Going Local: An Assessment of China’s Administrative-Level Activity in Latin America and the Caribbean

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Chinese banks, companies, and governmental entities have for many years sought new avenues for engagement with the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region’s investment environments and political systems, whether through the acquisition of assets in strategic sectors or the cultivation of relationships at various levels of government and society. More recently, China has promoted a “multi- tiered” approach to engagement with the region to generate new pathways and opportunities for commercial deal making and political exchange, including a growing focus on engagement with local-level actors and entities in LAC. 

Our new report, co-published by the Florida International University Stephen J. Green School of International and Public Affairs, examines the evolving nature of China-LAC subnational engagement, documenting outreach by a range of Chinese actors, including government and quasi-governmental entities, Chinese provincial authorities, company representatives, and independent interlocutors, as well as by LAC local government officials and others in the region. 

Key findings:

  • Efforts to document China’s local-level engagement in LAC reveal a tangled web of overlapping interactions and a kaleidoscopic cast of characters. 
  • China’s local-level engagement with LAC is not a new development. Subnational activity dates back to the early 2000s in some cases, including in the Coquimbo, Chile–Henan, China relationship, which is profiled in the case study section of our report. Local-level activity is growing, however, as Chinese companies become increasingly adept at navigating different administrative levels in LAC, often marketing technological products that appeal to local-level administrators. 
  • Formal platforms for local-level engagement serve an important convening function and provide the opportunity for Chinese and LAC representatives to advance key economic and political interests. These include platforms developed by the Chinese central government, such as those associated with the China-CELAC Forum, as well as those developed by overseas Chinese organizations and other groups at the local level. Platforms developed by quasi-governmental entities, such as the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), also allow for wide-ranging participation.
  • China’s “twinning” (hermanamiento), or sister cities/provinces relationships in LAC, such as the Jujuy-Guizhou relationship, have also been productive in certain cases, but are generally established once initial local-level engagement is already underway. 
  • Chinese local-level outreach is apparent across the entire region, including in smaller countries. But the bulk of activity appears to be focused in those countries where local leadership has considerable authority over foreign policy and/or commercial deal making. China’s outreach at the local level is also prominent in countries, whether in LAC or elsewhere, that have strained relations with China. 
  • Local-level engagement is one part of a broader, “multi-tiered” approach to diplomatic outreach in the LAC region. The examples of Chinese company-to-state and state-to-state coordination are still extensive in LAC, despite growing activity at the local level. 

 

 

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