“Communism at our doors: China’s growing influence in Latin America”. This is the suggestive title of a hearing called for this Thursday by the Western Hemisphere subcommittee of the Foreign Relations Committee of the House of Representatives, chaired by Cuban American legislator María Elvira Salazar.
The hearing will be attended by two mid-ranking officials in the State Departmentwho have been summoned to answer questions: Kerri Hannan, deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, who is in charge of the issue of China in the region in this agency, and Mileydi Guilarte, deputy administrator in the Office for Latin America and the Caribbean from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Salazar is the same congresswoman who had already organized a hearing this summer to discuss “Colombia’s descent into socialism under Gustavo Petro”.
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Concern about China’s presence in the region is not new. In fact, in July The Council on Foreign Relations, one of the most prestigious think tanks in the country, published a report in which it highlights how China is already the main trading partner of South Americathe second in Latin America as a whole, and an important source of both foreign direct investment and loans in energy and infrastructure.
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Likewise, he mentions how they have been investing in the space sector and have strengthened their military ties with several countries, particularly with Venezuela.
To put it in context, Investments in the region have gone from 12 billion dollars in 2000 to more than 450 billion in 2022. Experts predict that by 2035 that figure will reach $700 billion.
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Currently, Beijing is already the main trading partner in 9 countries (Cuba, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela).
Although on paper, China’s interest is commercial – it needs raw materials to grow. in the US they believe that Beijing is using these relations to advance its geostrategic interestswhich include increasingly isolating Taiwan and strengthening authoritarian regimes in the region such as Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
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A more extreme vision of this scenario is the one used by Salazar and other legislators, Republicans in particular. For them, China’s goal is to convert the region to communism, as the Soviet Union attempted during the Cold War years.
Indeed, among these, Beijing has displaced Moscow as the number one “public enemy.”
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But the debate remains the same. While China seduces Latin America with low-cost investments and loans, The US has its eyes on other regions of the planet where it also fights for strategic interests.
Fear of China’s influence is also translating into the domestic arena.
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In Florida, for example, a series of “anti-Chinese communism” laws were recently passed, intended to curb what is perceived as a threat.
Among them, one that was used to sanction four schools whose majority partner is a Chinese investor based in Hong Kong and another that prevents people of Chinese origin from buying properties near military installations and government offices.
SERGIO GÓMEZ MASERI
EL TIEMPO correspondent
On Twitter @sergom68
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