Take the Relations between China and Countries in Latin Americaand the Caribbeanto a New Height

Zhao Bentang

I. Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), a rising force in the global landscape, enjoy promising development prospects. 

With major development, transformation and adjustment unfolding across the world, the international architecture and balance of power are at a crucial juncture of evolution. Destabilizing and uncertain factors are increasing and many new issues and challenges are cropping up. In this complex and fluid context, developing countries and emerging markets continue to grow stronger. LAC countries, on the whole, enjoystability and development. By proactively responding to the challenges posed by a changing external environment, they are tapping into their development potential, seeing their overall strength grow steadily, and playing a bigger, constructive role in the transformation of international architecture.

1. Political and social development is stable. The political system of Latin America and the Caribbean is relatively stable and the idea of balanced economic and social development has gained strong public support. 2018 is the year of presidential or parliamentary election for over ten countries in the region. General elections in six countries including Cuba and Venezuela have concluded smoothly. Cuba has achieved a transition of power to a new generation of leaders, the first of its kind since the victory of its revolution. The adjustment of the regional political landscape will continue, with general elections starting in countries like Brazil and Mexico. Generally speaking, the political landscape and power dynamics in the region are evolving within the existing systems and legal frameworks. In consistent with the trend of the times, governmentsof relevant countries are pushing for reforms, improving people’s lives,and pursuing development and revitalization.

2. Economic performance is looking up. Latin America and the Caribbean, richly endowed with natural resources and strategic resources such as oil, gas, minerals, water, farmlands and forests, has a strong foundation for development. In 2017, the regional economy started to grow again, registering a growth rate of 1.2%. It is estimated that the momentum of a moderate recovery will continue, with a growth rate of 2.2% for 2018 and 2.8% for 2019. That said, structural constraints remain for the recovery and Argentina has just seen some drastic fluctuations in its economic and financial environment. All in all, in the near future, regional economy will continue to grow at a certain speed, providing regional countries with the material foundation needed to advance modernization and improve people’s lives. 

3. Pragmatic and diversified diplomacy is carried out. LAC countries, playing a bigger role in international and regional affairs, are actively upholding the common interests of developing countries as well as the interests of their own countries. After the Trump administration took office, countries in the region were disappointed and dissatisfied with the US moves to build a wall along its border with Mexico, its threats to use force against Venezuela, and President Trump’s absence at the Summit of the Americas, adding uncertainties to their relations with the US. Having seen a more diversified pattern in their foreign relations, LAC countries have placed an emphasis on their relations with the European Union, majoremerging countries like China, Russia and India and other developing countries. 

4. The integration process moves forward despite twists and turns.The LAC region is among the first to embark on a path toward integration, driven by a strong wish from regional countries to seek strength through unity. The year 2011 witnessed the establishment of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), an important step forward in regional integration. This process, however, has been somewhat impacted by the different development needs and levels of regional countries and their divided opinions about Venezuela.Regional organizations focusing on political and security integration such as the UNASUR and ALBA have seen their growth slowing down while organizations focusing on economic integration such as the Pacific Alliance and MERCOSUR continue to grow.

II. Friendly exchanges and mutually beneficial cooperation between China and LAC countries are deepening on all fronts. 

Latin America and the Caribbean, as an important developing region, is animportant part of China’s diplomatic agenda. In his report to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China(CPC), General Secretary Xi Jinping called for a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind, and stressed the importance to follow the principle of upholding justice while pursuing shared interests and the principle of sincerity, real results, affinity and good faith in China’s pursuit of greater solidarity and cooperation with other developing countries. He has thus identified new goals and opened up new prospects for deepening China-LAC relationship in the new era.

1. High-level exchanges have guided China-LAC relationship to a new height. President Xi Jinping has paid three visits to Latin America and the Caribbean, covering 10 countries in the region. He has met, on bilateral and multilateral occasions, leaders of all LAC countries having diplomatic ties with China,which is unprecedented in China-LAC relations. During his visit to the region in 2013, President Xi called for the establishment of a comprehensive cooperative partnership of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, and common development between China and LAC countries that have diplomatic ties with China. At the first China-Latin America and the Caribbean Summit in 2014, President Xi Jinping proposed the building of a new, five-dimensional relationship and a “1+3+6” practical cooperation framework. After the summit, President Xi and the leaders of LAC countries issued the Joint Statement on China-Latin America and the Caribbean Summit in Brasilia and officially established the comprehensive cooperative partnership of equality, mutual benefit and common development. During his visit to the region in 2016, President Xi Jinping delivered an important speech at the Congress of Peru to the whole region and called for the building of a China-LAC community with a shared future.

China and LAC countries have continued to offer each other understanding and support on matters concerning each other’s core interests and major concerns. China actively supports LAC countries’ efforts in exploring a development path suited to their national conditions and upholding their national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The one-China principle is observed by the vast majority of LAC countries. The Republic of Panama and the Dominican Republic established diplomatic ties with China in June 2017 and May 2018 respectively, raising the total number of LAC countries having diplomatic relations with Chinato 23. After the convening of the 19th National Congress of the CPC, over 130 messages of congratulations were sent to China from party and government leaders of LAC countries with or without diplomatic relations with China, and from representatives of regional organizations and multilateral institutions. After the opening of the NPC and CPPCC sessions this year, leaders from LAC countries and representatives from regional multilateral institutions sent nearly 60 messages of congratulations to the new Chinese leadership. Within the framework of international organizations and multilateral mechanisms like the UN, APEC, G20, and BRICS, China and LAC countries have enhanced collaboration on such global issues as the UN reform, sustainable development and tackling climate change, and on hotspot issues like the Korean nuclear issue and cyber security, effectively upholding the common interests of developing countries. 

2. Overall China-LAC cooperation has moved forward at full steam with historical breakthroughs. After the first China-LAC summit in 2014, the two sides established the Forum of China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (China-CELAC Forum). The first ministerial meeting of the Forum was held in Beijing at the beginning of 2015, launching the first cooperation platform between China and all LAC countries. Over the past three years, with the institutional pillars of the Forum gradually put in place, the Forum has set off on a track of sound growth. The foreign ministers of China and the CELAC Quartet have held two rounds of dialogue, while a national coordinators’ meeting was held annually. Dialogue and cooperation platforms have been established in over ten sectors, including infrastructure, agriculture, business, scientific and technological innovation, legal affairs, the environment, local government cooperation and people-to-people exchanges as well as between political parties, youth, and thinktanks. These have provided institutional support for implementing political consensus and cooperation plans between the two sides. 

In January 2018, the second ministerial meeting of the Forum was held in Santiago, Chile, opening a new chapter in China-LAC cooperation. In his congratulatory message to the Forum, President Xi Jinping commended the development of the Forum in the past three years, and proposed to advance China-LAC relations through Belt and Road cooperation. The two sides shared the view that cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative would add new dimensions and lend fresh impetus toChina-LAC comprehensive cooperative partnership, and open up new prospects for it. China made proposals on deepening cooperation within the “1+3+6” framework, by building a transportation network connecting lands and oceans, fostering a large market open and beneficial to both sides, developing competitive home-grown industries, seizing the opportunity of innovation-driven growth, and carrying out extensive exchanges based on equality and mutual trust. These proposals were well-received by LAC countries. The meeting adopted three outcome documents, i.e. the Declaration of Santiago, Joint Action Plan of China-LAC Cooperation (Priority Areas) (2019-2021), and Special Announcement on the Belt and Road Initiative, reflecting the readiness of both sides to enhance cooperation and pursue common development. Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Antigua and Barbuda have signed MOUs with China on the Belt and Road Initiative, with a view to enhancing complementarity between their national strategies and the initiative. 

3. China-LAC practical cooperation has accelerated. Bothas developing nations, China and LAC countries are at the same development stage with similar development tasks. Our cooperation, based on common interests and mutual needs, follows the principles of equality, mutual benefit, openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation, representing an important part and a successful example of South-South cooperation. In 2017, the trade between the two sides stood at US$257.85 billion, an increase of 18.8% year-on-year. The trade mix has improved. An increasing number of Latin American and Caribbean quality produce is sold in Chinese market, with Chile becoming the largest source of China’s fresh fruit imports. The building of a China-LAC Free Trade Area is well underway. China has upgraded its Free Trade Agreement with Chile, launched negotiations with Peru to upgrade bilateral FTA, conducted joint feasibility studies on FTAs with Panama and Colombia, and negotiated with Uruguay on signing an FTA.  

Being optimistic about the long-term prospects of Latin America and the Caribbean, over 2,000 Chinese enterprises have established their presence in the region. In 2016, China’s direct investment in Latin America and the Caribbean totaled US$27.23 billion, an increase of 115.9% year-on-year. China’s cumulative direct investment stock amounted to US$207.15 billion, taking up 15.3% of China’s total outbound investment. Latin America and the Caribbean has become a major destination for outbound Chinese investment, second only to Asia. In recent years, the booming e-commerce and digital economy has created new opportunities in China-LAC economic and trade relations. The two sides have also engaged in financial cooperation of diverse forms. Over US$17 billion has been delivered as part of China’s US$35 billion financial package toward LAC countries. A US$30 billion China-LAC Industrial Cooperation Investment Fund has been launched, and a company was set upto manage the fund.

What has happened shows that China-LAC cooperation hasresponded to the demand of LAC countries for funding, technology and infrastructure and delivered tangible benefits to LAC people by boosting their economic and social development. Chinese enterprises have not only taken part in energy and resources development in Latin America and the Caribbean, but also invested in oil refining, chemical engineering, metallurgy, sea shipping, and other midstream and downstream industries, helping increase the added value of resource products in these countries. The allegation against China’s exploitation of LAC resources simply does not hold water. Chinese enterprises have undertaken a host of infrastructure projects in LAC countries to build highways, railways, airports, bridges, power stations, and so on.They are also actively engaged in cooperation in industrial capacity and equipment manufacturing.Over 1.8 million job opportunities have been created for local communities.

4. People-to-people exchanges are gaining momentum. On several occasions during his visit to LAC countries, President Xi Jinping stressed that amity among people as the key to sound state-to-state relations. Despite geographic distance, our two sides have maintained frequent exchanges between legislatures, media, and think tanks and at the sub-national level, and conducted robust cooperation in education, culture, and tourism. China has opened 36 Confucius Institutes and 11 Confucius Classrooms in 16 LAC countries, and a China cultural center in Mexico city, the first in the LAC region. Chinese airliners have opened multiple direct flights to Brazil, Mexico, Cuba, and Panama. An increasing number of Chinese tourists are visiting LAC countries. Surveys by world-renowned research institutes show that in 2017, the LAC countries, for the first time since 2003, reported a more favorable view of China than of the US.

III. China-LAC Relations are Facing New, ImportantOpportunities 

Amid continued complex and profound changes in the international and regional landscapes, the strategic importance and global influence of China-LAC relationship are on the rise. Both China and LAC countries hope to expand mutually-beneficial cooperation for common development. The 19th National Congress of the CPC has broughtnew, importantopportunities for China to deepen friendly relations with LAC countries and all the other countries around the world. It is important for China and LAC countries to earnestly implement the consensus reached between our leaders, seize the opportunities, build on past achievements and open up new prospects for China-LAC relations to the greater benefits of our people. 

1. China and LAC countries need to grow relations from a strategic and long-term perspectiveby fully leveraging the guiding role of high-level exchanges for China-LAC relations, improving existing dialogue and consultation mechanisms, and enhancing overall planning for China-LAC relations. The two sides need to stick to the principle of equality and continue to offer each other understanding and support on issues concerning each other’s core interests and major concerns, with a view to better upholding the common interests of China and LAC countries and the interests of the developing world as a whole. China actively supports Argentina in hosting the G20 Summit in 2018, Chile in hosting the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in 2019, and Brazil in hosting the BRICS Summit in 2019. China will stay in close communication and coordination with LAC countries on international and regional issues, enhance the global influence of China-LAC relations, and jointly work for a fairer and more equitable international political and economic order, thus making greater contribution to world peace, stability and development. 

2. China and LAC countries need to stay committed to the principles of mutual benefit and common development. Under the Belt and Road framework, China and LAC countries could work together to develop more effective and innovative ways of cooperation, and see to it that it will expand into more areas, with a better structure, greater momentum and higher quality. China would like to be LAC countries’ active partner in transportation, infrastructure and energy connectivity projects and open more sea routes and direct air links, so as to increase the capacity and density of the transportation networks connecting China and LAC countries. China will facilitate trade and investment with LAC countries. We welcome the participation of LAC countries in the inaugural China International Import Expo to be held this November. China has the equipment, technology, funding and training opportunities that LAC countries need. Our two sides may speed up industrial cooperation so that LAC countries will be able to develop an independent and diversified industrial system at an early date. China hopes to enhance coordination between the Belt and Road Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation Action Plan and the development strategies of LAC countries, and build a China-LAC online Silk Road and a digital Silk Road. China is ready to help train more researchers from LAC countries through the China-LAC Science and Technology Partnership and the China-LAC Young Scientists Exchange Program. China also supports small- and medium-sized LAC countries in enhancing their capacity to deal with climate change.

3. China and LAC countries need topromote our lasting friendship, mutual understanding and mutual appreciation through continued exchanges and mutual learning, hence working together in pursuit of our respective dreams. Efforts should be made to build stronger public support for China-LAC relations by expanding exchanges between our legislatures, political parties, sub-national entities, media organizations, academic institutions, people’s organizations, cultural and sports groups, and by enhancing dialogue and exchanges on governance, domestic and foreign policies. By making full use of our rich cultural and tourism resources, the two sides canfacilitate cross-border tourism to build closer bond between our people. Efforts should be made to create more opportunities for our younger generation to meet, study and make friends with each other by establishing more culture centers in each other’s countries and more Confucius Institutes in LAC countries, and by increasing the number of exchange students, with a view to carrying forward the friendship between China and LAC countries. 

4. China and LAC countries need to work for a comprehensive and balanced cooperation network by ensuring mutual reinforcement between collective cooperation and bilateral cooperation. China will continue to support LAC countries’ pursuit of strength through unity and regional integration. Following the principle of equality, and in an open and inclusive spirit, we will move forward the overall China-LAC cooperation with China-CELAC Forum as the main channel, and work for win-win outcomes in a flexible and result-oriented manner. Guided by the Declaration of Santiago and Joint Action Plan of China-LAC Cooperation (Priority Areas) (2019-2021), China will work with LAC countries to promote cooperation in political, security, trade, finance, energy, resources, manufacturing, agricultural and hi-tech fields. We hope to combine China’s industrial and technological strengths with LAC countries’ advantages in natural and human resources to the greater benefits of our people. China will follow through on such programs as projects on government scholarships for LAC students, personnel training, and exchanges between think tanks and youths to deepen mutual understanding and friendship between our peoples. 

It has been nearly 60 years since China-LAC cooperation started with the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Cuba in 1960. Over the decades, our cooperation has yielded rich fruits. With its economy in a transition from a phase of rapid growth to a stage of high-quality development, and its pursuit of innovation and higher quality of growth, China will create a more powerful and extensive impact, and present more opportunities of cooperation. China will work in concert with LAC countries on this new journey of China-LAC relations toward the goal of building a China-LAC community of shared future, delivering more benefits to our people, and making greater contribution to world peace, stability and prosperity. 

Zhao Bentang Is Director-General of the Department of Latin American and Caribbean Affairsofthe Ministry of Foreign Affairs.