Academic journal article Military Review

China-Latin America Arms Sales: Antagonizing the United States in the Western Hemisphere?

Academic journal article Military Review

China-Latin America Arms Sales: Antagonizing the United States in the Western Hemisphere?

Article excerpt

The engagement between the People's Republic of China and the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region during the twenty-first century is highlighted by its extraordinary increase in commercial, political, and military relations. Since China's entrance into the World Trade Organization in 2001, it has become an increasingly vibrant partner for the region. Chinese banks leased approximately "$22.1 billion to Latin American governments, more than the combined loans from the two traditional multilateral lenders, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank"1 Most researchers and senior U.S. policy makers have focused on Chinese economic activity, highlighting "its sale of increasingly diverse and sophisticated products in the Latin American and Caribbean market"2

Similar to China's sharp increase in economic relations, it has also significantly expanded its military engagement, effectively creating opportunities to expand its arms market in the LAC region. However, little assessment has been placed on China's emergence into the region's arms market, particularly how that emergence pertains to China's comprehensive strategy in building influence and strengthening military partnerships.3

The sale of Chinese arms has several implications for the LAC region. For one, arms exports are a symbol of a country's position in the global hierarchical system of arms production.4 Efficient arms production can provide revenue and balance costs related to defense research and development.5 On a functional level, armies must procure arms that have a maintainable life cycle. One can also argue that arms exports are a key component in a nation's foreign policy and can help secure influence, or "soft power" Simply put, the expansion of arms exports may provide multiple benefits and can reflect a nation's interests abroad. In Latin America, the increase in arms sales has complemented China's goals of "securing access to natural resources and exports markets"6 It is important to note that China's "complementing" differs from "facilitating" "If the latter becomes more prominent, it may be a worthy indicator or warning of a significant shift in the security environment"7 Given bureaucratic hurdles in expanding a nation's defense industry to compete in the global arms market, analyzing China's arms flows to Latin America can provide further specific insight into the maturity of Sino-LAC military relations.

The most recent literature and data suggest there is an upward trend in Chinese exports to the LAC region, specifically in arms exports.8 But, what are the drivers behind the remarkable increase of Chinese arms exports to the region? In isolation, what unique characteristics exist in the Sino-Latin American relations that facilitated the increase in arms sales? This research intends to answer those questions. The research and data from 2000 to 2016 demonstrate that as political and economic relations increased, Beijing's arms sales also increased. A combination of factors including the countries' ideological tendencies, particularly in the Alianza Bolivarianapara los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, or ALBA) countries, and a comparative advantage in defense products facilitated the increase in arms sales.9

As such, this research seeks to understand the intricacies of China's Latin America policy and trends of its arms exports, both globally and with regard to the LAC region. The research concludes with strategic implications for the region and the United States while providing a forecast for future Chinese arms exports into the region.

Background: Chinese Policy

The evolution of China's policy papers toward Latin America demonstrates the importance of building relationships and engaging in arms sales. In its 2008 policy paper, China outlines its willingness to "provide assistance for the development of the army in Latin American and Caribbean countries"10

Its 2016 policy paper reiterates the importance of "actively carry out military exchanges and cooperation with Latin American and Caribbean countries, increase friendly exchanges between defense and military officials of the two sides" and expand "professional exchanges in military training, personnel training and peacekeeping" Notably, the 2016 policy paper highlights "enhancing cooperation in military trade and military technology"11 Furthermore, China's official policy paper, "China's Military Strategy" specifically outlines the importance of raising the level of military relations, stating "it will continue the traditional friendly military ties with their African, Latin American, and Southern Pacific counterparts"12 Through analysis of its policy papers, it is evident that China's emergence in the region results from it having prioritized building military relations, specifically complemented by arms sales. …

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