Zhang Jun
Assistant Research Fellow
Center for American Studies
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Oct 21 2013
Sino-Latin American Relations in the Next Decade
By Zhang Jun,zhaxiaogang
In terms of current achievements and challenges of Sino-Latin American relationship, scholars content that since the publication of China’s Policy Paper on Latin America and the Caribbean five years ago, the bilateral relations have gained great progress. In retrospect of the past two decades of Chinese leaders’ visits to Latin America, both sides regard this relationship from strategic perspective, which boosted the mutual relations to an unprecedentedly high level. Economic cooperation and China’s investment in Latin America had rapid growth in recent years. On the other hand, some challenges still remain. Namely, there are trade deficit, de-industrialization, protectionism, and labor union’s opposition to China’s investment. Furthermore, it should also include factors beyond bilateral relations such as the U.S. rebalancing strategy in Asia-Pacific, debt crisis in Europe and other non-traditional security issues.

Chinese scholars proposed how to further maintain the sustainability in terms of economic ties. First, both sides should realize that the sustainability is based on mutual benefits and win-win policy. Since the EU and US are in economic recession, Sino-Latin American economic ties are beneficial to both parties. Secondly, China and Latin America are in the same period that they are going to make changes in economic and social structure.China is changing economic policy from export orientation to domestic consumption.Last,urbanization provides good opportunities for mutual relations. Latin American scholars reminded that Latin America is very important as an investment market with great potential and a good strategic partner. We should consider the reality of Latin American in the next decade and whether it would be an entity. Another opinion is that both parties should consider the contents on the new agenda and its relations to the past.The crucial issue is the possibilities to change economic relationship that is commodity based. As there are excitement and rising anxiety in Latin America policy dimension, China should think “beyond complementarity” as President of Brazil proposed and recognize both tension and cooperation. Besides, China could contribute to infrastructure building in Latin America since China has both money and capability.

While both sides are interested in the proposal of Sino-Latin America Cooperation Forum, Chinese scholars suggested that the two parties should make common efforts to initiate the forum and make it different from previous ones. Latin American scholars shared their views that it is asymmetric with regard to cultural relations. Chinese Confucius Institutes as a bridge have achieved a lot in recent years and cultural exchanges and contacts between China and Latin America, ordinary Chinese people know little about Latin American history and society. At the same time, Latin American countries have tried to promote their culture in China to deepen mutual understanding. They also believed that trade and investment connection are not enough, and both parties should talk about political issues in the long run and set new agenda including international financial system reform with new minds. Especially China’s foreign policy should attach more importance to ideas such as fair relations and justice.

Optimistic scholars believe that future world economy will contribute to deeper and broader cooperation between China and Latin America. It is necessary to move beyond old thinking while insisting economic complementarity in the financial and trade sectors. Although complaints are heard from Latin American partners, Chinese side hopes Latin American countries could understand that China is exploring its develop model while setting regulations. Both sides should reach common ground by dialogue and negotiation.

Chilean scholar reviewed cooperation between Chile, Peru and China. These two dynamic and open markets not only had personnel connections with China in the history, but are steadily developing economic and trade relations with China now. Brazilian scholar pointed out that Brazilian foreign policy under workers party rule are search for assertion in the international context, search for a seat on the UN Security council, search for diversification of trade partners, strengthen multi-polarity in global governance institutions, search for negotiated solutions to international conflicts, and expansion of south-south partnership. Brazil and china can make joint efforts to search for a multipolar world such as joint action at UN to solve conflicts by negotiation, joint action at WTO, IPCC, to reform financial multilateral institutions at G20. Furthermore, cooperation between Brazil and China is such an example of south-south strategy global strategic partnership including increasing scientific and technological cooperation, bilateral trade, and capital flow.

From pessimistic perspective, Brazilian scholars think that there are internal constraints to Brazilian policy towards china, opposition of liberal and right wing parties, opposition by former staff of Foreign Affairs Ministry, oppositions of big media groups who support US position, the issue of “deindustrialization” and the myth of Africanization, opposition of sector of manufacture industry; opposition of trade unions against job lost. Chinese scholar also gave their reasons for a pessimistic view: national interest, the U.S. factor, the heterogeneity of Latin America, non-existence of an agenda(for bilateral cooperation on multilateral platform), and lack of mutual understanding. Some scholars take example of the Southern Common Market. One opinion is that China should establish partnership with the organization because it is somewhat tariff union. Another opinion is that there are legal issues to discuss if the negotiation begins.

In terms of the BRICS and G20’s role in the world politics, scholars are also divided into optimistic and pessimistic schools. Most scholars are optimistic that the BRICS and G20 are similar to G8, ASEAN and other groups. Both China and Latin American countries should make G20 workable and stand for developing countries, which is very critical for developing world. Latin American scholars believe that the BRICS is important as a potential body in the middle of 21st century. Currently its importanceliesin providing a platform for frequent meeting between these developing countries. Pessimistic scholars called the BRICS a “banquet” rather than a substantial international organization.

Chinese scholars emphasize the importance of energy cooperation on the sustainability of Sino-Latin American relationship. Firstly, both have strong complementary on energy and resources cooperation. Secondly, modern energy supply is an important condition for developing countries to achieve economic development. Both sides should enhance cooperation on energy especially renewable energy. There is great potential on wind energy and solar power. Though ethanol can be used as renewable energy, it generates negative impacts on food consumption. Both sides should enhance energy cooperation to deal with the fragmentation of global governance in this area.

Argentine scholar argued that it is an important dimension to safeguard sustainable development by dealing with urbanization dangers properly. By comparing the economic development between Argentina and China during 2002-2012, he emphasized the big income gap and marginalization of some communities in the growth and urbanization. Social cohesion is a good choice.

The other presentation emphasized the challenge of violence to sustainable development. He argued that though Latin America one of the most dynamic regions in world, safety is still a big problem. In Mercosur, violence has let the society assume huge costs: lose 7.7% of GDP in economy, most of the people died between 15-44 years old for violent crime, confidence lose towards government, and judicial authority being challenged. To solve problems of violence, all social forces should take actions. Academics, NGOs and universities should provide solutions and methods. Relevant institutions should enhance coordination and leadership to prevent crime and violence.

An American scholar argued that there are three common challenges in the development process in both Latin America and China. The first is corruption, inequality, group protests, and flee of corrupted officials. The second is that one possible outcome of urbanization is marginalization of some people rather than enterprising spirit. The third is the lack of public goods such as social assurance, education, infrastructure and poor environmental governance. And middle income trap and bureaucratism are also important issues in both sides’ social development. It is not clear what will be the future of the long-term development.

The disagreements in the discussion are two aspects. The first is to what extent China’s development achievement is related to Washington Consensus. Some argued that China’s success is a result of adopting Washington Consensus. Others insisted that China’s success lies in its peaceful foreign policy and promoting its comparative advantages dynamically. The second is whether there is space for both sides to cooperate on urbanization. Some argued there is no such space since Latin America can’t provide technology for China. While most scholars think that China can learn a lot from Latin America, such as Latin America’s long history of urbanization, experiences and lessons, etc. It is also important to mobilize all social forces to participate in urbanization.

Some scholars are holding very positive views on the regional integration in both regions. Some scholar argued that there are TPP dominated by the U.S. and RCEP promoted by China in East Asia. The competition between TPP and RCEP possibly reduce the central position of ASEAN. Both regions are focusing regional affairs which make it difficult to promote trans-regional cooperation. Some scholar argued that regional power redistribution with the rise of China and Brazil in both East Asia and Latin America respectively will have influence on trans-regional cooperation between East Asia and Latin America. Some argued that the main channel should be bilateral rather than regional cooperation if you look at the losing influence of FEALAC in recent years.

Some scholars pointed out that there is asymmetry in Sino-Latin American relationship. One is that China is more efficient in terms of decision-making and action capacity that Latin America. The other is that though China has become an important trade partner for Latin America, there is still a big gap between Latin America’s emphasis on China and China’s actual importance.

However, a number of scholars think that there are great potential for future Sino-Latin American relationship. Both sides are very friendly to the other. Both sides are developing countries and they need cooperate for getting more development support. With the development of modern technology, it is easier for both sides to know each other and build better conditions for cooperation. Both sides should enhance investment and culture exchange, and increase discussion on political issues at global level, which will be helpful for the development of the whole developing world.

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