As Jim Mattis Heads to Latin America, China Isn’t Waiting for the US to Figure out What’s Going On

By Dunne, Erin | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, August 13, 2018 | Go to article overview

As Jim Mattis Heads to Latin America, China Isn’t Waiting for the US to Figure out What’s Going On


Dunne, Erin, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


En route to Latin America, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis pointed out the risk of China’s influence in the region, telling the press: “There's more than one way to lose sovereignty in this world; it's not just by bayonets.” He added, “It can also be by countries that come in bearing gifts and large loans and things like we have seen in other parts of the world.” Mattis is right, but the U.S. doesn’t seem prepared to address these concerns. That’s a problem.

In that same conversation, Mattis spoke about the U.S. interest in partnerships with Latin America and the need to work together. He explained that he was “going to start by doing a lot of listening to understand where they’re at.” Generally, listening is a good place to start, especially given the history of U.S. involvement in Latin America.

The only issue is that the U.S. should have been interested in listening a while ago and China isn’t waiting around for the U.S. to figure out what’s going on before continuing efforts that give Beijing influence in the region.

Already China has moved to include Latin America in its Belt and Road Initiative, and over the last decade, Chinese banks have already provided $140 billion in loans there. These investments are primarily beneficial, not to Latin American nations, but to Chinese firms which enjoy the support of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. This has allowed China to expand market reach and secure access to commodities and natural resources. Additionally, many of the jobs that are “created” in partner countries go to Chinese workers at the expense of local populations.

China’s financing also functions differently than that coming from the West. China has emphasized that it will not intervene in sovereign affairs or impose conditions, such as austerity, on loans. These practices are enticing for Latin American countries who have previously been subjected to boom and bust cycles but also, since they lack conditions, may promote unrestrained spending creating future debt problems.

How successful has China been in investing in Latin America? By the numbers, China is now the top trading partner of Brazil, Chile, and Peru, and is gaining ground elsewhere as well.

As Mattis makes his rounds in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile, and meets with the newly elected Colombian President Ivan Duque, he should not only focus on figuring out what influence China has, but also on maintaining the sovereignty of those countries and strengthening U. …

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