China’s Push Into ‘America’s Backyard’


The United States has been quite vocal about its “pivot to Asia,” but as Washington seeks to further its influence in the Asia-Pacific, China has been quietly upping its own importance to Central and Latin America. Now China is making a push to further its engagement with countries in the Western Hemisphere, as evidenced by the announcement of a new dialogue mechanism. The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which met in Cuba from January 28 to 29, adopted a statement announcing the establishment of a China-CELAC Forum.

CELAC itself is a fairly new organization, having been established only in 2011, yet it has the potential to be an important political force. Last year, with Cuba as the rotating president, the organization focused on regional cooperation in education, anti-corruption, and natural disaster relief. CELAC also declared Latin America a “peace zone,” with countries agreeing to solve their differences peacefully, through dialogue. Cuban President Raul Castro, who headed this year’s CELAC summit in Havana, called CELAC “the legitimate representative of the interests of Latin America and the Caribbean.”

The China-CELAC Forum, according to Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei, is designed to provide “an important platform for the growth of bilateral comprehensive and cooperative partnership featuring equality, mutual benefit and common development.” Hong added that the establishment of this forum “fully speaks to the shared wish of Latin American and Caribbean states to enhance their overall cooperation with China.” The first meeting is expected to take place later in 2014.

China’s outreach to CELAC is only one part of a growing relationship with the Western hemisphere. China has become the second largest trading partner for Latin America–growth driven in part by China’s demand for natural resources. However, as in the case of Africa, China’s interests in the region are more complex than a simple need for raw materials. Central and Latin American countries are also attractive as markets for Chinese goods, as well as offering the potential for cooperation on the infrastructure projects Chinese construction companies so often undertake around the globe. In 2012, China’s bilateral trade with Latin America as a region increased over 8 percent to $261 billion.

On the political level, since 2001, China has signed strategic partnership agreements with five countries in the region: Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Peru.  As a sign of the region’s importance, Xi Jinping visited Central America in June of last year, stopping in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Trinidad and Tobago.  Several regional leaders have also made the trek to Beijing, including Equador’s Vice President Jorge Glas Espinel, Bolivian President Juan Evo Morales Ayma, and Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer.

Adding an extra level of enticement for China, the majority of countries that still recognize Taiwan are located in Central America and the Caribbean. Though there’s currently somewhat of an unofficial truce on this issue between Taipei and Beijing, long term Beijing may seek to woo these 11 countries away from Taiwan.

Meanwhile, China’s engagement also helps highlight some regional ambivalence towards the United States. CELAC itself was conceived of as an alternative to the Washington-led Organization of American States. CELAC member states include every country in the Western hemisphere expect Canada and the United States, rather pointed omissions. The fact that the most recent CELAC summit was held in Havana only served to underscore a lack of coherent U.S. policy in the region. The U.S. still has in place an embargo on Cuba, which has outlived both logic and usefulness — something Raul Castro, in his speech to the CELAC summit, was not shy about pointing out.

Underlining the sentiments of some in CELAC, Castro warned that CELAC must be on guard against attempts by the U.S. to leverage the region for its own benefit. “The so-called centers of power do not resign themselves to having lost control over this rich region, nor will they ever renounce attempts to change the course of history in our countries in order to recover the influence they have lost,” he said. Partnering with China seems to be CELAC’s way of hedging against U.S. dominance in the region — just as some states in the Asia-Pacific are edging closer to the U.S. in a bid against growing Chinese power.

February 12, 2014 at 11:03

China wants it all. The only thing which will prevent it from advancing to do so, is world war.

9 dashes, 4 dishes, 1 soup
February 10, 2014 at 10:57

Central and South American nations are in the US “backyard” only in a geographical sense. They’re sovereign nations. They’re free to trade and have relations with other nations as they see fit.

If a CELAC nation’s foreign policy becomes a threat to US national security, it needs to be handled as such. But nothing described in this article reaches that level.

On a side note, one CELAC nation – Mexico – is currently taking jobs away from China. And that trend will grow. American companies can change a product design, introduce a new one & begin manufacturing at a Mexican manufacturing plant in a matter of days. It would take several months to do the same thing in a Chinese facility. The geographical advantage and low transportation costs can make the wage disparity moot.

I don’t know about CELAC. But the Mexican manufacturing economy is a big story.

February 9, 2014 at 19:26

What this piece ignores is that the Latino community in the United States is growing by leaps and bounds. The present estrangement will utterly dissolve when the US elects its first Latino president. *That* will be a ‘pivot’ that will turn the world upon its head.

February 9, 2014 at 18:04

I agree with Kimbo Y. Laurel. China only signs deals to plunder the nation’s resources that they have ties with. Just look at how Africans are now stating China is the latest “Colonialist Power” in Africa these days as all of their trees, minerals, animals, and anything not nailed down is probably taken by the Chinese back to the motherland.

Sure, it sounded so great that China was building infrastructure in Africa, only to hear Africans say the Chinese are great at building stadiums that don’t even last a year, or sell them Chinese cars that fall apart and oxidize after owning them for only a few months. Even African consumers are learning “Made in China” actually equals cheap and shoddy.

If Latin America had done some observations, they should ask the people in Myanmar why they are distancing themselves from mainland China after forty years of plundering by Chinese SOEs in their lands. Yeah! Let’s build a dam in Myanmar where China receives 90% of the electricity, while Myanmar will receive a generous 10% of the electricity. Such a great deal! Better yet, the people of Latin America should ask why the Chinese people don’t even buy domestically made Chinese goods; especially, domestic made cars made in China.

Having read years ago about how China will lead the SCO and BRICS to greatness, only to see today that they are nothing but hollow organizations of disappointment. I simply have to ask will China’s efforts in CELAC make it ‘three for three’ in the near future following the SCO and BRICS fiasco?

Jason smith
February 25, 2014 at 19:52

your comments completely lack of credibility, tell me which stadium build by china only last for 1 year? And I never heard chinese cars only last for months, most cars build in china have 3 years warranty or 100000 km.
Secondly, most Africans prefer to do business with china, they never want to see their western evil masters again. They were treated worse than animals by Americans, British and French . In the last 10 years, since chinese moved in , Africans economy is booming , people’s lifestyles improved dramatically . Good on you china, African need you. All the westerner and Japanese are just jealous.

February 9, 2014 at 04:43

US yards are large, its front yard goes into China’s interior, all the way to Xinjiang and Tibet, S China Sea. Taiwan is in the America’s gourmet kitchen. Side yards include Russia, Middle East, Central Asia, Africa in whole, Left yard, Europe and Canada, not to exclude Australia.

Now its backyard: Caribbean, Central, and S. America also in whole. Its basement is the Antarctica, and the North Pole is America swimming pole. Little places like India, all ASEN, Jpan and Korea are its toilets, baths, and washroom.

February 10, 2014 at 00:44

China have a big population with growing needs for habitat. China simply cannot provide for the living standards aspired by its population from the present boundaries. This is a natural process when a superior race like the Chinese displace the lesser groups around them.

What is needed is to allow for the self determination of the ethnic Chinese peoples in historical Chinese territories that were once part of China to decide they want to rejoin China, and to invite the PLA in to defend them.

Nothing much needed, just lands that were once mapped, visited, occupied, or mentioned by China in the past, or those lands that contain ethnic Chinese now or in the future.

China can then expand the western and northern habitat to include the former Mongol empire that are, after all, Chinese Yuan dynasty founders.

To the East, China can expand to the lands settled by Chinese that crossed the land bridge and settled the Americas. Canada is now heavily populated by ethnic Chinese that yearn to be under Chinese administration.

Finally, to the south, Australia and New Zealand was mapped by Chinese cartographers and now hold many ethnic Chinese that will surely want to be reunited with their homeland.

February 10, 2014 at 18:13

Wow, not sure if trolling or being serious. But as an ethnic Chinese living in one of those areas, I am ANYTHING but yearning to live under the current Chinese administration. I like my freedom of speech and ability to select my government, and I have no intention of being part of any crazy-ass colonial ambitions (as you so grandly put).

Wake up – the only commonality that we have is our phenotype. Our culture, way of life, way of looking at the world is so vastly different from one from China.

You can be sure if that if the Chinese and the PLA tries to do anything on the scale that you mentioned above, there will be resistance, and it WILL comprise of people of similar phenotype as you i.e. overseas ethnic Chinese.

February 8, 2014 at 23:42

The benefit of house living…a privatr backyard. On a apartment it is called common area.

Chris king
February 8, 2014 at 20:11

American have military build up in every countries backyard in the last 60 years, they are spying on all the countries whether you are an ally or enemy, they steal all the advanced technologies from Russia and china through cyber attacks( ask snowden). They are the biggest gangster in the world, deliberately causing wars for their advantages. We had enough of their evil crimes, it is the time for another country to stand up to them. Hopefully china one day ,sent their troops and nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers encircle and abusing them, like Americans doing to other countries now.

February 9, 2014 at 05:44

what is the point of masking yourself with an English name. people already know who’s behind the mask. rather than blaming their (government) own incompetent, pointing finger at US is easier isn’t it. if you (individual nations) don’t want US involvement then don’t go to DC asking for help, don’t take aids (military, humanitarian, or any others). Cuba is a good example. no involvement with US at any level, so US can’t influence it.

February 8, 2014 at 19:24

I think it’s high time that China and others pivot to the Americas-pacific.

February 9, 2014 at 05:35

Go right ahead!

Please have the PLA and PLN tell us what assets they intend to “pivot” to the “Americas-pacific”.

Why not station 300,000 Chinese troops in Columbia?

All these Chinese troops overseas will all go into business for themselves and before you know it, China will have this huge trade with Columbia. Columbia is one of the top producers in the world for certain goods in high demand in China.

The only question is, will they take RMB? Hey wait, there is no problem, they will take Chinese assets in trade.

The thing about this business is that once a custome in China starts buying, they keep buying. The PLA stationed in Columbia will all grow rich even if they consume a lot of it themselves.

Kimbo Y. Laurel
February 8, 2014 at 12:22

I have doubt that there will be a military alliance between China and the Latin America countries but it can serve an economic hedge for Latin America when it is dealing with the United States. The Latin America have been under United States’ periphery of influences since establishment of Monroe Doctrine which was originally against the influence of Imperial European power.

I know China will be getting benefits from Latin America with the raw materials like copper,oil and tin but will Latin America be getting benefits from China? The trade relationship of China and other developing countries is bit like you sell them(China) the apple as they (China) will sell you the apple pie. In other words, the raw materials from the developing countries will be manufactured by the Chinese and be sold as a finished by-product to that developing country. It is not quite fair if you are thinking about it.

Chinese business do have problems in public relation with the locals in other countries like the 2012 case in Ghana where 16 year old illegal working Chinese was shot. Chinese business do have bad record of having pollution in the area of investment.

It will be sad of Latin America if it is going to be treated as another pawn as China will be treating as such. It is better that the Latin American countries invest their economy in diverse way and have open trade with each other. The Latin American countries have to solve among themselves without outside influence like China and United States even though they need to economically engage with those countries if they want their countries prosperous in a cautious way.

February 8, 2014 at 21:27

The solution to your concern is simple. Stop selling apple and start making apple pies. Solved.

Kimbo Y. Laurel
February 9, 2014 at 01:07

@George. You have a point but if you are developing country, it takes a lot of capital to do so. The best way that I can think of is the partnership of local company and foreign company bu it will be hard for the foreign company for it have to deal with the protectionist policy.

February 8, 2014 at 10:25

not really surprising. as long as there are benefits, ties will exist.

Matt Hall
February 9, 2014 at 00:03

What are the benefits to China, cheaper bananas?

February 10, 2014 at 15:14

Maybe cheaper… very cheap… mineral resources? Just like they did with the cooper ”deal” with Chile many years ago?. Or maybe they are expecting to achieve an ”Ukrainian Deal” with CELAC countries to obtain lands to produce their own food?.

February 8, 2014 at 09:51

When will China place nuclear tipped ballistic missiles in Central and Latin America?

February 8, 2014 at 11:12

It’s conceivable a couple of PALN’s SSBNs have been patrolling in the vicinity since the announcement of China’s first ADIZ; it has no reason to doubt that such strategic deterrent patrolling will be in place if SCS’s ADIZ is declared or any armed conflict between China and Japan is imminent.

February 9, 2014 at 05:41

“conceivable a couple of PALN’s SSBNs have been patrolling in the vicinity [of Central and Latin America]”

It is really conceivable if any PLAN SSBN decided to leave local waters and go out on a deterrent patrol.

Have you thought of when they might do that?

Will they stay on the American Pacific Coast?

Transit the Panama Canal?

Hang around off the Latin American Pacific Coast?

Have fun cruising.

Oh… let me know when the Central Military Commisson screw up their courage to allow a PLN SSBN to sail out of port with a single (let alone a raft) of nuclear tipped missiles.

What if the Chinese PLN captain defected?

admiral Cheng
February 8, 2014 at 13:10

Mr. Ivan when China does that it won’t be forced to retreat like in the 60s. Our Nuclear missiles will be permanent in South America and no power on Earth can force us out.

Kimbo Y. Laurel
February 8, 2014 at 19:07

@Admiral Cheng. I doubt the Latin American countries is willing to have nuclear weapons within their country because the Latin American Countries signed the Latin America Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treat which does not allow any nuclear weapon in the Latin America. If Latin American countries allow the Chinese to put nuclear weapons in their countries against USA, it violates the obligation of the treaty. Also, it would be another Cuban Crises which create another world conflict.

The best way of China to launch the nuclear strike on East coast cities of United States like New York and Washington D.C. is have ballistic missile carrying submarine surprisingly present on the Atlantic Ocean but I have doubt that they will go that far.

February 8, 2014 at 07:21

An interesting development and one that underscores the traditional relation both the US and China have on the world stage: liked abroad, loathed at home.

CELAC has a greater GDP than ASEAN, so while ASEAN may occupy more militarily strategic ground, it seems China’s priorities, unlike the US’, is focused upon economics and the military.

We spend money making alliances while China makes money making alliances. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out who’s got the better deal.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief