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China in Latin America: To BRI or not to BRI

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During the first decade of the year 2000 China was consolidated as the first or second major trading partner for most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), and in the following decade there was a large increase in foreign direct investment and financing. The region ceased to be the US of America’s (US) “backyard” and has now become part of that country's economic, commercial, and political dispute with China. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched in 2013, became increasingly interwoven with the expansion of Chinese capital and foreign policy, creating an alternative to Western-dominated globalization. From this perspective, it is not surprising that Chinese diplomacy began to seek the formal integration of its LAC partners in the BRI. Unlike most literature on the issue, this article will use a holistic approach to combine the political and economic dimensions as well as the interaction between Chinese push and LAC pull factors. At the same time, we will focus attention on the geopolitical context, specifically the rivalry between China and the US. For this, we will follow an international political-economy approach. We also will combine a general overview with four select case studies that will help us to understand not just the general trend, but also the specificities of the relationship.

This chapter comes to three conclusions. First, the relationship is maturing, and a rising learning curve on both sides will be examined. Second, the degree of integration and acceptance of the BRI is not a determining factor that explains the intensity of the relationships. In addition, the third, although the US has given little attention to the increase in Chinese presence, this is rapidly changing in the context of the global rivalry between the two superpowers.


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  1. 1.

    Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenade, Guyana, Jamaica, Panama, Peru, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago Uruguay, Venezuela.

  2. 2.

    All publications are retrieved in December 2021, from (English, Spanish and Portuguese).

  3. 3.

    “The Monroe Doctrine” refers to President James Monroe’s 1823 annual message to Congress when he warned European powers not to interfere by military means in the Americas. Later it would become symbol of the US hegemony over LAC and the right to consider it as their backyard.

  4. 4.

    Out of a total of 15 countries, nine are from the LAC region: Belize, Grenadines, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent.

  5. 5.

    The DPP governments are seen by Beijing as pro-independence, contrary to the Kuomintang (KMT) that defends the one China policy.

  6. 6.

    Note the curious fact that the US, which itself does not formally maintain diplomatic relations with Chinese Taipei, called the Ambassadors of the three countries to consult in protest.

  7. 7.

    Brazil intended to be a prospective founding member of the AIIB at the beginning of 2015. However, immediately afterwards the country went through a severe political and economic crisis with the impeachment of the president the following year. This had several negative side effects on Brazil’s international commitments, one of which was the AIIB membership. According to the Bank’s formula for membership, Brazil should have bought US$ 1 billion in shares. In the negotiations Brazil ended up pledging just 10% and did not officially become a member until 2020.

  8. 8.

    However, the accelerated process was interrupted by large social protests that took over the country in 2020, frustrating the Chilean diplomacy's desire to be the first in the region in the AIIB, a position that remained with Ecuador.

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© 2023 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.

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de Sousa, A.T.L.M., Schutte, G.R., Abrão, R.A.F., Ribeiro, V.L. (2023). China in Latin America: To BRI or not to BRI. In: Duarte, P.A.B., Leandro, F.J.B.S., Galán, E.M. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Globalization with Chinese Characteristics. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.

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