In recent opinion notes in Clarín I have pointed out the relevance of weighing opportunities and restrictions when deploying equidistance diplomacy (DDE), which I understand as an ideal model.
I have clarified that equidistance does not imply, at least in international politics, exact symmetry since there may be equidistant behavior in a situation of disparity. The United States and China are not at the same distance from Argentina for historical, geographical, political and cultural reasons.
The DDE assumes the existing disparity, while trying to reinforce and maximize the equidistant component. I have made explicit that the DDE does not imply a policy of confrontation or submission towards Washington and Beijing, but rather it is inclined towards a prudent proximity or a safe distance.
An equidistant diplomacy questions whether the only strategic options available are folding or counterbalance, since both are today uncertain and infertile.
Thus, the DDE aims to implement a reasoned variety of strategic options, both towards the United States and towards China. This implies evaluating without dogmatism the global, continental, regional and national phenomena, forces and factors that can make DDE viable or unfeasible.
In short, equidistance diplomacy does not mean a willful act devoid of calculation. It is also essential to remember that a successful foreign policy should be able to increase the relative power of a nation, to strengthen its self-esteem and to improve the quality of life of citizens; something that the DDE aspires to.
On this occasion, I am interested in underlining the decisive gravitation of paradiplomacy in the triangle between Buenos Aires, Beijing and Washington and the alternatives and challenges that it generates for the State.
A broad definition of paradiplomacy refers to the transnational ties, ties and practices of both sub-state actors (for example, regions, provinces, municipalities, cities) and non-state actors (for example, NGOs, political parties, firms, religious associations) .
Apparently the United States, which had habitually accompanied its official diplomacy with an active paradiplomacy, has been reinforcing over the years a kind of ideological “top diplomacy” with respect to Latin America that is expressed in the access and close ties with the traditional metropolitan elites, with the military, with like-minded organizations and leaders. That is, with the establishment in generic terms.
It should not be surprising then that, in the face of each new crisis situation in one country or another in the area, Washington is surprised and the White House or the State Department only manage to protect their support sectors. All this occurs in the midst of serious competitiveness problems and with less interest from US corporations to make productive investments in Latin America.
On the other hand, China, which originally and for years focused its ties with the region’s nations on a state-to-state basis and with a revolutionary impetus, has been deploying a kind of pragmatic “grassroots diplomacy”.
More and more contacts and familiarity are observed with local governments, with different political parties, with regional elites and with social and cultural movements.
That is to say, in addition to doing it with the usual agents of the establishment, it also does it with various socio-political subjects and with territorially rooted forces.
It is not by chance that many of the pressures that Latin American governments receive — and Argentina is no exception — to do more business come from provinces, municipalities and cities that, in turn, have agreements with Chinese counterparts. This occurs within the framework of an expansive commercial and financial projection of Beijing in the area and in view of the relative retreat of the West in Latin America.
In short, the strategic rivalry between the United States and China, which will persist and grow, promises to be reflected domestically in each Latin American country according to the social, political, civil, cultural and regional ties developed by Washington and Beijing.
This poses great challenges. First, while the United States raises political and military pressure and its promises of attention to national governments through the State Department, the Pentagon, the Southern Command and the National Security Council primarily, China deepens its presence and commitments not only with the Executive but more dynamically through sub-national and non-state actors.
This leads to a better disaggregation of coalitions between international and internal forces.
Second, while there is certainty that the dispute between the two great powers will increase, in the domestic sphere it will be necessary to identify who and how much they pay to its exacerbation (which will have, as in the Cold War, many costs and few winners) or its decrease (partly because there are diverse sectors that do not want to lose the gains derived from the rise of China).
And third, the countries most weakened in the post-pandemic and most fractured by the processes of party polarization could face very severe crises, so it will be essential for the State to know how to calibrate the effect of the double diplomacy — top and bottom — exercised. by the United States and China. Setting up a better statehood is not only necessary to repair social and economic policy and avoid uncontrolled federalism, but also to optimize a demanding and prudent DDE.