Updated: Dec 9, 2020
Below is a hand-picked selection of the most important stories between China and Latin America over the past week.
China gets caught in a vaccine feud in Brazil, the U.S. pressures Brazil to strengthen economic ties, and China's Latin American public diplomacy push.
All text are direct excerpts from the articles, with my comments in italics.
In an exclusive interview, Tu Shuiping, head of PowerChina's Argentinean subsidiary discusses the company’s ambitions.
Photo credit: "PowerChina engineers inspect solar panels at a photovoltaic plant in the town of Cafayate, Salta Province, Argentina" (image: Alamy)
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro stepped up criticism of a Chinese vaccine being developed in partnership with a renowned research institute in Brazil, saying the Asian country lacks credibility to come up with solutions for the coronavirus crisis.
“We won’t buy it from China, it’s my decision,” Bolsonaro said in a radio interview late Wednesday, adding that people wouldn’t feel safe with Sinovac Biotech Ltd’s vaccine “due to its origin.”
Bolsonaro said Brazil spent 2 billion reais ($359 million) to develop a vaccine with AstraZeneca Plc and Oxford University, which is in a similar trial stage. China’s Sinovac is partnering with the country’s prestigious Butantan Institute locally, which is under the watch of one of the president’s main rivals: Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria.
...Earlier this week, Bolsonaro warmly welcomed a U.S. delegation led by National SecurityAdvisorRobert O’Brien, who visited Brazil with a strong anti-China agenda. O’Brien vowed to assist the country in many ways, including financially, to block Huawei Technologies Co.from participating in the upcoming Brazilian 5G network. A top Brazil official said in an interview that a Huawei ban is being considered for concerns over the network’s security.
At a virtual summit on increased U.S.-Brazil cooperation aimed at post-pandemic recovery, Pompeo underscored the importance of expanding bilateral economic ties, given what he called “enormous risk” stemming from China’s significant participation in their economies.
“To the extent we can find ways that we can increase the trade between our two countries, we can ... decrease each of our two nations’ dependence for critical items” coming from China, he said.
“Each of our two peoples will be more secure, and each of our two nations will be far more prosperous, whether that’s two or five or 10 years from now,” he added.
...The two countries signed the protocol outlining the three agreements late on Monday, saying they would set the stage for future talks on expanding trade ties between the two allies and identifying priority sectors to further reduce trade barriers.
Two top U.S. Democratic lawmakers slammed the Trump administration for increasing trade cooperation with Bolsonaro’s far-right government despite its “abysmal record” on human rights, the environment and corruption.
...Latin American governments may be reluctant to jeopardize trade, loans, and investment from the PRC by demanding it take responsibility for its fishing fleet.
Yet if the Chinese government does nothing as boats under its flag pillage Latin America, how can the region trust any Chinese company, including those extracting the region’s petroleum and mineral wealth, signing secret MOUs (Memorandums of Understanding) with its politicians, or building the communication and surveillance infrastructure that carry the personal data of its leaders and citizens?
General Latin America
...Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) holds a considerable reservoir of politicians and intellectuals with unfavorable views of the United States and the oversized influence it exerts over the region. Amid the pandemic, the narrative formulated by Chinese officials based in LAC has been primarily framed around these opportunities.
...the use of Twitter by LAC-based Chinese entities and officials has skyrocketed ever since the COVID-19 outbreak went global. Of the 29 active Twitter accounts of Chinese diplomatic missions in the region (ambassadors, consuls, embassies, and consulates), 11 were created in 2020. What’s more, the activity of these accounts began to rise steadily in January, increasing their joint monthly activity from 863 tweets in December 2019 to 5,018 tweets in May 2020, a clear example of Beijing seeking to engage with an LAC audience to tell its side of the story.
...Despite these efforts, it’s not clear the Twitter campaign is working. The highest number of responses to these official tweets is from the official accounts themselves (77.5%), pointing to a low level of interaction with the public.
...These official accounts sought to support and amplify the voices of local officials and government entities with favorable views of China. Over 35% of the accounts most mentioned belong to LAC presidents, prime ministers, ministers, members of parliament, and other government officials and entities. These mentions were usually related to local officials thanking China, a Chinese company, or a partner city in China for donations and their support in fighting the pandemic.
...Probably one of the best examples of an intelligent appointment has been that of Ambassador Lán Hǔ 蓝虎 in Colombia early this year. Between 2012 and 2016, then political adviser Lan was based at the Chinese Embassy in Venezuela. Afterward, he returned to China, where he worked at the Latin America Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for four years before being assigned to the Chinese Embassy in Colombia. The governments of Colombia and Venezuela have been clashing for more than a decade, and Colombia has been the country most affected by the massive exodus of Venezuelans seeking refuge due to the economic and social crises ravaging the country. Beijing needed someone in Bogotá versed in Venezuelan politics and with a low profile who could navigate the minefield that Colombia-Venezuela relations has become. It found the perfect guy for the job. Ambassador Lan has been adroit in avoiding trouble in Colombia from the Venezuelan issue, while at the same time bringing Bogotá and Beijing closer together.