'New height' for China's relations with LatAm

Updated: 2014-12-29 03:28

By Pu Zhendong in Beijing(China Daily Latin America)

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China-Latin America relations reached a "new height" last year as a more confident and proactive China laid out strategic cornerstones to prop up a "major-country diplomacy" that features stabilizing neighborhood, spearheading global economic development and weaving a network of partners, analysts said.

In December, along with Premier Li Keqiang's successful visit to Kazakhstan, Serbia and Thailand, Foreign Minister Wang Yi summarized as "a harvest year for Chinese diplomacy" at a recent ministry reception.

Last year, President Xi Jinping and the Premier conducted in total 12 overseas visits to 30 countries, including Asian neighbors, as well as countries in distant Europe, Latin America and Oceania. Through more frequent bilateral interaction, Chinese leaders have spelled out a foreign policy vision that features good neighborliness and win-win cooperation.

So far, China has built partnerships with 67 countries and five regional organizations, illustrating the "major-country style" in a non-aligned but partner-up approach.

Chinese leaders also voiced and propagated new economic and security concepts at a series of multilateral conferences such as the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands, the sixth BRICS Summit in Brazil, and Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in Tajikistan.

In late November, Xi highlighted China's pursuit of a "major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics" – namely new style and vision – on the premise of continuity and consistency of China's foreign policy, at the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs.

Observers said the remarks signaled Beijing's diplomatic shift from its traditional approach of "keeping a low profile" toward striving for accomplishments, given the country's status as a rising economic giant.

China-Latin America relations reached a new height last year in the wake of President Xi's successful visit to major regional powers of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba in July, while attending the BRICS summit and meeting with his South American and Caribbean counterparts.

The trip, yielding more than 150 cooperative agreements in sectors such as energy, mining, and infrastructure worth $70 billion, came less than one year after Xi's first visit to the region as head-of-state in 2013. Analysts said Chinese leaders' frequent and efficient appearances in Latin America have signaled the region's rising status in Beijing's overall diplomatic layouts.

Niu Haibin, deputy director of the Department of Latin American Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, said the significance of Latin America has not diminished due to China's priorities in Asian neighbors and major states, instead "it is developing to a deeper and broader level".

"The two sides now eye closer collaborations beyond traditional areas of politics and trade, and extend into finance and investment. Latin America has evolved to be an important destination for the colossal going-out Chinese capitals," Niu said.

In April, a report by Chinese Academy of Social Sciences urged Beijing to accelerate strategic investment in Latin America, saying cooperation between the two regions is still lagging behind in an "explorative" stage.

During his visit, Xi proposed a well-acclaimed "1+3+6" cooperative framework in the hope to boost two-way trade to $500 billion in 10 years.

Xi said Sino-Latin American cooperation, under the prescription of the Chinese-Latin American and Caribbean Cooperation Plan (2015-2019), should be driven by "three engines" of trade, investment and finance, and focus on six major areas: energy and resources, infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing, scientific and technological innovation, and information technologies.

Observers said given the uniqueness of Latin American politics, economy, and international relations, cooperation between China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), should innovate new policy tools, instead of simply copying successful experiences of other mechanisms.

"China-CELAC relations should transcend from the bilateral approach, because each Latin American economy is usually small and homogeneous. However, if we seek cooperation from a multilateral and continental level, the reciprocal result will be maximized," said He Shuangrong, a researcher of Latin American studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Efforts to conduct huge infrastructure projects, such as the proposed railway running across South America from the Pacific Coast to the Atlantic Coast, will need more than just one or two states to coordinate," she said.

Last year, a cooperation forum between China and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was also created in a bid to elevate relations between the two sides, marking the inclusion of all developing countries by China's collective cooperation mechanism.

"By offering a coordinative and intellectual platform, the forum is anticipated to change the former sporadic exchanges between businessmen and think tanks of the sides," Niu said.

"In view of fragile economy and unstable politics of Latin America, Beijing should also thoroughly evaluate feasibility of any investment projects in advance to mitigate risks," he added.