China in Latin America

On Thursday March 27, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars held an event on China in Latin America. Joined by the Institute of the Americas and the Institute of Latin American Studies the event’s goal was to inform about China and its increasing presence in Latin America. The presenter Eric Olson, Associate Director of the Latin American Program introduced the four speakers. The first two, Dinorah Azpuru and Elizabeth J. Zechmeister, who are professors of political science at Wichita University and Vanderbilt respectively, led a team of researchers to gather and analyze data throughout Latin America on how the population feels towards China’s involvement in the region. The project is called Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) and if you go to their webpage http://www.vanderbilt.edu/lapop/ there is tons of information about the research, something they encourage us to do throughout their presentation. The other two panelists were Chinese professor Liu Kang, director of the China Research Center at Duke University and Daniel Erikson, senior adviser for policy in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S Department of State.

Although they presented precious information about countries and their statistics, I personally was expecting more. Prof Azpuru and Zechmeister touched on various points. From China’s involvement in socialist countries like Nicaragua and Venezuela to how hard it is for the Latin American population to distinguish China from Taiwan and even Japan. This last point was very interesting because I come from Peru and usually we don’t normally call Asian people “Chinos” or Chinese without thinking about the big difference it makes. Prof. Zechmeister was able to explain this point and when interviewers asked question about China, they explain first that they were talking about continental China, something which the people can identify more as the People’s Republic of China and not Taiwan for instance. Another important point about their research is that countries leaning to the left tend to see China’s regional participation in a good influential way than the U.S and the contrary happens towards right leaning countries  with China vs. the U.S. Among those countries with high percentage favoring China were those of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) Coalition whose most representative members include Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba. On the other hand, countries that score a low percentage were countries with strong ties with the U.S like Mexico and Colombia.

After the data was presented Professor Kang took the stage talking about China and its economic growth. He specifically focused on how China is looking for new markets not only in Latin America but also in Africa. Another important point was that China is seen as a negative influence throughout the East Asia region and even according to polls in China, the majority of the population does not consider China as a role model for economic policy.

Senior adviser Erickson talks about how the US sees Chinese presence in Latin America as good and is willing to work with them. They called it “The New Triangle” meaning China, Latin America and U.S. However, Mr. Erickson gave his insights about the LAPOP project and called for more correlation and to add more focus on those countries in which the Chinese have invested more. I agreed with his point and with other member in the audience how as well asked about countries were China have directed its money. I said at the beginning that I was expecting more because for example in Peru there is this big attention regarding the Chinese investors and the economic policy that the government is following towards China. Actually, in one of the booklets they talk about Peru and the fact that 40% of oil production in Peru is owned by China investors. For that reason, I was expecting them to correlate their information to those countries like Peru and also have some experts talk about the national feeling about it. Overall, I enjoyed going to this event, it was the first time I went to the Wilson Center and I would definitely be back again.

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