China’s Belt and Road: What Role for Latin America?

Ricardo Barrios / Inter-American Dialogue

On December 11th, the Inter-American Dialogue convened a panel of experts to consider Latin America’s potential role in the China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The panelists, Minister Counselor Yu Yue from the Chinese Permanent Observer to the Organization of American States, China Telecom America’s Luis Fiallo, and the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center’s Matt Ferchen, remarked on China’s recent characterization of the Latin American region as a “natural extension” of the Belt and Road. Whereas Matt Ferchen characterized the Initiative as “new gloss on existing features of the [China-LAC] relationship,” Minister Counselor Yu argued that the application of BRI principles in Latin America will contribute to the development of a “Community of Common Destiny," a central theme of China's 2016 Policy Paper on Latin America and the Caribbean. 

The panelists also detailed China's remarkable and growing economic presence in Latin America, which has materialized despite the region’s absence in BRI configurations. Chinese Minister Counselor Yu Yue noted that China invested over $29 billion in Latin America in 2016—a 40 percent increase over 2015 figures. And China Telecom America’s Luis Fiallo indicated that Chinese investment in the region is increasingly comparable to investment in more developed countries, such as the United States.

All agreed on the lack of clarity in BRI's overarching goals and timelines. But Yu Yue and Luis Fiallo were optimistic about the possible application of the BRI framework in Latin America. And, although skeptical of the Initiative’s transformative potential in the region, Matt Ferchen maintained that BRI represents an opportunity to rethink some of main features of the China-Latin America relationship, including persistent trade imbalances.

Watch the full recording here

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