In This Review

China in Latin America: The Whats and Wherefores
China in Latin America: The Whats and Wherefores
By R. Evan Ellis
Lynne Rienner, 2009, 326 pp

Through exhaustive field research and interviews, Ellis inventories, country by country, China's rapidly expanding commercial and diplomatic presence in Latin America and the Caribbean. The irresistible allure of trade with the Chinese is a mixed blessing for the region: to transport raw materials and agricultural goods, a new East-West infrastructure is expanding Pacific coast ports from Mexico to Chile, once again leaving Latin America overly dependent on the export of low-value-added commodities. And although China's motives may be primarily commercial, the implications of its incursions are geopolitical: visiting Chinese leaders have declared Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela to be "strategic partners." As Ellis documents, China is investing heavily in Venezuelan crude oil, despite worries over Hugo Chávez's volatility and fears of embroiling itself in disputes between Caracas and Washington. China -- together with illiberal petrostates -- is a vital backstop for Chávez's authoritarian populist project and unrelenting drive to undercut U.S. interests and influence in the region. Inexplicably, Foggy Bottom has seemed largely oblivious to this concerted geopolitical challenge so close to home.