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Promoting pragmatic relations amid pandemic

By XU SHICHENG | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-08-19 08:50


Latin America and the Caribbean region has been forging even stronger ties with China to combat the novel coronavirus 

Entering the 21st century, nations in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), eager to find ways to overcome their chronic underdevelopment, largely welcomed China, according to "China and Latin America: A pragmatic embrace", a report released by the US think tank Brookings Institution in July. But the development of pragmatic China-LAC ties and China's rise in the region awakened the US "to the long-term threat China poses to its own long-standing role as the leading power in the region".

In December last year, the US government launched an expanded Growth in the Americas initiative in an attempt to resist the Belt and Road Initiative in Latin America.

However, the Brookings report thinks that LAC countries will continue to strengthen their relations with China. The report says that 23 governments in the region recognize that they cannot climb out of the impending severe recession without China's largesse.

In 2019, China-LAC trade reached $317.34 billion, making China the second-largest trading partner of the region. Given China's role in promoting economic globalization and trade liberalization, Chile, Peru and Costa Rica have signed free trade agreements with China. Today, there are over 2,500 Chinese enterprises in the LAC region, and China's direct investment surpassed $406.77 billion in 2018, up from $4.62 billion in 2003.That accounted for 22 percent of China's total outbound investment, indicating the region has become the second-largest destination for its outbound investment.

In all, 24 LAC countries have established diplomatic relations with China and LAC countries are important participants in the Belt and Road Initiative. Since Panama signed on to the initiative in November 2017, 19 countries have signed memoranda of understanding or agreements under the framework of the initiative, which has become a significant platform for cooperation between the LAC region and China. The stronger ties are reflected in the China-CELAC(Community of Latin American and the Caribbean States) Forum, held in Beijing and Santiago, Chile, respectively in 2015 and 2018. With the higher-level China-CELAC comprehensive cooperative partnership, China and LAC countries have entered a new era of cooperation.

The novel coronavirus outbreak has intensified the risk of a global economic recession. As a result, personnel exchanges and projects have been affected. But China-LAC relations can withstand the risks and gain new vigor and vitality with their joint response to the challenges.

When the virus severely hit Hubei province in China, the leaders of 17 LAC countries, and the foreign ministers of six, as well as the heads of major political parties and organizations, including CELAC, expressed support in various forms. China on its part has shared experience of its prevention and control experiences with LAC countries and provided needed assistance to people in the region. In the phone calls with counterparts, President Xi Jinping extended sincere sympathies and firm support. On July 23, the foreign ministers of LAC countries held a special video conference with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the pandemic, in which Wang highlighted the mutual assistance and all-round cooperation between China and LAC countries in fighting the virus constitutes an integral part of the global response.

The Chinese government has donated medical supplies and ventilators to 30 countries in the region. Medical experts have been sent to countries including Venezuela and Peru, and more than 30 video conferences have been held to share the two sides' experience in fighting the virus. Also, China has provided procurement, transportation and customs clearance facilities to help Latin American countries combat the virus.

The cooperation on pandemic prevention and control have created new opportunities for enhancing China-Latin America relations and the people-to-people bonds. Overcoming the challenges created by the pandemic, trade between the two sides has gradually recovered. In June, it grew by 17.9 percent compared with May, demonstrating the resilience of the two sides' economic and trade cooperation.

According to Brazil's official statistics, in the first half year of 2020, China maintained its position as the largest destination for Brazil's exports. Trade between China and Brazil reached $51.05 billion, up 5.75 percent year-on-year. Brazil's exports to China exceeded $34.35 billion, with 13.38 percent year-on-year growth. Brazil had a surplus of $17.66 billion, up 43.29 percent from 2019.

In June, Argentina's exports to China reached $666 million, increasing 51.7 percent compared to last year. The country also renewed a currency swap agreement with China on Aug 6, with a swap line worth 130 billion yuan ($18.75 billion).

Expanding China-LAC cooperation is playing a significant role in controlling the pandemic and safeguarding people's health and the recovery of the economy and society. LAC companies and manufacturers are gearing up for the third China International Import Expo (CIIE), to be held from Nov 5 to 10.Mexican Deputy Economy Minister Luz Maria de la Mora said that Mexico would continue to take an active part in the CIIE, work with China to safeguard multilateral trade and ensure the security of the global industrial and supply chains.

China has always promoted the multilateral dialogue mechanism. In the foreign minister conference, Wang Yi suggested that the third ministerial meeting of the China-CELAC Forum be held as soon as conditions allow, so as to advance cooperation in public health, food security, poverty, disaster reduction, digital economy and clean energy.

In the face of the unprecedented changes caused by the pandemic, China and LAC countries have forged even closer ties with their joint efforts to fight the virus, and China's demonstrated resolve to advance relations from a strategic and long-term perspective. Besides traditional fields such as infrastructure, energy and agriculture, in the future, the two sides can expand their cooperation in public health, telemedicine, online education, the digital economy and 5G under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, creating new highlights with a health Silk Road and digital Silk Road.

The author is an honorary member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.


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