Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Latin America Sees China in Its Future

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Latin America Sees China in Its Future

Article excerpt

Evo Morales, a former coca farmer and Aymara Indian, is hoping Chinese capital will help him develop Bolivia's natural gas resources, which he has vowed to exploit for the benefit of the country's poor indigenous majority. In one of his fast actions as Bolivia's president-elect, Morales skipped the United States and scheduled a two-day visit to Beijing.

To Latin American analysts, Morales' choice of China as he angles for investment is the latest evidence of a trend: The region, once firmly in the U.S. sphere of influence, is slowly but surely drifting East.

Andres Oppenheimer, hemispheric affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, writes that 2005 will go down in history as "the year in which the United States lost much of its once almighty influence in Latin America, and [China] began to play a modest but rapidly growing role in hemispheric affairs."

Charles Shapiro, U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for the Andean Region, told a congressional committee, "China is an important new investor in the region as it searches for resources." He said China's imports from Latin America ($22 billion worth in 2004) are growing, increasing 16 percent in the in:st half of 2005 alone.

It may be too early to say that China is threatening to supplant U.S. influence in a region that Washington has long treated as its own bailiwick. But as China's star rises, Latin America is increasingly looking to Beijing for guidance and investments.

China has become a blockbuster market for Latin America's mineral and agricultural exports--including Chilean copper, Argentine and Brazilian soybeans and the region's ores and gas resources. China also has demonstrated a desire to invest in infrastructure projects that Latin America needs to export more efficiently and reorient itself toward Asia.

China's interest in Bolivia is motivated by the desire to secure global natural gas resources. Morales, eager to exploit the second-largest natural gas reserves in Latin America, would welcome investors like the Chinese, who understand his desire for a partially nationalized energy sector and are willing not to meddle in Bolivia's internal affairs.

The Bolivian news blog MABB, written by economist Miguel A. Buitrago, notes that Asia's demand for natural gas will rise 220 percent by 2030, according to the World Energy Outlook Report. "This should have a direct impact on Bolivia," he writes, "whether Bolivians want it or not."

Buitrago continues: "The world's appetite for NG [natural gas] is insatiable and will devour anything that remotely resembles NG.... China alone is expected to drive that demand .... China has even been to Bolivia offering huge amounts of investments in order to secure much needed resources.... The challenge is whether Bolivians can take this opportunity and use their resources to achieve development. …

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