Dawn's Early Light argued earlier in the post titled "China's Moves in Panama":
"The Chinese, to grow their economy, require more natural resources than China has domestically. Securing metals and especially oil is vital to the long-term growth and modernization of the Chinese economy. China is seeking to obtain these supplies by increasing its good will with Latin American governments that have these resources, while minimizing Taiwan. Long-term Chinese goals will be to increase military contacts with these same nations to ultimately secure their economic interests."
Tom Collins of Quillnews, who supported the Chinese CNOOC bid for UNOCAL, believes that the Chinese are not a threat to US national security interests by their economic adventures abroad. In this recent post he states:
"At the moment, I don’t see China’s development of relations in Lat Am as hostile to the US – at all... Rather than fear these overtures, the US should welcome the opportunity to get along with China here and to build the trusting positive relations in the Americas that can be leveraged to improve relations in East and South Asia – where we already have vital interests and where our cooperation with China is critical to peace and prosperity. (SD1, SD2, SD3, SD4)"
While I am not confident that Chinese long-term intentions in Latin America are as benign as Mr. Collins suggests, I think his next point is well worth considering. While US-Sino foreign policy is important to follow, the ability for smaller nations in Latin America to play off that relationship is what is as noteworthy as the debate about China itself.
"Having said that, the fact that China will be developing strategic relations in Lat Am will be provocative – and be used by Chavez, Castro and other Lat Am hard cases to leverage their own hostility toward the US and its interests. (Summit, SD, Venezuela) Said another way: China will have to be very careful not to be used by the anti-US forces in Lat Am in their own political games. This is going to be a big challenge to China’s diplomats because you can guarantee that Chavez and his ilk will try to use China against the US – whether China likes it or not. The US is on track with China – trade development, lack of military hostility, cooperation on North Korea, emphasis on political and legal transparency and reform. But China is the ball game. This is 20% of humanity, and they have a 5,000 year old civilization and they are on the move in the wider world. The strategy for free people:
- Plan A: be friends and get along
- Plan B: be prepared to win a fight with them.
The challenge for the US will be to be ready for both the whole time and have no illusions about the nature of humanity."
I am less sanguine about China not using Latin American politics to further alienate the US from the region. However, I expect the Latin American regimes that are most vocal about their opposition to the United States to embrace China with open arms as time unfolds. That should be a true worry for the US State Department.