Byline: James Morrison, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
On his last visit to South America, Foreign Minister George Yeo of Singapore was overwhelmed by the effect of China, which is investing aggressively across the continent.
From Brazil to Peru, China is discussing plans to build railroads and ports to facilitate trade and political influence.
"I was struck by the explosion of interest in China," he said of his visit last year for a trade summit in Chile. "I left South America even more convinced that the rising Chinese tide leaves no shore, however distant, unaffected."
Mr. Yeo, on a visit to Washington this month, told the annual conference of the Council of the Americas that China's new economic clout in Asia is "earth-shaking."
Jorge Batlle, a former president of Uruguay, told Mr. Yeo that China is reversing history, noting that "Columbus came to America in search of the China trade."
Last year, President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva of Brazil and President Nestor Kirchner of Argentina visited China, Mr. Yeo added.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told Mr. Yeo that "the South American continent would finally be opened up in this century the way North America was in the 19th century." China has offered to help build ports on the Pacific coast and railroads across the Andes Mountains in return for a long-term supply of soybeans, minerals and other commodities, Mr. Yeo said.
Latin America is trading aggressively with many Asian nations, he said, citing free-trade agreements between Chile and South Korea, Mexico and Japan, and Peru and Singapore.
China, however, remains the largest single market, as well as the most daunting political challenge, Mr. Yeo said.
"The political implications of these economic trends are earth-shaking," he said. "Within East Asia itself, the re-emergence of China as Asia's dominant power is causing great discomfort to Japan, creating the tension we see today."