Apr 18th 2018

China’s Elitist Collaborators

by Juan Pablo Cardenal

Juan Pablo Cardenal is a researcher at The Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL).

HONG KONG – At the beginning of this century, when China launched its “going out” policy – focused on using foreign-exchange reserves to support overseas expansion and acquisitions by Chinese companies – few expected the country quickly to emerge as a leading economic player in Latin America. Yet that is exactly what has happened. The question is whether this is good for Latin America.

In less than 15 years, China has gone from playing a rather marginal economic role in Latin America to being among the top investors and trading partners for most countries in the region, as well as its foremost lender and infrastructure builder. With its economic plans in Latin America cruising along smoothly – a trend that seems unlikely to change anytime soon – China has now set its sights on another goal: expanding its political influence in the region and beyond.

Of course, China’s status as an economic heavyweight already affords it a significant degree of political clout. But the Chinese state and its ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) are also pursuing a more direct, coordinated, and far-reaching strategy to expand its soft power.

That strategy – more “sharp” than “soft” in practice – focuses largely on promoting personal and institutional engagement, cooperation, and exchanges with Latin American elites in four main areas: media, culture, academia, and politics. For example, China produces free media content to be shared locally, provides scholarships to Latin American students and professionals to be “trained” in China, creates partnerships with local universities and think tanks, and opens and operates Confucius Institutes, among other initiatives.

But the single most powerful tool China employs is people-to-people exchange, whereby China seeks to build strong personal relationships with influential individuals from a variety of fields. To that end, Chinese leaders bring Latin American political figures, academics, journalists, high-ranking government officials, ex-diplomats, and others to China to participate in weeks-long trainings, academic events, or ad hoc exchange programs, and meet their Chinese counterparts.

This “elite capture” is not insignificant. According to President Xi Jinping, China w ill train 10,000 prominent Latin Americans by 2020. Moreover, the CPC has committed itself to inviting 15,000 members of foreign political parties to China for exchanges in the next five years – initiatives in which many Latin American political representatives are already engaged.

The primary goal of these efforts is to ensure that prominent figures, including current and future leaders of Latin America – typically handpicked by the Chinese leadership – are on China’s side. To put it bluntly, China’s authoritarian regime is subtly and gradually buying Latin America’s elites.

And the plan is working. The luxurious five-star hotels, over-the-top hospitality, and carefully crafted narrative and agendas make a powerful, even hypnotic, impression on China’s foreign guests. Many of them return home believing that China is a fundamentally benign actor, and thus that they have nothing to fear from its engagement in their countries. Many go so far as to become cheerleaders for China.

Their praise for China – expressed through published work, public remarks, or private comments – often, and understandably, focuses on the country’s perceived economic success. They speak with admiration about the economy’s transition from Maoism to “red capitalism,” its resilience in the face of the 2008 global financial crisis, and its emergence as perhaps the main winner of globalization. And they celebrate China as a valuable source of investments, loans, and market opportunities.

China’s experience proves, according to many of the regime’s newfound friends, that development without democracy is possible. That assessment is almost never qualified by recognition of the potential dangers of becoming too dependent on China, much less any reference to its authoritarian political system or poor human-rights record.

These enthusiasts probably would not want a China-style regime in their own countries. Yet, by accepting and even propagating the CPC-endorsed narrative and abjuring any critical analysis, they are contributing to a worryingly inaccurate image of China across Latin America. With little knowledge about China, many in the region are getting their information from their local elites – the very people whom China’s leaders are trying to attract.

The public, in Latin America and elsewhere, deserves to hear the whole story. They should learn about China’s asymmetric relationships with many of its trading partners, and the stark terms of Chinese loans, which have left many borrowers mired in a debt trap. They should also know the truth about labor conditions at China’s overseas projects, not to mention their environmental and social impact. And they should know about intensifying domestic repression in the age of Xi.

There is no doubt that Chinese engagement has brought major opportunities to Latin America. But the risks cannot and should not be ignored. The journalists, academics, politicians, and other influential people whom China is courting have a responsibility to avoid being swept up in the charm offensive, and to provide a clear-eyed assessment of the potential pitfalls of engagement. Otherwise, Latin America may soon find itself paying a high price for its blurred vision.


Juan Pablo Cardenal is a researcher at The Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL).

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2018.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Oct 17th 2018
Yemen is a country of some 29 million persons, but over a third of them are at risk of starvation if Saudi and UAE bombing campaigns continue.
Oct 14th 2018
Now the Trump administration is eroding the dollar’s global role. Having unilaterally reimposed sanctions on Iran, it is threatening to penalize companies doing business with the Islamic Republic by denying them access to US banks. The threat is serious because US banks are the main source of dollars used in cross-border transactions. According to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), dollars are used in nearly half of all cross-border payments, a share far greater than the weight of the US in the world economy. In response to the Trump administration’s stance, Germany, France, and Britain, together with Russia and China, have announced plans to circumvent the dollar, US banks, and US government scrutiny. “Plans” may be a bit strong, given that few details have been provided. But the three countries have described in general terms the creation of a stand-alone financial entity, owned and organized by the governments in question, to facilitate transactions between Iran and foreign companies.
Oct 5th 2018
There are a lot of oddballs in US President Donald Trump’s entourage, but few are as odd – or as sinister – as 33-year-old Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy adviser. Miller resembles a type on the far right that is more common in Europe than the US: young, slick, sharp-suited, even a trifle dandyish. He is a skilled rabble-rouser, whose inflammatory rhetoric against immigrants and refugees – “We’re going to build that wall high and we’re going to build it tall !”– drives the crowds at Trump rallies into a frenzy. One of his crowd-pleasing notions is that migrants will infect Americans with terrible diseases.
Oct 3rd 2018
.....here we are in 2018, 40 years after Camp David. The Palestinian dream of an independent state is not only unrealized but is most likely unrealizable. With many Palestinians now favoring a one state solution......the once "Arab minority"  is now a majority.....
Sep 25th 2018
The US stock market, as measured by the monthly real (inflation-adjusted) S&P Composite Index, or S&P 500, has increased 3.3-fold since its bottom in March 2009. This makes the US stock market the most expensive in the world, according to the cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) ratio that I have long advocated. Is the price increase justified, or are we witnessing a bubble?
Sep 23rd 2018
Global debt recently hit a new record high of 225% of world GDP, amounting to US$164 trillion. The world is now 12 points deeper in debt than the previous peak in 2009, with advanced economies’ ratios at levels not seen since World War II.
Sep 18th 2018
To understand them, it is worth looking at three reputable leaders who died this summer: former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former British Foreign Secretary and NATO Secretary-General Peter Carrington, and US Senator John McCain. Having worked with Annan and for Carrington, I can vouch for their grace, honor, and commitment to truth. McCain plainly had the same qualities, not to mention a level of personal bravery far beyond what is expected of most of us (though it should be noted that Carrington was also a war hero). These leaders’ combination of honor and commitment to truth – two attributes that are intrinsically connected – is nowhere to be seen in Trump or Johnson.
Sep 18th 2018
From controlling the media to stoking nationalism, Russian President Vladimir Putin has always known how to keep his approval ratings high. But Russians’ lives are not getting any better, especially after the latest round of Western economic sanctions – and Putin’s declining approval rating shows it.
Sep 15th 2018
As we mark the decennial of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, there are still ongoing debates about the causes and consequences of the financial crisis, and whether the lessons needed to prepare for the next one have been absorbed. But looking ahead, the more relevant question is what actually will trigger the next global recession and crisis, and when. The current global expansion will likely continue into next year, given that the US is running large fiscal deficits, China is pursuing loose fiscal and credit policies, and Europe remains on a recovery path. But by 2020, the conditions will be ripe for a financial crisis, followed by a global recession. There are 10 reasons for this. First, the fiscal-stimulus policies that are currently pushing the annual US growth rate above its 2% potential are unsustainable. By 2020, the stimulus will run out, and a modest fiscal drag will pull growth from 3% to slightly below 2%.
Sep 12th 2018
Next month, a judge in Oregon will begin hearing a case brought against the United States government on behalf of 21 young people, supported by the non-profit organization Our Children’s Trust, who allege that the authorities’ active contributions to the climate crisis violate their constitutional rights. The government defendants have repeatedly tried – so far without success – to have the case thrown out or delayed, and the trial is currently scheduled to start on October 29.
Sep 5th 2018
Wars are expensive, as the Russian people are now learning. The Kremlin is pursuing military adventures in Eastern Ukraine and Syria, and though these conflicts are limited in scope, one wonders if the country can really afford them.
Sep 1st 2018
This week, the California state legislature voted to mandate that all the state’s electricity come from non-carbon sources (chiefly wind, solar and hydro) by 2045. Since California if it were a country would have the world’s fifth largest economy, and since so many other states are economically integrated with it, this plan, if signed by governor Jerry Brown, could help transform the entire country. The goal is less difficult than it seems on the surface. California had already committed to getting one third of its electricity from renewables by 2020, and reached that goal in 2017. It committed to getting 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030, and in fact will likely reach that goal 10 years early, in 2020.
Aug 29th 2018
Quote: "This may ultimately result in creation of a new accounting standard - the Enterprise Value of Data – which could become an integral part of financial statements, capturing the value of the largest and most ignored corporate asset: data."
Aug 29th 2018
What comes through clearly in polling on US public opinion is that there is a deep partisan divide on the Israeli/Palestinian issue, with key demographic groups increasingly more supportive of Palestinian rights and antagonistic to hardline Israeli policies. In some ways, the Netanyahu/Trump "marriage" has also helped to fuel the partisan divide. A Pew poll from earlier this year found that support for Palestinians far surpasses support for Israel among self-described "progressive" and "liberal" voters. And a recent Gallup poll shows that only 17% of Democrats now have a favorable view of the Israeli leader. 
Aug 27th 2018
History suggests that current-account imbalances ultimately matter a great deal. A still-unbalanced global economy may be forced to relearn that painful lesson in the coming years.
Aug 27th 2018
The United States economy is doing well. But the next recession – and there is always another recession – could be very bad. The US Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates that GDP growth in the second quarter of 2018 reached 4.1% – the highest since the 4.9% seen under President Barack Obama in 2014. Another year of growth will match the record ten-year expansion of the 1990s. Add to that low unemployment, and things are looking good. But this cannot continue forever.
Aug 24th 2018
If Britain leaves the European Union with no deal in place to govern trade with its biggest partner, it will fall back on World Trade Organisation rules. The same set of rules would apply to EU countries and non-EU trade partners. This is why the UK government has published a series of “technical notices” detailing preparations for a no-deal Brexit. Here are seven reasons that sum up why a no-deal Brexit and defaulting to WTO rules would be bad for British businesses and the wider economy.
Aug 23rd 2018
Unlike today’s aspiring strongmen, a truly tough leader would stand up for international cooperation, and seek to persuade voters why it matters. One hopes that French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will do precisely that in the coming months. In the meantime, we must pray that wannabe tough guys like Trump and Erdoğan do not do too much damage to their respective countries, and to the rest of us. It is time to make cooperation great again.
Aug 23rd 2018
Historians will mark August 21, 2018, as a turning point in American history. President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer pleaded guilty to 8 counts of criminal wrongdoing that could carry a sentence of up to 65 years. Most significantly, he pleaded guilty to having attempted illegally to interfere in an election “in coordination with and at the direction of a federal candidate for office.”
Aug 22nd 2018
As the usual political inferno between parties and private firms rages on, the phantom threat of mafia involvement in Italian construction has resurfaced. The region of Liguria sadly scores quite high in the assessments of mafia infiltration. In the area, Calabrian mafia clans of the ‘ndrangheta – Italy’s most powerful mafia today – have heavily invested in the construction sector, in public tenders and in the exploitation of the port of Genoa and the roads to France and to the rest of the Italian north, for the purposes of illegal trafficking.