China’s Quiet Play for Latin America

Xi Jinping at BRICS Summit Kremlin.ru | Wikimedia | CC-BY-4.0

This article was produced by and originally published in Noema Magazine.

China has been a critical economic partner for many countries in the Latin American region for over two decades, as the top export market for South America and a main investor in many of the region’s key economic sectors, including electricity generation and distribution, mining and transport infrastructure. But though the Covid-19 pandemic is taking a toll on the global economy, Chinese companies remain well-positioned to continue investing in the region, possibly through the acquisition of ailing assets in certain industries of strategic interest to China.

In the US, Europe and Southeast Asia, people’s opinions of China are mostly deteriorating, but in Latin America, views are solidly mixed. In 2019, about half of Latin American respondents to a Pew Research Institute survey noted a favorable impression of China, with only an average of 24 percent expressing negative views. Negative views of China’s growing economic footprint in the region are based in large part on the extent and nature of its engagement in specific countries and communities, and also on allegorical accounts in traditional and social media. As Ariel Armony and Nicolás Veláquez noted in a 2015 article, 72% of documented negative media commentary on China focused on either the looming threat of economic domination or else concerns about Chinese immigration.

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