Updated: Dec 9, 2020
Below is a hand-picked selection of the most important stories between China and Latin America over the past week.
Argentina has a modest showing at China's major import fair; protests in Sao Paulo against Chinese vaccine and compulsory vaccination; China Roads wins a major hospital construction and operations contract in Chile; Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Peru issue joint statement against China's illegal fishing fleets off the Pacific coast; and China's advances in the Caribbean are tracked.
All text are direct excerpts from the articles, with my comments in italics.
The CIIE would have been an ideal opportunity for Argentina to announce new or long-overdue deals with China. Notable among these are pig farms in the north of the country, and the possible construction of the country's fourth nuclear power plant, with Chinese funding and technology.
"These were the fundamental topics for [President Alberto] Fernández's trip to China, which will now take place in 2021," said Patricio Giusto, executive director of the Sino Argentine Observatory, an organisation dedicated to studying the bilateral relationship.
Since taking office in December 2019, Fernández has expressed a desire for closer ties with China, unlike predecessor Mauricio Macri, who froze infrastructure and energy projects.
Fernández spoke with Xi Jinping in September and stated his intention to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China's foreign investment and infrastructure programme already has 19 Latin American and Caribbean backers. Yet the endorsement of Argentina and the region's other major economies are still pending.
...As well as the pandemic, Argentina’s strict foreign currency controls represent a financial barrier to travelling. Most are expected to participate through their Chinese representatives.
More than 300 Brazilians gathered on Sao Paulo’s main commercial thoroughfare on Sunday to protest state Governor Joao Doria’s support for mandatory Covid-19 immunisation and testing the potential vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac.
Photo credit: Reuters
Doria has previously spoken in favour of making immunisations mandatory, once vaccines are available, sparking a spat with President Jair Bolsonaro who vows it will be voluntary. The Supreme Court’s chief justice has said the court will ultimately decide on the issue.
...In Sao Paulo, the Sinovac vaccine is being tested as part of phase three clinical trials with support from the Doria government.
Grupo Puentes' experience in construction and hospital maintenance, and the financial muscle of their new majority investor, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) have reported that the Sigüeiro-based company has won a contract valued at 600 million euros for the construction and operation of the "Maule Hospital Network" in Chile. This is the first project the two groups have entered into as a consortium, after the Chinese group took control of Grupo Puentes this past June. Grupo Puentes, from Galicia region in Spain's northwest, is known as a leader of civil construction and bridge and viaduct construction. China Road is a subsidiary of China Communications Construction Group, one of the world's largest construction companies.
La experiencia del Grupo Puentes en la construcción y mantenimiento de hospitales, y el músculo financiero de su nuevo accionista mayoritario, China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), han reportado a la empresa con sede en Sigüeiro (Oroso) un contrato de 600 millones de euros para la construcción y el mantenimiento de la Red Hospitalaria Maule, en Chile. Este es el primer proyecto al que Grupo Puentes y CRBC han optado conjuntamente, en consorcio, después de que el pasado mes de junio la corporación china tomase el control del grupo gallego, puntero en España en el ámbito de la obra civil y líder en la construcción de puentes y viaductos. China Road es filial de China Communications Construction Group, uno de los mayores grupos de construcción a nivel mundial.
General Latin America
Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have threatened measures “to prevent, discourage and jointly confront” illegal fishing near their exclusive economic zones in the Pacific.
The joint statement made no specific mention of China but environmental groups Greenpeace and Oceana have repeatedly warned of the growing presence of Chinese fishing fleets in the area.
The South American quartet said they would boost “cooperation and real-time exchange of information” to highlight the illegal fishing.
From The Guardian: "Chile’s Commander Rodrigo Lepe shows a ship from a large fleet of Chinese fishing vessels fishing along the Pacific coast of South America. Photograph: Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters"
Ecuador in July complained to China over a 300-vessel fleet off Galapagos, saying around half of them had turned off their tracking systems so they could not be located.
Beijing in early August banned its vessels from fishing near the Galapagos from September to November this year.
The Chinese fleet instead headed south through international waters to fish near the exclusive economic zones of Peru and Chile, according to NGO Oceana.
For China, the Caribbean is also critical; its location offers commercial access to the Atlantic coast of both the United States and South America for Chinese ships traffic transiting the Panama Canal. The Caribbean also sits between multiple U.S. military and commercial logistics hubs and potential destinations in the Americas, Africa and Europe.
...The Caribbean is also home to four of the nine governments in Latin America that diplomatically recognize Taiwan, which have retained their ties to Taipei despite China’s efforts to isolate its rival. The Caribbean is also an important voting bloc in the Organization of American States and other regional bodies. That increases its strategic value to China, which has sought to influence multilateral diplomacy in the region. In commercial terms, the Caribbean is a diverse, middle-income market for Chinese goods, a financial center for receiving outward-bound Chinese foreign investment and a source of modest amounts of bauxite, nickel and sugar.
...Caribbean trade with China expanded from $1 billion in 2002 to $8 billion in 2019, a rapid increase, though less than the almost 20-fold expansion in overall Chinese trade with Latin America and the Caribbean, from $17 billion to $314 billion during the same period.
Failed loans and projects
...Many Chinese projects in the Caribbean are mired in problems. This includes promised loans that never materialize and projects that never get off the ground, such as the proposed industrial city and drydock in La Brea, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Cienfuegos refinery in Cuba.
...Despite the relatively small population of the Caribbean, it is home to ten of China’s 45 Confucius Institutes in Latin America.
...China has also dedicated a disproportionate amount of its Latin American security engagement to the Caribbean. Each of the three missions of the Chinese military’s hospital ship Peace Arc has included Caribbean destinations. The only participation by People’s Liberation Army troops in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Latin America was in Haiti, where China deployed military police from 2004-2012. China has regularly donated equipment to military and police forces in the region...
On Covid Diplomacy...
China will not only benefit from the Caribbean’s need for Chinese capital, but also from the goodwill generated by China’s medical diplomacy. Chinese COVID-19 donations to the Caribbean include 4,000 test kits, as well as personal protective equipment, to Trinidad and Tobago; 3,000 test kits and four ventilators to Jamaica; 15,000 test kits and four ventilators to the Dominican Republic; and 66,000 masks to Cuba.