(MA XUEJING / CHINA DAILY)
In geographical terms, Latin America is thousands of kilometers away from China. In foreign policy terms, however, Latin America has become an important region close to China. This development is related to China's rise over the past more than four decades.
Sino-Latin American relations have developed gradually since the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and some Latin American countries in the 1970s, followed by the burst of commercial exchanges in the 1980s, advancing to educational, cultural and scientific relations in the 1990s, and extending over the last 20 years to the technological, health, military and strategic domains. This was made possible partly because the United States downgraded its ties with Latin America in the recent past, leading to Washington's diminishing presence in the region.
That Latin America is a reliable food supplier for China was evident at the first Meeting of the Ministries of Agriculture of China and Latin America and the Caribbean in 2013. A year later, the China-CELAC Forum was established and attended by the foreign ministers of China and Latin American and Caribbean countries. The same year, Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela, major food and energy exporters, signed comprehensive strategic partnership agreements with China.
In 2016, China published the second white paper on its relations with Latin America and the Caribbean, which is more profound and far-fetching compared with the first one in 2008. While China announced at the First Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing in 2017 that the Belt and Road Initiative would be extended to Latin America, the invitation to Latin American countries to join the initiative was formalized at the China-CELAC Forum in January 2018, with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi stating that Latin America was the initiative's "natural extension". About 20 Latin American states have already joined the initiative.
The Belt and Road Initiative has generated interest in Latin America and the Caribbean because it is aimed at improving infrastructure and connectivity (building railways, highways, ports, oil pipelines and housing) and facilitating commercial, financial and technological exchanges, as well as promoting civilizational dialogue.
Physical connectivity contributes directly to the increase of agricultural, mining and industrial production, and creates greater opportunities for investment, technology transfer, trade and social development. The development of Sino-Latin American relations has had a profound strategic impact on regional and global affairs, and affected US interests. That's why the strategic competition between Washington and Beijing affects the Latin American and Caribbean region so much.
In October 2018, Mike Pompeo, then US secretary of state, described China's growing economic relations with Latin America as "predatory economic activity". But the fact is, when the COVID-19 broke out in early 2020, most Latin American countries received help from China, not the US, in the form of medicines, medical equipment and medical advice. China stood out among the concert of nations when it came to providing assistance for other countries and thus became a beacon of global cooperation.
China today is among the top three trading partners, foreign investors, lenders and infrastructure builders of Latin American and Caribbean countries, and has been helping the region to overcome health and economic effects of the pandemic.
Similarly, amid the global energy and food crises, China has the Latin American and Caribbean countries as trustworthy providers of primary products. It is safe to say, therefore, that the strengthening of ties with Latin American and Caribbean countries is one of China's main achievements in the recent past. And the future seems brighter.
The author is director of the Asian Affairs Committee, Argentine Council for International Relations and director of the postgraduate program, Studies on China in the Global Era, Argentine Catholic University.
The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.