This July, Chinese President Xi Jinping embarked on state visits to Argentina, Cuba and Venezuela and attended a summit of the loose group of major developing countries known as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in Fortaleza, Brazil. This was his second trip to Latin America in less than two years in office, following a previous tour of the Americas in 2013 which included Mexico, Costa Rica, and Trinidad and Tobago.
China’s influence in the region has grown rapidly in recent years, facilitated by the rapid increase in bilateral trade and investment, which as of 2013 stands at $252 billion, second only to the United States. China also appeals to the antipathy of many Latin American leaders toward the United States. Illustratively, this past January the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) in Havana established a China-CELAC forum excluding the United States and Canada.
Historically, China has shown little inclination to engage politically or strategically with Latin America, conceding leadership to the United States due to its manifest advantages, such as proximity and long historical involvement in the region’s affairs. This ambivalence, however, has rapidly evaporated due to China’s growing commercial interests, U.S. interference in East Asia and fears of encirclement through bodies such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Although China and the countries visited this year signed a large number of deals, many in Latin America have expressed doubts about the benefits of Chinese participation in the region. In the long-term, this skepticism may impede China’s ability to form strategically significant partnerships.