WASHINGTON – Brazil is the single most important player in the Sino-Latin America relationship, Dr. Yuan Peng, assistant president of the China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) said during a Sept. 19 conference organized by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Institute of the Americas.
“The next 10 years belong to Brazil,” Yuan told a standing-room-only audience of more than 130 government officials, diplomats, business leaders and academics, while “Argentina and Mexico are large and growing. We see great progress in Sino-Latin American relations. Both China and Latin America are rising.”
The conference, titled, “Latin America and China: What do they mean for each other?,” focused on China’s rise in the international economic system and China’s role in Latin American trade, investment and growth. Speakers at the conference included: Dr. Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center; Dr. Shouguo Yang, deputy director of the Institute of Latin American Studies at CICIR in Beijing; Ines Bustillo, director of the United Nations ECLAC Washington office; and Lynne Walker, vice president and director of the China-Latin America program at the Institute of the Americas.
Yuan noted that China and Latin America have long enjoyed a cooperative relationship.
“We have no historical disputes with Latin America,” he said. “We have no geopolitical conflicts with Latin America. We don’t have ideological conflicts with Latin America like we do with the United States and Europe.”
Yet, there is a “growing anti-China movement in Brazil,” said Joao Castro Neves, researcher at the Universidade de Sao Paulo. While 80 percent of Brazil’s exports to China are commodities such as oil, soy and iron ore, roughly 90 percent of China’s exports to Brazil are manufactured goods.
“China is beginning to be seen as a threat,” Castro said. “As the relationship intensifies, there is more friction between the two countries.”
The Sino-Latin America relationship is part of China’s long-term economic strategy, Yuan said. China’s current five-year plan calls for the acceleration of the transformation of its economic model.
“The current model cannot continue,” Yuan said. “We need to change in five years from an export-driven economy to export-investment to internal consumption. We need to change from environmental destruction to an environmentally-friendly society.”
As China makes these changes, Yuan insisted that his country “has no intention of challenging America. We just export computers. We don’t export ideology.”
Ambassador Charles S. Shapiro, president of the Institute of the Americas, said, “The phenomenal growth in Latin America over the past decade is due to the growth in China. What is clear is that China is important for Latin America.”
Chas W. Freeman, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia who served as President Richard Nixon’s main interpreter during his 1972 China visit, agreed, saying, “For the first time, Latin America will shape itself and play a role on the shaping of other regions.
“How the U.S., China and Latin America might cooperate is no longer a moot point,” Freeman said. “In many ways, we seem to be on the verge of a world in which there will be no globally dominant power.”
Ambassador Stapleton Roy, who serves as director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, said in a world “not subject to domination by a world superpower, the regional centers will be more significant.
“Latin America has the potential to become a more significant player in this world,” Roy said. “How the U.S. will relate to the China-Latin America relationship is of paramount importance.”