To the editor,
While much of the focus of today’s political ire and mistrust is pointed at Russia, perhaps China is more deserving. I will not go into detail about the infiltration and hacking of our tech industries or other economic threats, but instead focus on what China is focusing on to the south.
While China has stepped up its global engagement through initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, it has passed under the radar in Latin America. One can be alarmist and state that China is there to counter U.S. influence and expand into the Americas, but Chinese involvement goes much deeper than that.
While I detest the term “America’s backyard,” it serves as a conveniently-packaged perspective on Latin America. A place often forgotten by many Americans outside the context of migrants or cartels. This term may drive home the fact that many are more familiar with events on the other sides of the Pacific or Atlantic oceans instead of our own neighbors to the south. A closer look at China in Latin America will reveal that its motives are split into different layers.
There is the superficial upper level of portraying China as a developer, investor and humanitarian agent, which is true to an extent. China has opened new markets in a region with new found wealth and has increased trade within the region. But beneath these layers, a new legacy of colonialism has become apparent by many Latin Americans. China has committed over 140 billion USD in loans to the region in the past 10 years, according to the China-Latin America Finance Database at www.thedialogue.org.
There have been major transportation infrastructure upgrades and benefits. But why would China care so much?
In short, it buys them political influence within the region. Through loan repayments and acts of apparent goodwill, China is able to ensure that Latin American nations are indebted to the country, allowing China to wield additional influences in the region. This could just be politics as usual and or even compared to the United States’ own regional policies, but for one thing, there have been human rights issues and abuses enabled by China, as documented by a group of over 20 human rights organizations.
Beneath this layer of overt political influence is the grey area of strategy.
In international relations, why would a country not want to empower itself and weaken its rivals? The humanitarian and developmental initiatives obscure the true political strategy. By making inroads with the region, China can begin to counter the U.S. hegemony on the region. China gets to make money, and it gets to get back at the U.S., which it sees as encroaching on its “backyard” in the South China Sea or partnerships with Japan and South Korea.
The deepest and most hidden layer of Chinese influence in the region appears in the form of human rights abuses. The International Federation for Human Rights recently released a report detailing the abuses carried out by Chinese companies throughout the region, both private and state owned. Many of these are carried over from their own country. Citations include inadequate working conditions and housing for workers, environmental destruction, and denying liberty and security to their employees.
While Russia is the current bogeyman, we cannot forget the closer and more impactful strategic threat to the stability of the Americas. So, what can the U.S. do before China substantially influences the region and brings the war of hearts and minds closer to the U.S?