On November 21, 2016, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) published its second white paper on its policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean. Although the document received very little attention in either the U.S. or region, it serves as a valuable indicator of China’s intentions toward the region, both through what it says on its face, and how it may be read “between the lines.”
China’s engagement in Latin America and the Caribbean increasingly impacts the region, and by extension, the economic and security environment of the U.S. As such, China’s new document on its approach toward the region is important for policymakers, analysts and businessmen with an interest in that relationship. This article thus examines that document and provides recommendations for U.S. policymakers of how best to respond.
As with any government policy document, China’s second policy paper toward Latin America and the Caribbean almost certainly does not disclose the full range of the country’s plans for engaging with the region, nor its complete set of intentions. Yet as with U.S. government documents such as the National Security Strategy and Quadrennial Defense Review, the paper may be understood as a concerted effort by Chinese bureaucrats and academics to express the official vision for how the PRC wishes to advance its relationship with the region across a broad range of areas. Of course, the document seeks to express those plans in the most diplomatic and non-threatening manner possible. U.S. and Latin American analysts should thus take the new paper with similar seriousness, although not just interpreting it on its face value.
At a superficial level, China’s second policy paper on Latin America and the Caribbean is similar in content and structure to the first, which was released in conjunction with then President Hu Jintao’s trip to the region in November 2008. Both the first and second policy white papers toward Latin America and the Caribbean broadly announce China’s intention to expand and maintain a relationship with the region across a broad range of areas, including military, political, social and economic domains. Both documents generally emphasize China’s intention to maintain a “win-win” relationship, mutually beneficial for both parties.
By contrast to the 2008 document, the new white paper explicitly recognizes that China’s engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean, among other parts of the world, is critical to its strategic objectives, tying such engagement to the currently “in vogue” goals of achieving the level of a “moderately prosperous” nation by 2020 (2021 is the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party), and into a “prosperous” and “strong” modern socialist country by 2049 (the 100th anniversary of the Communist takeover of the Chinese communist takeover of the mainland. Through such statements China implicitly acknowledges that, in the interdependent global economy in which it has positioned itself as a manufacturing hub, engagement with Latin America is strategically important for the continuing development of the Chinese economy and state, and by extension, the continuity in power of the Chinese Communist Party.
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