Illustration by Alonso Gañan

From small nations such as Belize and Barbados to heavily populated countries like Mexico and Brazil, the Latin America-Caribbean region is one of infinite diversity. Similarly, the spectrum of productive capacity and levels of gross domestic product is as varied as its climate, flora, and fauna. If we are to develop a clearer understanding of the issues that impact the region as a whole, it is important to consider a variety of perspectives and opinions. To reflect this diversity, we interviewed six Latin American academics, asking them to consider the following question: how has COVID-19 affected the relationship between China and the countries that make up Latin America and the Caribbean?

*Interviews took place in June and July 2020 and appear alphabetically by country.

List of academics interviewed

ArgentinaDr. Jorge E. Malena  
Chile Dr. Iván Witker 
Colombia Dr. Vladimir Rouvinski
Ecuador Dr. Fabricio Rodríguez 
Mexico Dr. José Luis León-Manríquez
UruguayDr. Ignacio Bartesaghi   

Dr. Jorge E. Malena

Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina – Argentina

Through its protectionist policies and postponement of trade agreements, the White House has helped not just China but the European Union to take the lead in terms of agreements with the region.

How has China’s domestic handling of COVID-19 affected its relationship with LAC?

Since March this year, most Latin American countries have received help from China to cope with the health and medical issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, notably in the form of equipment or advice. China has stood out widely on the world stage for the assistance it has provided, becoming a focal point for global cooperation. From the perspective of increased cooperation, the impact of this on its bilateral relations can be considered positive.

What has been the impact of this at a governmental level in Argentina? Will we see any changes to the Sino-Argentine relationship?

Following the detection of a novel coronavirus outbreak in China, President Alberto Fernández contacted China’s head of state President Xi Jinping in February 2020 offering his support. In March, Xi Jinping responded, encouraging a deepening of ties between both countries.

By the time the first cases of COVID-19 had reached Argentina in mid-March, Beijing’s ambassador to Buenos Aires had already visited Fernández to offer of a donation of supplies from the Chinese government. Health and medical cooperation to help combat the pandemic soon followed throughout April, May, and June.

Subsequently, we saw a consolidation of the political relationship and a deepening of bilateral ties, based on an expectation of commitment to the Belt and Road Initiative global infrastructure strategy. Through increased investment into infrastructure, the aim was to ensure greater economic exchanges and an increase in trade as a result of the recovery of China’s industrial activity and its continued demand for Argentine exports.

Amid the increased tensions and mutual accusations between China and the United States, should Latin American countries take a position on this issue?

As Beijing’s economic growth and political leadership has strengthened its linkages with a region that has historically been within Washington’s sphere of influence, Latin America has become one of the main focal points in the strategic rivalry between the US and China.

China’s rise to power has made it possible for Latin America to improve relations with Asia’s largest economy, thanks to the complementary nature of the relationship. The Chinese economy needs food and energy in order to continue its development, while Latin America is rich in commodities, but lacks sufficient capital and technology.

This is a reality in Latin America that Washington has largely ignored in recent decades, and as a result, its presence has been eroded in the region. Through its protectionist policies and the postponement of trade agreements, the White House has helped not just China but the European Union to take the lead in terms of agreements with the region.

The region’s governments are faced with a challenge when it comes to adopting a position vis-a-vis China-US rivalry. Should they prioritize the historic relationship with Washington; focus on developing stronger linkages with China; adopt a foreign policy that somehow finds a middle ground; or “back both horses”?

China is one of the main international allies of the Venezuelan dictatorship, whereas the overwhelming majority of countries in the region recognize Acting President Juan Guaidó as the legitimate head of state in Venezuela. In the context of COVID-19, how does this affect China’s relationship with the other countries in the region? Can the Venezuelan crisis become an obstacle to China’s rapprochement with Latin America?

With the departure from office of presidents Evo Morales in Bolivia and Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay, and the arrival of center-right governments in both countries, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro lost important allies in the region. Currently, the governments of Argentina and Mexico are the closest to Caracas in relative terms, although they do not go much beyond proposing a negotiated solution among the different factions in Venezuela and rejecting any foreign involvement.

In any case, the alliance between China and Venezuela does not appear to have hindered the development of closer relationships between China and other countries in Latin America. No country in the region has yet claimed its relations with China have been affected by the linkages between Beijing and Caracas.


Dr. Iván Witker

Universidad Central de Chile / Academia Nacional de Estudios Políticos y Estratégicos – Chile

Imagine how, in normal times, Beijing’s diplomacy has achieved such important goals as diplomatic recognition and the continued isolation of Taiwan through acts such as the construction of a football stadium.

How has China’s domestic handling of COVID-19 affected its relationship with LAC?

It is still premature to develop metrics that allow us to measure the impact of COVID-19. It is an ongoing process. However, indicators specific to Latin America show that the impact will be greater than in other parts of the world. I am currently considering this exact point, as I have been asked to make an assessment along these lines. At this stage, I would venture to suggest that the impact will be largely economic. In this part of ​​the world, health diplomacy is a more visible tool, and of course is well received given the shortcomings and limitations of the region’s governments. Imagine how, in normal times, Beijing’s diplomacy has achieved such important goals as diplomatic recognition and the continued isolation of Taiwan through acts such as the construction of a football stadium. And imagine how much more is possible, in these times of great need.

What has been the impact of this at a governmental level in Chile? Will we see any changes to the Sino-Chilean relationship?

The case of Chile is even more interesting, as Beijing has been our main trading partner for several years now. Chile’s relationship with Beijing is even more sensitive than that of any other Latin American country. Bear in mind that Chile’s dependence on the price of copper continues to affect the economy despite a diversification of foreign trade. Argentina and Brazil can sell their soya products elsewhere, and Brazil and Uruguay their meat. Chile does not have that many alternatives with copper. It must deal with Beijing no matter what.

Amid the increased tensions and mutual accusations between China and the United States, should Latin American countries take a position on this issue?

One of my lines of research looks at non-hemispheric actors in Latin America, and I am one of only a handful to believe that viewing the region as homogenous is absurd. In my opinion, the so-called ‘Great Fatherland’ simply does not exist. Latin American states are quite distinct. The Beijing-Washington relationship affects Mexico in a different way than it does Brazil or Bolivia, for example. The disputes of two superpowers are somewhat alien to Latin American countries, that have little or no influence over them. If there is a global conflict, my impression is that it will obviously affect Latin America just as it will the whole world, but in a very different way.

China is one of the main international allies of the Venezuelan dictatorship, whereas the overwhelming majority of countries in the region recognize Acting President Juan Guaidó as the legitimate head of state in Venezuela. In the context of COVID-19, how does this affect China’s relationship with the other countries in the region? Can the Venezuelan crisis become an obstacle to China’s rapprochement with Latin America?

The Cold War taught us that Latin America’s needs are so great, that although there are inevitable ramifications, countries continue to approach each other according to their means and needs. Remember that Argentina’s military governments havehad excellent relations with Moscow thanks to the favorable prices that were paid for wheat. The question takes on a wider meaning if we look at the countries that neighbor Venezuela.  There may be some impact there. In addition, the recognition of Guaidó by Latin American countries does not go beyond formality. They continue to deal with each other through Maduro’s ambassadors, not those designated by Guaidó. Whether the relationships are stronger, or whether they are weaker, I do not see a big difference.


Dr. Vladimir Rouvinski

Universidad ICESI – Colombia

Taiwan has managed to effectively counteract China’s propaganda efforts, especially through media campaigns and across social networks.

How has China’s domestic handling of COVID-19 affected its relationship with LAC?

China has tried to use mask diplomacy to improve its image in LAC countries, positioning its support as the most impactful. Due to a lack of information and general sense of uncertainty during the initial phase of the pandemic, information coming from China received a lot of attention. At the time, China managed to take advantage of the situation by presenting to the world an image of a developed country with an unprecedented capacity to control the pandemic, thanks to its one-party system of government. Later, however, at least in Colombia, China left the spotlight as news coverage focused on Colombia’s domestic handling of the pandemic.

Taiwan meanwhile has managed to counteract China’s propaganda efforts, especially through media campaigns and across social networks, by demonstrating the best track record of any Asian (and truly democratic) country in effectively stopping the pandemic.

What has been the impact of this at a governmental level in Colombia? Will we see any changes to the Sino-Colombian relationship?

I think it may be a bit premature to talk about any changes at this point. Colombia’s foreign policy is focused on the Venezuelan problem, where China does not – at least for the time being – play a central role. As far as I know, Chinese involvement in Colombia’s pandemic has not been significant, compared to contributions from the US, World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. In future, however, some change could be seen, due to the precarious state of the Colombian economy and the need for the sort of “fresh” resources that China can offer. I reiterate however that it is difficult to speak of an effective and visible change at this point. I do not walk Bogotá’s corridors of power, so I would not like to say whether the Presidency or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are preparing any plans in this regard.

Amid the increased tensions and mutual accusations between China and the United States, should Latin American countries take a position on this issue?

It seems that right now, the whole of Latin America is convinced that it is – or will soon become – a bone of contention between the US and China. China is a highly important trading partner for most Latin American countries, whereas the US is fundamental both from a political and economic perspective. Few Latin American countries could make any material difference by taking a position on the US-China dispute. It is a situation where they have few tools of influence. With the exception of Brazil, Latin America has not practiced a strong, global voice and it seems that it has no desire to change this. In most cases, Latin America’s international policy actions are reactive and opportunistic, characterized by a small number of priorities that prevent them from taking a position in any heavyweight “fight”.

China is one of the main international allies of the Venezuelan dictatorship, whereas the overwhelming majority of countries in the region recognize Acting President Juan Guaidó as the legitimate head of state in Venezuela. In the context of COVID-19, how does this affect China’s relationship with the other countries in the region? Can the Venezuelan crisis become an obstacle to China’s rapprochement with Latin America?

Unlike Russia under President Vladimir Putin, China has generally managed to avoid appearing as a vital source of support to the Maduro regime’s survival. Its ties with the Venezuelan dictatorship have not significantly impacted the strengthening of relations with other countries in the region, at least for now. Putin has already “fought” politically with the Latin American governments that have supported Guaidó (for example, threatening them through a letter from the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament), while China remains in the shadows. Most importantly, however, Moscow has little to offer Latin America’s economies, whereas many governments in the region are looking to Beijing as a source of investment and economic support.


Dr. Fabricio Rodríguez

Albert-Ludwigs-Universität FreiburgEcuador

China hopes to use its successful domestic handling of COVID-19 to project an image of a modern, effective, and globally responsible China, especially given the inability of the US and Brazil to lead the way in the Western Hemisphere.

How has China’s domestic handling of COVID-19 affected its relationship with LAC?

For the most part, China positions itself as an ambivalent superpower. On the one hand, the response and distribution capacity demonstrated by the Chinese government to effectively flatten the curve of COVID-19 infections has been viewed favorably by the region’ governments. On the other, there are serious questions regarding the censorship and intimidation of doctors who issued early warnings in the Chinese city of Wuhan, at a time when Beijing’s political elite worried about projecting an image of an authoritarian, nationalist, and propagandistic regime, incapable in the eyes of the Chinese people and of the world of committing errors of such magnitude. For the Chinese Communist Party leadership, the spread of a virus potentially harmful to both the population and the economy could have had irreversible consequences of social and political instability. Once the initial curve of infection had been flattened at home, China focused on COVID-19 diplomacy, that is, the distribution of masks, breathing apparatus, and other equipment. This was employed as a measure to build a benevolent and altruistic image that erased any possible questions about the authoritarian and non-transparent way in which China approached the crisis in its embryonic phase, which was to hold such significance to the rest of the world. In addition, China hopes to use its successful domestic handling of COVID-19 to project an image of a modern, effective, and globally responsible China, especially given the inability of the US and Brazil to lead the way in the western hemisphere.

What has been the impact of this at a governmental level in Ecuador? Will we see any changes to the Sino-Ecuadorian relationship?

The Ecuadorian government maintains high levels of debt with China. A large part of the country’s oil export is guaranteed to China in exchange for large and costly loans, corresponding to around a third of Ecuador’s foreign debt. From 2010, China and Ecuador strengthened bilateral relations at a constant pace under the government of former president Rafael Correa. This relationship continues today, although the government of President Lenin Moreno has resumed negotiations with the IMF and World Bank. In hindsight, the current crisis shows that while the oil boom increased state revenues, it also increased public spending, leading to disproportionate levels of debt. The cycle of high oil prices, largely driven by China’s economic growth until 2014, has come to an end. Meanwhile the debt to China, repaid with Ecuadorian oil, remains. The current crisis has disproportionately hit countries such as Ecuador, whose main export resource is oil, a worthless commodity in a global economy crippled by the dramatic effects of COVID-19. Faced with this scenario, Ecuador depends on the amount of breathing space that China can offer when renegotiating the terms of the debt. Donations of masks and health equipment will help little in the long term to combat COVID-19 in this period if Ecuador does not rely on its global partners to help strengthen the country’s immune system, both politically and economically.

Amid the increased tensions and mutual accusations between China and the United States, should Latin American countries take a position on this issue?

Latin American countries should push for a genuine strengthening of the World Health Organization, and a greater transparency about the relative successes and failures of each country in the handling of COVID-19 under a scientific alliance for global well-being. The world requires more knowledge and less blame, more investment and less fighting, more distribution of tasks and fewer complaints about taking responsibility. This is the only way to bridge the deep chasm of mistrust that overshadows both the US and Chinese governments, which make it even more difficult to develop effective solutions in countries with much less capacity for responsiveness.

China is one of the main international allies of the Venezuelan dictatorship, whereas the overwhelming majority of countries in the region recognize Acting President Juan Guaidó as the legitimate head of state in Venezuela. In the context of COVID-19, how does this affect China’s relationship with the other countries in the region? Can the Venezuelan crisis become an obstacle to China’s rapprochement with Latin America?

Both Latin American and Chinese foreign policy are based on opportunism. Venezuela’s dictatorial regime has exhausted its supply of credibility in Latin America, yet Guaidó lacks a basis of domestic legitimacy to justify his position as a vector of change. For now, China is not in a position to continue its unlimited financing channels to Venezuela, yet the Sino-Venezuelan relationship appears to be developing isolationist characteristics. In other words, the situation in Venezuela is uniquely important, as it becomes increasingly detached from thefragmented plurality that characterizes Latin America and the Caribbean. For LAC countries in these new and uncertain times of crisis, calculations on how to deal with China are based on the complex and unpleasant task of “saving one’s skin”.


Dr. José Luis León-Manríquez

Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco – México

*Transcribed from a telephone interview

The presence of China in Latin America is a fact that is here to stay, whatever the future holds for globalization and the world economy.

How has China’s domestic handling of COVID-19 affected its relationship with LAC?

There is, of course, a temporary impact of the changes caused by COVID-19 on the relationship between China and Latin America, although I believe that the relationship is still largely economic. The commercial direction which has formed the basis for this intensified relationship since 2000 is still noticeably clear. Trade increased from $17bn in 2002 to $315bn in 2019 representing a trade surplus for China, which is already the largest trading partner of Brazil, Chile, Peru and Uruguay, and the second largest of all other Latin American countries, making it of major importance to the region’s economy.

In my view, the so-called deglobalization caused by COVID-19 and protectionist trends, especially in the US, will bring about a decrease in trade, and in China’s demand for Latin America’s raw materials over the coming years. In other words, the absolute levels of trade may remain stagnant, but China’s importance will grow. To the extent that the world economy shifts away from globalization towards local or national development, it is quite possible that China’s appetite for raw materials that benefitted South America between 2000 and 2014 will continue to diminish, which is not necessarily good news for South American economies.

Along with trade comes the investment that remained stable until 2018, when it reached an annual total of $13bn of foreign direct investment from China. In recent years, however, an important economic phenomenon showing a decrease in loans from China to Latin American countries has been observed. By tracking these loans on a chart, we find that there was pretty much a peak in 2010. Provided by two major public institutions, the China Development Bank and China Eximbank, these loans have decreased since then. These institutions account for around 80% of China’s loans in Latin America. As public entities, they normally lend under favorable terms and with favorable interest rates. Many of these loans are used to build roads and dams. In my view, given the economic problems of various Latin American countries, Chinese banks are now more cautious about lending, and the funds available from these large institutions seem to be declining.

Besides, I think that the presence of China in Latin America is a fact that is here to stay, whatever the future holds for globalization and the world economy. China has and will play an important role over the coming years in Latin America. This is related to the withdrawal or isolationist stance of the US, which is so focused on its own problems and on establishing restrictive measures against trade and migration, that almost by default it will allow China to have a more important presence in Latin America.

What has been the impact of this at a governmental level in Mexico? Will we see any changes to the Sino-Mexican relationship?

I believe that China has made the most of the pandemic to try to strengthen its soft power. Yet the importance of China’s contribution does not lie so much in the net amount of resources that it contributes to combat COVID-19, but rather the symbolic gestures that accompany this cooperation, and even its trade. I do not believe that there is a specific strategy for each country in Latin America, but rather a more general one for the developing world. The donations of medical equipment, respirators, face masks, and even cameras to detect people’s temperature are, let us say, a global policy – occurring in the developing countries of Asia and Africa, as well as Latin America. In some cases, such as Mexico, many of these supplies have been purchased, representing an attractive opportunity for China’s emerging medical companies.

To reiterate, I think that the message China wishes to relay through its mask diplomacy is to let developing countries know that it stands with them in times of difficulty, in contrast to the US which, once again, looks inwards as it attempts to fix its own problems, facing unrest due to racial segregation, and with a clear isolationist attitude towards the developing world. So, China has provided all these medical supplies to help combat COVID-19. And not only has it done so, but it has made sure that the world knows it, by spreading the news of its help through its propaganda system. This approach appears to have greatly improved China’s image in Latin America, and in Mexico in particular.

With respect to Mexico, one of the pillars of President López Obrador’s foreign policy – if not the only pillar – has been the renegotiation of its free trade agreement with the US and Canada, which has been a very tough, very tense process pushed by the Trump administration. It has finally been completed, and there is now an agreement. This has been celebrated as a feat of foreign policy, and even the migration issue has been set aside. Mexico’s relationship with China therefore has not really been that relevant here. The previous Institutional Revolutionary Party government, under former president Enrique Peña Nieto, tried, at times, to diversify Mexico’s foreign relations and focused its attention on China. This policy later led to crisis and eventual standstill, due to the cancellation in 2014 of a high-speed rail contract that had been awarded to a Chinese company, prompting a period of tense relations between both countries.

But now some factions have emerged from within the ruling National Regeneration Movement party to call for an FTA with China. I do not think it is a particularly strong or widespread view. I think it is very difficult in these circumstances, especially because the new trade agreement with the US emphasizes in one of the clauses that none of its members will be able to pursue agreements with non-market economies. This is clearly designed to stop Mexico pursuing an FTA with China. The same clause that appears to refer to China is included, by the way, in the renegotiation of trade agreements between the US and Central America. So, I think that beyond the rhetoric, an FTA is a remote concept, and the official relationship will be maintained through the usual diplomatic channels.

Amid the increased tensions and mutual accusations between China and the United States, should Latin American countries take a position on this issue?

I think the most convenient thing is to adopt a pragmatic position. There is a saying that was popular during the Cold War which says, ‘When elephants fight, the grass suffers, but when they make love, the grass suffers also’. So at this moment it is clear that we will witness heightened tensions between the US and China due to an epochal shift in the power relationship and a hegemonic succession that takes place in the international system every 100 years or so. This is generating, and will continue to generate, a lot of tension, regardless of whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden wins the US elections this November. The trend will be towards greater commercial conflict between China and the US, but one that is becoming increasingly geopolitical, for example, around the situation in the so-called South China Sea. Here, then, I think Latin American countries behave in a reactive way, as they will. They are not acting collectively.

It seems to me that there is not, nor has there been in all the boom years with China a unified position on how to face or how to deal with Asia’s largest economy. Each country has simply responded to its needs at the time. And this of course is also changing.  If we analyze the panorama of the mid-2000s, we can see, for example, that the leftist governments of Latin America’s Pink Tide had especially close relations with China, ranging from the search for ideological alliances to a highly political, solid alliance such as Brazil’s. But this has been changing; the government of former president Mauricio Macri in Argentina was more skeptical than that of President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, which has recently had a number of diplomatic disputes with China. So, I think the situation depends on each country. In the case of Mexico, there is of course a very close relationship with the US. There is the issue of migration, and many other ways in which the US can put pressure on Mexico to avoid it developing closer ties with China.

China is one of the main international allies of the Venezuelan dictatorship, whereas the overwhelming majority of countries in the region recognize Acting President Juan Guaidó as the legitimate head of state in Venezuela. In the context of COVID-19, how does this affect China’s relationship with the other countries in the region? Can the Venezuelan crisis become an obstacle to China’s rapprochement with Latin America?

I disagree with anyone who says that China’s relationship with Venezuela is ideological. I believe that is explained by China’s global search for hydrocarbons, which led them to invest in weak countries and failed states. China wanted to reduce its dependence on Russia’s hydrocarbons, and this is exactly what led to a policy of searching the global for oil and energy sources from the 2000s onwards. This is where Venezuela came in, as the country with the largest proven oil reserves in the world. It entered into a relationship with China that former president Hugo Chávez tried to develop in a very cordial way, giving it ideological overtones.  I believe that China never saw it from an ideological perspective, but primarily with the intention of securing a reliable source of hydrocarbons. This explains why China has invested so much money into Venezuela – around $65bn dollars – which of course is a considerable sum. In Ecuador and parts of Africa, levels of indebtedness to China have become so high that in some cases the China debt to Gross Domestic Product ratio runs at over 25%, which is a considerable dependency.

Left-leaning Marxist theorists have spoken about dependency theory, and how international trade and investment were making some Latin American countries dependent on the US and Europe. The same could be said for the commercial and financial relationship that China now has with Venezuela. However, China has not extended any new credit to Venezuela for three or four years now. It seems deeply concerned about what may happen there, yet at the same time it cannot break with the government of President Nicolás Maduro due to the amount of resources it has invested and its commitment to the oil sector. However, I do not doubt that when the time comes, when Maduro’s presidency weakens further, China will have enough political and diplomatic resources to reach an understanding, either with the Guaidó government or with any other government that comes to power in the future.


Dr. Ignacio Bartesaghi

Universidad Católica del Uruguay – Uruguay

China offers Uruguay a strategic relationship, and it is the only country in the Mercosur trade bloc that could further deepen its relationship with this globally important actor through the signing of an FTA.

How has China’s domestic handling of COVID-19 affected its relationship with LAC?

There are several factors that characterize the region’s relationship with China during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most importantly, some countries have seen their export flows to China affected by falling sales of food, minerals, and fuel. Imports from China have also fallen dramatically due to a decline in economic activity and consumption in all countries in the region.

Brazil is a partial exception, as exports to China have increased considerably in recent months, accounting for 40% of all exports of South America’s largest economy in April 2020.

It is worrying that some countries in the region are tempted to automatically align themselves with Washington’s China policy, which has gained greater momentum during COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, Brazil had already adopted a tough position on China, which could accelerate in this new context. The consequences are difficult to quantify.

Due to the intense nature of the commercial relationship that the region maintains with China, and given the negative economic impacts expected in Latin America caused by an unprecedented drop in China’s GDP in 2020, it is expected that some countries will review their strategy of commercial dependence on Asia’s largest economy.  In any case, this is not an easy reality to change over the short or medium term.

What has been the impact of this at a governmental level in Uruguay? Will we see any changes to the Sino-Uruguayan relationship?

Uruguay’s China strategy is not yet clear and will not necessarily be related to COVID-19, as the new government has not yet defined the path that the relationship will follow.

China offers Uruguay a strategic relationship, and it is the only country in the Mercosur trade bloc that can further deepen its relationship with this globally important actor through the signing of an FTA. To follow this path, Uruguay must make certain decisions and overcome certain internal restrictions that still exist in order to develop a closer relationship with the world’s second largest economy.  These do not only relate to Mercosur and its limitations on bilateral negotiations, but domestically too, as there are still those who have a very outdated view of China.

As for COVID-19, we have all seen the over-simplified views that some have adopted over China’s responsibility for the spread of the pandemic. Fortunately, these have been isolated.

China is Uruguay’s main commercial partner, and the recipient of around five times more of its exports than to the US, especially in the agro-industrial sector. Structural trends such as the purchase of food will continue in China for decades to come, and Uruguay will have many advantages in this area if it manages to take certain decisions on its trade policy.

Amid the increased tensions and mutual accusations between China and the United States, should Latin American countries take a position on this issue?

I would say that this impasse is one of the biggest challenges faced by most countries worldwide.  It goes much deeper that a trade war, as the issue at stake between these two leading powers is world leadership. China has defined it as a ‘Cold War’, using all the historical implications of the term.

It would be a great mistake to take sides in this dispute, and countries in the region must deploy multiple strategies that develop diplomatic ties with both sides, in addition to maintaining linkages with the European Union and other emerging economies such as India that could play a more prominent role in the near future. The issues should not be simplified, the decisions regarding 5G technology should be analyzed, but independently and without pressure, in the same way as security, investment and infrastructure issues.

There are always strategic interests involved in international relations, yet there are independent states with robust institutions that have managed to have relations with the two powers without major problems such as Australia, New Zealand or several cases in Latin America.

China is one of the main international allies of the Venezuelan dictatorship, whereas the overwhelming majority of countries in the region recognize Acting President Juan Guaidó as the legitimate head of state in Venezuela. In the context of COVID-19, how does this affect China’s relationship with the other countries in the region? Can the Venezuelan crisis become an obstacle to China’s rapprochement with Latin America?

International relations in the 21st Century must be pragmatic, which means separating the economic and commercial agenda from politics, since this is the path that all countries have followed. In this sense, I do not envisage China’s support for the Maduro regime becoming an obstacle for relations with Latin American countries, at least not bilaterally.

At a regional level, the situation in Venezuela is a barrier to advancing a wider regional view of relations between Latin America and China, as it has brought paralysis to some areas such as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, where progress could otherwise have been made, for example, in the China-CELAC Forum.

In any case, it is clear that political differences may exist, as is the case with the Trump administration in the US on many issues. But this does not mean that progress cannot be made in economic and commercial deepening, or even in financial cooperation, defense, tourism, or cultural exchanges, where China already plays a predominant role at a global level.

Failure to do so, on the grounds of an idealized vision of international relations, can only lead to isolation.


Translated by Edward Longhurst-Pierce