China entered Latin America with investments while US attempted to politically dominate. Writes Ahmed Adel
The V China-Latin America Defence Forum, one of the flagship mechanisms for developing China’s military ties with the region, is a major challenge to the Monroe Doctrine as it essentially presents an alternative to the United States. This also comes as China continues to challenge Washington’s influence across the globe, but entering Latin America is an entirely different prospect since it is traditionally considered the “backyard” of the US.
The Chinese Defence Minister, Wei Fenghe, and representatives from the defence ministries and armed forces of 24 Latin American and Caribbean countries, held the V Defence Forum on December 13. During it, Fenghe called on Latin American countries to strengthen unity, cooperate to combat risks and challenges, and contribute more to peace and stability in the region and around the world.
Beijing considers military cooperation to be an important area for the development of relations with strategic partners, in which Latin America is increasingly becoming. As China is predominately focussed on becoming an economically dominant power, knowing that surpassing US military might is a much more difficult task than dominating the economic sector, it supports dialogue so that trade can occur unhindered.
However, to support peace in its own formation, China must have military might, and although it cannot surpass the US just yet, its military capabilities certainly surpass that of most countries and can certainly compete with the US when coupled with partner countries. It is for this reason that China is now emboldened to militarily cooperate with countries in a region traditionally known as the “US’ backyard.”
As Latin America is rich in mineral resources and agriculture, all the major countries are interested in the Latin American market, and China is no exception since it sees the region as an important link in its global economic strategy. The cooperation between China and Latin American countries focuses on the economy and trade. Defence cooperation is characterised mainly by military and technical support that, for now, excludes any Chinese military interference in Latin American affairs.
In the context of Great Power Rivalry, the US is very sensitive to the Chinese military presence in Latin America and now pays special attention to every move made by China in the region. Given the general trend in Sino-US relations, it is likely that the US will seek to respond to China’s action, especially if the Asian country begins to supplant the US in the Latin American arms market.
The US has always imposed itself on Latin America since it concocted the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. Given its self-imposed “responsibility” to rule over the Americas, Washington has always tried to manipulate the continent, has refused to sell weapons to certain countries for alleged human rights violations, and organises coups if the wrong leaders are elected into power.
Due to these reasons, among many others, Latin America has always sought an alternative, which many now believe is represented by China, and was formerly the Soviet Union. Although Russia is also extremely active in the Latin American arms market, as well as in other economic sectors, it cannot provide the same level of capital and investment as China, which is why the East Asian country remains the main alternative to the US.
Due to its economic weight, China has great influence and authority in Latin America, which makes it easier for countries of the region to also cooperate in the military field. China supplies weapons to a wide variety of Latin American states. Even Colombia, which is traditionally pro-American and a NATO partner since 2017, received Chinese dual-use ships a few years ago. Chinese BMPs were also sold to Uruguay and Brazil. Brazil not only buys Chinese weapons and dual-use ships for Antarctic research, but also supports exchanges of military personnel for joint training.
With this context, the China-Latin American Defence Forum is another field for Beijing to strengthen its presence in Latin America, and at a time when the US does not end its trade and economic war with China. For this reason, the military and technical cooperation with Latin American countries is a demonstration of China challenging the US in its so-called “backyard”.
For almost 10 Latin American countries, China is an important trading partner. In many cases, it is the second or third trading partner, and the country actively invests in various sectors of Latin American industry, especially mining. The development of military ties complements its broad strategy, which includes the development of economic, logistical and investment ties with the entire region.
For this reason, it is likely that Latin America will become a Chinese-dominated region. Although Latin America should be within the US sphere of influence, the Americans instead prioritised on politically dominating a country to control its resources and wealth, no matter the sensitivities of the local peoples. The Chinese took a different approach and instead entered the region with investments and developments, with limited political input, which will now see it dominate the region in the foreseeable future.