Former diplomats say the U.S. is missing out on what could be strategically important ties in Latin America, as China continues its outreach in the region as the Biden administration struggles with ineffective engagement.
Eric Farnsworth, the head of the Washington office of the Council of the Americas and former State Department official, told The Wall Street Journal that the U.S. is “missing a huge opportunity” with Uruguay—which is seen as a natural ally for Washington given its safety and pro-trade policies.
Farnsworth said it seems as though the U.S. has taken for granted controlling its sphere of influence without much external competition, which is changing.
“In the U.S., I don’t think we’ve truly internalized the idea that there is a serious and significant competition in the Western Hemisphere…We’ve always been the only game in town,” he said.
The paper noted that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the region in 2022, but China has sent business delegations that have led to “a string of deals and investments.”
China has been teaming up with Uruguay on a number of initiatives, including green and automated mining to help explore natural resources, Marcelo Pugliesi, the national director of Mining and Geology from the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Mining of Uruguay, said, according to China’s Global Times.
The paper noted that Uruguay was the first “Southern Common Market country to sign a memorandum of understanding with China on cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative.”
Pugliesi told the paper that he hopes Uruguay will adopt more technologies from China under the BRI.
TRENDPOST: The Trends Journal has long reported that the business of China is business while the business of the U.S. is war. The Biden administration has said its chief goal is not to be surpassed by China, but Beijing continues to flex its economic muscle and challenge the U.S. in South America.
The WSJ noted that major South American countries like Brazil and Peru have all signaled growing relations with China as the U.S. continues to be focused on fighting wars in Ukraine and Israel. (See “CHINA, RUSSIA RISING WHILE U.S. IS DECLINING: XI, PUTIN DESCRIBE ‘FAIRER, MULTIPOLAR’ WORLD” 24 Oct 2023, “CHINA ACCUSES U.S. OF ‘TECH BULLYING’ AFTER BIDEN’S LATEST MOVE TO HURT CHINA” 15 Aug 2023, and “U.S. BLASTS BRAZIL’S LULA FOR ‘PARROTING RUSSIAN AND CHINESE PROPAGANDA’” 25 Apr 2023.
The Council on Foreign Relations reported over the summer that Beijing has always maintained ties to South America but has recently surpassed the United States as South America’s largest trading partner.
Latin America provides China with soybeans, copper, petroleum, oil, and other raw materials for Beijing’s industrial development. Annual goods trade between China and Latin America skyrocketed to $445 billion in 2021 from $12 billion in 2000, according to The Economist. The magazine also noted that Chinese state-owned banks loaned $139 billion to Latin American governments between 2005 and 2021.
Reports have said not all these transactions have been focused on business. The WSJ reported in June that Cuba had secretly agreed to allow China to set up an electronic-spying facility in the country.
“So far, China seems to be winning the geopolitical popularity contest—and not just with the usual suspects, such as Venezuela’s autocratic regime or Cuba’s socialists. Since 2017 five countries in the region have ditched ties with Taiwan in favor of China,” The Economist wrote.