Chinese presence in Latin America and the Caribbean can be traced back to nineteenth and twentieth century migrants who established diasporic groups across the region. Chinese Latin Americans are found across the entire continent, intermingling with local cultures and social norms.
Economically, however, the People’s Republic of China began to show more interest in Latin America and the Caribbean in the 2000s with the introduction of free trade agreements. So far, the PRC has free trade agreements with the following countries in the Americas: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Peru.This increasing presence in the region allowed China to become the second largest trading partner in the region after the United States by 2014. These free trade agreements grant China access to the rich resources found in the Americas, such as minerals and oil, which are meant to help its industrial overcapacity. The countries on the other side of the Pacific have access to commodities such as manufacturing goods at a lower cost.
Furthermore, China backs up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the US has backed out of. Countries in the Pacific are starting to look at the People’s Republic of China as an ally in order to carry out the TPP in spite of not having any American support.
Although the relationship that China is attempting to build with Latin American countries is purely based on economic interests, politics and diplomacy come into play one way or another. For instance, Xi Jinping of the PRC has travelled to Latin America in three separate occasions since 2013.
This leads us to the next question: Why should we care about China’s interest in Latin America and the Caribbean?
We should care about China’s economic interest in Latin America because, essentially, it is gradually becoming a competition the influence that the United States has in the region. Latin America and the Caribbean has been historically considered the “Backyard of the United States.” This nickname came from the Monroe Doctrine that came to be in the 1800s when the United States was a young and growing nation. Essentially, the Monroe Doctrine dictates that any opposition to the United States in both North and South America is considered a direct threat to them, regardless of whether it occurs on US soil or in another country in the Americas. This influence in Latin America can be best seen during the Cold War when military dictatorships were established left, right, and centre with the help of the CIA. This political influence had an economic base: many of the things that the United States got from Latin American countries (such as the products from the United Fruit Company in Central America and the Caribbean) would have been cut off if local resistance and left-leaning politicians succeeded.
Due to the political turmoil in Venezuela, Uncle Sam has been paying more attention to Latin America and the Caribbean than it had since the end of the twentieth century. Looking at how the US has politically influenced Latin American countries for their own economic interests can happen with the PRC’s role in the region as well. In fact, China can become an alternative and/or opponent to the influence that the United States has cultivated in Latin America for more than a century.
Due to the lack of attention that Latin America and the Caribbean has gotten in comparison to other regions in the world lately, China can find a window of opportunity to also politically influences countries in the Americas if they want to. Finally, this window of opportunity can also contribute to China’s growing influence in other regions of the world that share a similar colonial history as Latin America and the Caribbean, such as African countries and Southeast Asia.