PM Browne in China, Xi's South America travel, Wang Yi's support for Kenya's Haiti mission. Plus: the PRC's possible new FM and Jake Sullivan on U.S.-China competition
Welcome to Chaufa, a China-Western Hemisphere Newsletter by CPSI.
Today’s Edition covers January 22 to February 4.
Listen to Ethan discuss this week’s newsletter.
The Top 5 Stories:
Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne traveled to China to discuss economic matters with President Xi and Premier Li, as well as to officially open an embassy in Beijing. The two sides also signed agreements on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), trade, transportation, economic development, mutual visa exemptions, climate change, and an in-development cancer-prevention vaccine. (Global Times)
The prime minister previously visited China in 2014. Three other PMs have made state visits to Beijing: Baldwin Spencer in 2004, Lester Bird in 1997, and V.C. Bird in 1983. (FMPRC)
PM Browne’s comments on the One China Principle prompted Taiwan’s foreign ministry to issue a blistering response, accusing the PM of “falsely claim[ing] that Taiwan ‘was, is, and will always be a province of China.’”
Latin American media confirmed that President Xi will visit the region this upcoming November. At a minimum, he will travel both to Peru for the APEC leaders’ summit and the opening of the Port of Chancay and to Brazil for the G20 leaders’ summit.
This will be President Xi’s first trip to the region since the pandemic, as he most recently visited the region in 2019 when he stopped by Brasilia for the BRICS summit.
It is possible Xi will add another country or two on his South America trip. When he visited Argentina in 2018, he also popped over to Panama. Similarly, when he was last in Peru for APEC in 2016, he traveled through Chile and Ecuador.
Despite the recent ruling by Kenya’s High Court that determined that the Kenyan-led police mission to Haiti was unconstitutional, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi reportedly expressed support to Kenyan Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Mudavadi for a multilateral mission to Haiti.
This is not the first time that Beijing has expressed support for the Kenyan-led mission. Though China abstained from October’s UN Security Council vote on Haiti, its UN embassy issued a statement saying that the PRC “appreciates Kenya's willingness to lead a multinational security support mission.”
China held a special dialogue under the guise of the China-CELAC Forum on “Development Cooperation and Knowledge Exchange between China and Latin America.” MOFA officials and Chinese corporate leaders engaged with the Nicaraguan ambassador, as well as academics, journalists, and business representatives from Brazil, Mexico, and Bolivia. (People’s Daily)
The China-CELAC forum was established in 2014, and it held its first ministerial in 2015. The next China-CELAC ministerial is expected to be hosted sometime this year, though Beijing routinely holds dialogues with various LAC leaders under the pretense of this institution.
23 Latin American and Caribbean countries1 spoke up at China’s UN human rights review. Though many countries praised the Chinese government, some LAC countries like Costa Rica criticized China’s human rights record and urged unfettered access for UN human rights officials.
This is China’s fourth human rights review at the UN. The Jamestown Foundation had a good overview of how this year’s human rights review compares to previous iterations, including some insight into how LAC countries’ statements have changed over time.
Panama’s New Foreign Policy White Paper
On January 31, Panama’s Foreign Ministry released its first White Paper, which focuses on maintaining and enhancing the country’s global political and economic relevance. In the white paper, China was referenced much less than the United States (twice compared to 16 times), and the document positions the Central American country’s interests with the PRC as merely an intermediary between U.S.-Asia economic flows.
More specifically, the White Paper notes that2 “the trade relationship between the United States and China is one of the most robust globally – although marked by strong tensions,” affecting Panama’s “vital role in strengthening and establishing business connections.” The only other reference to China3 just recognizes the key role the PRC’s economy plays in the Panama Canal’s business, with the document stating that “trade from the United States and China dominates the Canal’s traffic due to the enormous size of those economies.”
Though China’s influence and importance to Panama has only grown since the two countries established relations in 2017, positioning China as an economic market and partner, rather than a political or cultural ally, demonstrates that not all Chinese economic influence translates into political support.
The Limits to U.S.-China Competition in the Developing World
Following U.S. National Security Advisor Sullivan’s meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bangkok this past week, NSA Sullivan gave remarks on the U.S.-China relationship to the Council on Foreign Relations.4 During the Q+A, he was asked about U.S.-China competition in the developing world.5
Sullivan acknowledged that the U.S. was worried about malign Chinese influence abroad, but he argued that “we cannot treat the rest of the world as proxy battlegrounds the way that I think the U.S. and the Soviet Union too often did during the Cold War.” Instead, he suggested that “our view should not be… what’s just the way we get a one-up. It should be: how do we actually show up and offer something that will respond to the legitimate development needs of that country.”
It’s become popular in op-ed pages — especially in Latin American publications — to suggest that the United States and China are in a new Cold War, one that the region is set to benefit from. And while the United States and its allies have set up new institutions and initiatives in response to Chinese development assistance (notably U.S. Development Finance Corporation and the PGII), Sullivan’s comments reflect how Washington isn’t simply trying to copy the PRC’s playbook by building prestige projects like El Salvador’s national library or Ecuador’s mega-dams.
What China’s (Potential) New Foreign Minister Means for LAC
International media reported that Liu Jianchao, the Head of the Chinese Communist Party’s International Department, is likely to become the PRC’s next foreign minister. Though in his current role he’s had more and more engagement with Latin America and the Caribbean, his career has generally been more focused elsewhere.
Starting his career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a translator, he’s served in senior party and government positions. In government, he was Beijing’s Ambassador to the Philippines and Indonesia. And most notably in the party, he served as the head of the CCP’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection’s International Cooperation Agency, where he pursued what Beijing deemed as international “fugitives” for “corruption cases”.
That doesn’t mean he’s had no exposure to LAC. For example, he was the Foreign Ministry spokesman when St. Lucia flipped relations back to Taiwan, giving him the opportunity to call St. Lucia’s actions “a gross interference in China's internal affairs.” He also likely interacted with the Caribbean when he was at the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, given that party officials complained at the time that Caribbean investment immigration programs gave Chinese citizens an escape from the commission’s international reach. (Xinhua)
Most recently, Liu has met with several regional delegations as the CCP’s international affairs chief. Last March, he met with a delegation from Brazil’s ruling Worker’s Party, where the two sides “exchanged in-depth views on… strengthening mutual learning on party and state governance, and advancing the China-Brazil comprehensive strategic partnership” (Xinhua). Similarly, he met with a group of LAC ambassadors in Beijing, and he held talks with his Cuban counterpart this past fall.
However, these are the few limited examples of Liu’s outreach to the region. While he is likely somewhat knowledgeable of the PRC’s political links in the region, he is unlikely to have a high-level of fluency in the region’s issues compared to, say, Southeast Asian countries.
Politics and Security
AMLO met with China’s Ambassador to Mexico City, where the two broadly discussed bilateral relations and recent support for victims of Hurricane Otis.
The meeting comes as the first shipment of refrigerators and stoves that the Mexican government bought in bulk from China to supply families affected by Hurricane Otis in Acapulco arrived this week.
A group of U.S. senators introduced a bill that would sanction any person or entity involved in establishing a PRC military base in Cuba.
Chinese Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago Qiu met with Foreign Minister Browne to discuss celebrating 50 years of bilateral relations, as well as BRI cooperation.
Zhao Leiji, the head of the PRC National People’s Congress, held a meeting with the heads of Colombia’s Senate and National Assembly to discuss legislative cooperation, especially regarding commercial and investment relations.
Investment, infrastructure, and finance
The General Manager of the Bogotá Metro Company, Leonidas Narváez, sent a letter to the Colombian project’s Chinese contractors, complaining that they were not abiding by their contractual obligations.
The news comes as Bogotá Metro Company released a document that found that three consortia – including one led by China Harbor and another led by China Railway Construction Electrification Bureau Group – will be disqualified from the second metro line’s tender. This leaves only an offer by China Railway Construction Corporation International Investment Company.
Due to the tense bilateral relationship with the Milei administration, Argentine media is reporting that Chinese banks are unlikely to release key financing for two major hydroelectric dam projects in Patagonia until at least March.
President of Venezuela’s Center for Productive Investments, Alex Saab, met with a group of Chinese businessmen to discuss agriculture investment and cooperation. He also visited China’s ambassador to discuss Chinese financing and investment.
Soon afterwards, Carabobo governor Rafael Lacava said that construction was expected to start soon on a XCMG’s new Venezuelan heavy machinery assembly plant.
China Energy Engineering Corporation won a tender to build and expand single-cycle and combined generating plants in San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba in Honduras. The project’s investment is valued at $120 million.
Chinese EV manufacturer BYD and Brazilian ethanol firm Raizen signed an agreement to create a network of 600 EV charging stations across eight Brazilian cities.
Trade and Technology
The U.S. United Auto Workers (UAW) union requested that the U.S. government impose tariffs on Mexican cars and auto parts in response to Chinese auto investments in Mexico.
The PRC Embassy in San Jose argued that Costa Rica’s ban on Chinese 5G technology violated the two countries’ Free Trade Agreement, warning that the ban “will seriously affect the confidence of Chinese companies in the business climate and the legal certainty of Costa Rica.”
Honduras reached a partial agreement with China’s Ministry of Commerce to remove tariffs on the country’s shrimp exports, providing relief to an industry that had been severely disrupted by Tegucigalpa’s cut in ties with Taipei.
China’s customs administration approved Argentine wheat exports, though the first wheat shipment is not likely to occur for some time.
Ecuador’s National Institute of Agricultural Research signed an agreement with PowerChina to promote joint research, innovation and technology transfer-related agricultural projects.
Uruguay’s National Customs discussed data exchange and technical solutions for its single customs window with their Chinese counterparts.
Belize, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, and Paraguay spoke up for Taiwan’s inclusion in the WHO at the organization’s Executive Board session in Geneva.
This comes as the Taiwanese health minister traveled with a delegation of hospital officials to Paraguay to meet with President Peña to discuss bilateral health cooperation, including improving Paraguay’s hospital IT infrastructure.
Taiwan made a host of donations to St. Lucia, including financial support for an Independence Day fireworks display; grants for housing repairs and sports development; and grant funding for human resource development centers, national disability policy development, and Constituency Development Program projects.
Belizean officials also announced the one-year extension of the pithily-named “Breeding Sheep and Goat Production and Guidance System Enhancement Project”, which will entail a $625,000 donation from Taiwan.
Gogoro, a Taiwanese electric scooter company, announced plans to partner with Chilean firm Copec to launch its scooter and battery exchange platform in Chile and Colombia.
Local Brazilian media interviewed Taiwan’s representative to Brasilia, who said that Beijing’s insistence on countries like Brazil reiterating their commitment to their One China Policies reflected the PRC’s “lack of self-confidence.”
Culture and Society
The PRC donated rice, flour, and oil to about 100 Chinese-descendent Cubans in Havana in advance of the Chinese New Year.
Honduran congressional and cultural affairs officials celebrated the inauguration of the first Mandarin Chinese and traditional Chinese painting classes in the country with the Chinese ambassador. (CGTN)
The national coordinator of Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution signed an agreement on supporting local communities and neighborhood’s development with China’s ambassador.
Analysis and Opinion
Writing for The Diplomat, Hunter Sosby and Jalen Zeman write that the “Arévalo administration is weighing Guatemala’s historical diplomatic recognition of Taiwan with a desire to expand commercial relations with China.”
Comparing the Africa Union’s FOCAC and the Americas’ China-CELAC forums, Paul Nantulya and Leland Lazarus argue for the Africa Center that “the AU and CELAC should engage each other more strategically to borrow lessons and develop a global and holistic perspective of Chinese engagement.”
Considering the recent China-Colombia agreement facilitating beef exports, David González argues in Dialogo China that an increase in beef exports to China “could push for more deforestation to expand production.”
Writing in the Diplomat, Carlos Eduardo Piña argues that El Salvador’s increasingly close ties with the PRC has substantially boosted Bukele’s political popularity.
Julie Radomski argues in World Politics Review that anti-Chinese sentiment, especially due to concerns about the environment and small and medium-sized businesses, has put the China-Ecuador FTA at risk.
A Look Back
Take a short trip with us back to 2023 as we review Chaufa so far. CPSI Executive Director Rasheed sits with Ethan Knecht to discuss the highlights of the year and maybe drop a few hints of what’s to come.
That’s it for now! We’re moving to a bi-weekly distribution, so we’ll see you again in two weeks.
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More specifically, the countries that engaged in the discussion included: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Paraguay was the only non-PRC recognizing LAC country to engage in the review.
The translation from Spanish to English is my own, apologies for any errors.
Interestingly, the foreign ministry also mentioned Panama’s Chinese communities, with the White Paper arguing that Chinese communities “enrich the nation [culturally]” and “offer a unique diplomatic advantage.”
Sullivan wasn’t the only senior U.S. official commenting on U.S.-China competition in the developing world: CIA Director Burns wrote a Foreign Affairs piece that noted that the CIA is “stepping up efforts across the world to compete with China, from Latin America to Africa to the Indo-Pacific.”
He specifically was asked about Africa, but I think his remarks reflect broader Administration thinking on the developing world, including Latin America and the Caribbean.