Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took aim last week at a resurgent China, warning Latin American countries they should be wary of their increasingly cozy ties with the Asian powerhouse which has become more outspoken as it challenges the U.S. in a contest for resources and influence in the western hemisphere.
“Latin America does not need new imperial powers that seek only to benefit their own people,” said Tillerson referring to China. He was speaking to students at the University of Texas, his alma mater, as he prepared to head to México, the start of a five-nation tour. In recent years, China, he noted, has become the chief trading partner of some of Latin America’s largest economies, including Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Peru.
Since the election of Donald Trump, and his abandonment of the original Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal three days after his inauguration, China has sought a bigger role overseas, presenting its Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade agreement as an alternative to the TPP.
Never before have China’s intentions to wean the region off of its relationship with the U.S. been so explicit, nor has the scale of China’s economic engagement been so great. China has invested more than $113.6 billion in the region, and loaned more than $141.4 billion to the region since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. China is the area’s second most important trade partner, after the U.S.
In his Austin speech, the U.S.’s top diplomat acknowledged China was “gaining a foothold” in Latin America, but said Chinese plans for the region are often based on unfair trading practices which involve “imported Chinese labor, onerous loans and unsustainable debt.”
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