China is investing heavily in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), and may also be working hard to improve public perception of China in that part of the world. The United States, on the other hand, has been exerting less influence in the region.
The percentage of exports from LAC to China went from 1.1% in 2000 to 12.4% in 2018. For the same period, exports to the United States fell from 58%t to 43%. Between 2009 and 2015, China invested $191 billion in Latin America. China loaned $141 billion to LAC countries since 2005. Chinese investment has grown in Puerto Rico as well as other LAC localities. The Chinese investments have increased awareness and approval of China in LAC media.
“Instead of being identified as a source of low-quality products,” said a report from the Council on Foreign Relations, “the country is increasingly associated in Latin America with modernity, high-speed trains, online payments, smart cities, and electric cars.”
The Pew Research Center found more positive attitudes toward China among Latin American nations (they did not include Caribbean nations, or Puerto Rico in their survey). The United States has recently lost prestige in Latin America according to reports, and may need to work hard to regain that ground.
Admiral Faller’s warnings
Admiral Craig S. Faller reported to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee in March of 2021 that he felt “an incredible sense of urgency” on the subject of China’s influence in LAC.
“We are losing our positional advantage in this Hemisphere and immediate action is needed to reverse this trend,” he wrote.
In an interview with Politico, Faller said, ” The PRC does not seek fair competition based on rules. It seeks to create dependencies, not trusted partnerships. Through its deepening economic ties and coercive influence, Beijing is vying for key support from regional partners on U.N. votes and backing for Chinese appointees to multinational institutions. Ultimately, Beijing wants to create a global system in which authoritarian regimes are viewed as legitimate forms of governance. A system where the rule of law, human rights and free speech are stifled. A system where international norms are manipulated for its own benefit, and it’s happening now.”
Faller’s solution is to become a better partner to allies in Latin America.