where China and Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) countries can work on in years to come, Beijing recently has said that it is ready to help the region develop competitive home-grown pillar industries.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that fostering such industries with a competitive edge is key to breaking developmental bottlenecks in the region.
“China has the equipment, technology, funding and training opportunities you need,” Wang said at the second ministerial meeting the China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States Forum in Santiago, Chile on Jan 23.
He said China will ramp up support for the early establishment of an independent and diversified industrial system in the LAC countries.
Jose Bernal, Mexican ambassador to China, said China’s investment in the field of sci-tech and infrastructure is important for Latin America.
China’s financing cooperation with Latin America has benefited more than 80 livelihood projects in over 20 countries, he told a briefing in Beijing on Feb 2.
Before his weeklong trip to five nations in Latin America and the Caribbean, Tillerson warned the region’s economies against excessive reliance on economic ties with China.
“China is getting a foothold in Latin America. It is using economic statecraft to pull the continent into its orbit,” he said in a Feb 1 speech.
The difference of US and China in their perception of and policies in the region, as well as how the two are perceived in the area, will perhaps ultimately decide the orbit – if there is one – that the continent would gravitate to.
Alexander Kliment, Eurasia Group’s director of global research, corporates, said in a post on Tuesday that no region in the world has soured more quickly on Trump than Latin America, where approval of the US president has tumbled to 16 percent, according to a recent Gallup poll.
The poll findings, released last month, said the image of US leadership took a hit worldwide during Trump’s first year in office, but nowhere more so than in Latin America, where the median approval rating dropped from 49 percent in 2016 to 24 percent in 2017.
“It’s easy to see why. Trump seems to speak of the region almost uniquely as a source of drugs, criminals, unwanted refugees and US job losses,” said Kliment, a journalist-turned analyst with the New York-headquartered think tank.
In comparison, China sees Latin America and the Caribbean as a region of emerging economies teeming with aspiring people.
“The LAC countries are striving for development, revitalization and people’s well-being, and have made ambitious development plans with a strategic vision,” Wang said at the Santiago forum.
In an opinion piece, “US insults pushing Latin America into China’s arms” in the Miami Herald on Feb 3, Andres Oppenheimer said, “While Trump is insulting Latin Americans, the Chinese are courting them.”
The columnist and anchor of the TV show Oppenheimer Presenta said that after decades in which the US largely looked the other way, the Trump administration has decided to confront China over its growing influence in Latin America.
“Trouble is, you can’t win over Latin American countries if you’re constantly insulting them,” Oppenheimer said.
He also noted that President Xi Jinping has visited the region three times during the past four years, while Trump has not set foot in the region.
Tillerson, in his visit to Peru on Monday, wouldn’t confirm if Trump will attend the Summit of Americas, scheduled for April in Lima, Peru.
As noted by the German philosopher Albert Schweitzer, setting an example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.
That is why Latin America’s people and governments may be able to tell who is helping them wean from dependence and gain independence in development.