LA JOLLA – What does China want from Latin America? Oil. Minerals. Agricultural products.
But China also wants a broader, more diversified relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean, said Brazilian Ambassador to China Clodoaldo Hugueney during a Nov. 28 presentation to an audience of business leaders and scholars at the Institute of the Americas. “China has also started thinking about the relationship in more comprehensive terms — not just in terms of natural resources and trade, but a more political relationship.”
Hugueney, who has served as Brazil’s ambassador to China for the past four years, said Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao “took the region by surprise” during a June 2012 speech to the U.N. Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean when he “proposed a model for a relationship that involved the whole Latin America region and established a political dialogue.”
“Up to this point, the relationship had been a bilateral relationship between China and different countries. Brazil was a priority. Venezuela was a priority. Cuba was a priority,” Hugueney said. During the June speech, Wen “proposed several initiatives, for example, meetings of agricultural ministers. They are now pursuing these initiatives, which indicates that the relationship with China and the whole region has become much more important.”
Brazil’s relationship with China has changed “dramatically” over the past five years.
“The relationship has moved from the economic front to the political, scientific and cultural fronts. The relationship became much more comprehensive and diversified,” Hugueney said. “Every year, either the Brazilian president visits China or the Chinese prime minister visits Brazil, something that has never happened before. Not only are there visits, but the presidents talk on the phone and they meet on the margins of all the international meetings.”
China is now Brazil’s largest trading partner.
“What we have been trying to do is shift the trade structure so that we are exporting more manufactured goods to China,” he said. The main manufactured good that Brazil exports to China is aircraft. For example, Brazil’s aircraft manufacturer Embraer has about 70 percent of the Chinese market.
“We have finally convinced the Chinese that it is in their own interest to do this,” said Hugueney. “The Chinese are sending missions to Brazil to increase imports of Brazilian products. The Chinese are also dramatically increasing investment in Brazil. They are moving into the industrial sector – the automobile sector, the construction sector. They have been in the telecommunication sector for several years now.”
The Brazilian government took the unusual step of establishing a structure to oversee the relationship with China, building a blueprint for the objectives of a comprehensive relationship.
“We adopted a five-year plan of action,” said Hugueney. “We established 11 key issues, including trade, investment, agriculture, science and technology, culture, education.
“We now have a document that is not a classic diplomatic document, but a 30-page document indicating priorities, so that the relationship evolves in a way that is positive for both countries. The idea is to ensure that the relationship is, as the Chinese like to say, a ’win-win’ relationship for both. If left uncontrolled, we can be sure that there will only be one winner in the relationship because the Chinese think ahead and plan ahead.”
As China’s relationship with Latin America deepens, the country’s leaders have been careful to stress that it poses no challenge to the historic relationship between the United States and Latin America.
“For all of the Latin American countries, the relationship with the United States will always be fundamental,” said Hugueney. “It would be a mistake, both for China and for Latin America, to perceive the growing relationship with China as a sort of a counterbalance to the relationship with the United States. The Chinese are 20,000 km away. The United States is part of the region. The U.S.-Latin America relationship is going to remain a central relationship in the region.”