US not edged out of Latin America: State

Updated: 2014-04-30 11:16

By Michael Barris in New York (China Daily USA)

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A US assistant secretary of state criticized the US media's "Chicken Little" views on China's growing engagement with Latin America, saying "it's not a question of someone edging us (the US) out of a market".

"That's an exaggeration," Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said during a talk at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas in Manhattan on Tuesday.

Calling the US's Latin America relationships "the strongest they've ever been", Jacobson said in response to an audience member's question that she is "not particularly worried about (the US) becoming obsolete in the region" despite media reports that have suggested the country is "losing influence" in a part of the world considered its backyard. Jacobson attributed the negative portrayal to a US media obsession with the invading "country of the moment".

"One day it's China, one day Russia," she said.

Jacobson compared the reports to the tale of Chicken Little, the fictional chicken who shouts "the sky is falling" because of her hysterical and mistaken belief that the world is coming to an end and disaster is imminent.

It helps the US "enormously" to discuss Latin America and the Caribbean from time to time with China's leaders, Jacobson said.

"Frankly, 10 years ago when they began, people would ask me, why are you having conversations with the Chinese on Latin America?" she said. "Nobody asks me that question anymore. It's now very obvious why we have those conversations."

Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the region last year, when he met with the leaders of Suriname, Guyana and others.

Although China's purchases of Latin American commodities reflects "very robust" cross-regional trade that has helped pull some of the poorest countries out of poverty, that does not "become a zero-sum game with the United States", Jacobson said. "It's not a question of someone edging us out of a market. Quite the contrary."

"China's trade with this region can be a very, very good thing for both sides," she said. "It can be win-win for those two parties but only if it is transparent and follows rules of international and local especially when it comes to labor and environment."

US not edged out of Latin America: State

In her formal remarks, Jacobson said it was "no surprise", given economic growth on both sides of the Pacific, that Asia and Latin America "have recognized each other's potential".

"China is obviously the top recipient of several commodities exports from several South American countries," she said. "Many of our hemispheric neighbors are concluding trade or investment agreements with Asian partners. And obviously Japan, China and South Korea and important sources of foreign direct investment in Latin America and the Caribbean. We do not and should not fear Asia's economic interest in this hemisphere, provided those relationships are transparent and the rules are respected."

The US remains "strategically engaged with the Americas even while recognizing and encouraging the region's positive ties across the Pacific with Asia", Jacobson said. She urged the audience to think of those regions as "an integrated whole - a broader Pacific with commonalities beyond geographic proximity".

(China Daily USA 04/30/2014 page1)