The Future of Latin America and the Caribbean in the Context of the Rise of China
By R. Evan Ellis
Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2018, 42 pp.
Latin America–China Trade and Investment Amid Global Tensions: A Need to Upgrade and Diversify
By Anabel González
Atlantic Council, 2018, 32 pp.
Ellis warns of a possible dystopian future for Latin America. By 2050, if current economic trends persist, China may use its growing economic power and technological sophistication to co-opt Latin American business and political elites and give Chinese firms a competitive advantage. The Chinese military presence in Latin America is also likely to expand, especially if China wins a military confrontation with the United States (over Taiwan, for example). Latin America is unlikely to produce a coherent strategy to counter China’s encroachments, Ellis judges, although he recommends that the United States help strengthen the region’s regulatory and political institutions so they can better protect against predatory Chinese practices. Ellis’ description of the asymmetric relations between a dominant China and a subservient Latin America recalls Marxist-leaning theorists’ critiques of U.S.–Latin American relations in the 1960s and 1970s. Ellis, however, does acknowledge that Chinese influence may have some upsides. Chinese surveillance technology could enable Latin America to overcome two of its biggest scourges: official corruption and crime syndicates. From the perspective of some Latin Americans, these gains may warrant a grudging acquiescence to Chinese power.
González, a leading Costa Rican economist, worries that economic tensions between China and the United States could upend the international trading system, dampen global economic growth, and harm Latin America’s prospects. But she also foresees plentiful opportunities in Chinese markets for Latin American exports, such as high-end agricultural products. She cites Chile’s success in exporting fresh fruit to China as a promising example. The growing Chinese middle class could also create a bonanza for the Latin American tourism industry. González argues that rather than fear Chinese influence, other Latin American governments should follow the lead of Chile, Costa Rica, and Peru and strike free-trade agreements with Beijing in order to ensure that their companies have access to Chinese markets. González counsels Latin America to upgrade its trade infrastructure, improve its schools, boost its labor productivity, and enact good-governance reforms in order to benefit more fully from Chinese partnerships.