Germany is unlikely to compete with China in South America’s resource industry. Writes Ahmed Adel
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s trip to Argentina, Brazil and Chile was with the aim of involving them in the Ukraine conflict and to create a regional counterweight to China’s growing influence. These are similar actions already made by the US in South America and one that we can also expect from other European powers.
Scholz’s visit is an attempt to restore influence in a region that has been empowered by China and Russia to forge an independent path that is not under the umbrella of the “Monroe Doctrine.” It is not a coincidence that the German Chancellor visited the region just days after the Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), at which member states sought to strengthen regional integration in the context of Western powers attempting to prevent Latin America from strengthening relations with Russia and China.
Behind Scholz’s visit was the fact that China has become very close to Latin America. Therefore, it is in Berlin’s interest to note this competition between the Great Powers in South America and follow the trends that are emerging in the region rather than just behave as Washington’s representative.
It cannot be overlooked that South America, especially Chile, has large lithium reserves. Scholz’s visit is a form of US and European effort to effectively make the Chilean economy work in their own interest, as was the case when the US installed Augusto Pinochet as dictator in 1973.
The West’s imperial attitude of previous centuries remains the same, but, now with China’s s thirst for resources, South American countries are finding a way out from the grasps of US hegemony. It is reminded, for example, that Chile’s main copper export partner today is China and not the US.
Both Washington and Berlin want major Latin American countries, like Chile, to ratify commercial, diplomatic, and political relations with the West so that they are not absorbed into China’s sphere of influence. This is an endeavour that will take many years to undergo because China is already entrenched in the region, something that is problematic for Germany as they need immediate solutions to the self-imposed energy crisis caused by sanctions on Russia.
Germany’s own self-destructive policies made it show an interest in a region that it never traditionally did. If the war in Ukraine was not occurring, it is more than likely that Berlin would not be in a hurry to forge new relationships for alternative energy sources. The issue is that Germany wants to impose its own liberal ideology over Latin America as a condition for trade, which means a cut in trade and relations with China and Russia.
South America is not only an important source of resources, but is a major region that refuses to cut trade and diplomatic relations with Russia. Whatever anticipation or expectation Scholz had on his trip were quickly dashed as he did not find the response he was expecting from his Latin American counterparts. The positions of the leaders of Argentina, Brazil and Chile reflects the fact that these governments know how to distinguish economic cooperation from political dependence.
Involving Latin America in the Ukraine conflict is something that will face widespread rejection. For example, although new Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva “emphatically deplored Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and annexation of parts of its territory as flagrant violations of international law” in a joint statement released with Scholtz on January 30, his government’s policies towards Russia have not deviated far from his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro.
However, Lula also confirmed that Brazil would not provide ammunition to Ukraine for German-made Gepard anti-aircraft guns, as reportedly requested by Berlin, and insinuated that Ukraine was not seeking peace. Effectively, Lula is happy to pay lip service to the West but will not take any concrete action in matters related to the war in Ukraine.
In the same light, Argentina and Chile’s leaders also ended any German hope that they might lend support for Ukraine despite the fact that they were happy to condemn Russia’s military operation as an “invasion”. On his Latin America tour, Scholz wanted to demonstrate that international unity against Russia extends beyond the Western World, but only managed to secure some statements that are unlikely to damage relations with Moscow.
For his part, Lula said Brazil will work with other countries to help achieve peace in Ukraine as his country has not taken sides – something objectively true despite some damning rhetoric. In fact, likely to the annoyance of the German Chancellor, Lula said that China has an important role to play in peace talks, which he said he will discuss on a planned visit to Beijing in March.
It can be said that although Scholz’s trip can serve as a foundation for German-South American relations, his main goals – to secure support for Ukraine and to make advances in the resource industry only found limited success. Although he secured some rhetoric against Russia, he could not secure any material support for Ukraine. At the same time, although Germany has pitched its entry into the resource market, there is no guarantee that it will come to fruition or even challenge China’s dominance in the region.
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