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U.S. Is Watching China's Latin American Moves

After two-day talks, an American envoy says Washington is attentive but not concerned about Beijing's growing military activities.

April 15, 2006|Mark Magnier | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — The Bush administration held talks this week with Chinese officials on their nation's growing role in training and advising armed forces in Latin America, though the Americans did not issue warnings or call for limits, a U.S. envoy said Friday.

The two-day meetings, which also covered political and economic issues, were the first between the two countries devoted solely to Latin America, said Thomas A. Shannon, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America. The discussions reflect China's growing influence as a global power and world-class consumer of oil and other resources, he added.

"We're very attentive" to China's military-related activities in Latin America, Shannon told reporters at the U.S. Embassy here. "I wouldn't say we're concerned at this point. Our own military relationships are much more developed."

Shannon said the talks were designed to improve communication between the two powers in a region where both have significant interests, in hopes of preventing misunderstanding and identifying areas of future cooperation.

Ultimately, how Latin American countries choose to engage with Beijing is their concern, he said. "It's not up to us to tell countries what kind of relationship they can have with China."

But the Bush administration remains watchful, said the assistant secretary of State, who heads back to Washington today after meetings this week in Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing.

Last month, Army Gen. Bantz J. Craddock, who oversees U.S. military operations in Latin America, told a Senate Armed Services Committee that "more and more Chinese nonlethal equipment" was showing up in the region and that growing numbers of Latin American military officers were going to China for training.

China's growing wealth and thirst for energy, minerals and other raw materials for its rapidly expanding economy have led to a sharp rise in investment and trade in Latin America, with military links a part of that growing footprint, analysts said.

Nearly half of China's direct foreign investment goes to Latin America, a figure Chinese officials say could reach $100 billion by the end of the decade. And the region's two-way trade with China has grown fourfold since 2000, to $50 billion last year.

Venezuela pledged in February to ship 300,000 barrels of crude a day to the Asian nation, up from 160,000 barrels, and state media here recently announced that Beijing had reached a deal to acquire Ecuadorean oil assets worth $1.4 billion.

In November 2004 during a trip to Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Cuba, Chinese President Hu Jintao pledged tens of billions of dollars to improve the region's infrastructure.

Chinese analysts said their nation's expanded military relations with Latin America are part of its growing political, economic, diplomatic and military ties around the world.

"But we won't push too much in that direction," said Guo Shuyong, an international relations professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. "We remember the Monroe Doctrine and respect U.S. influence in the region. China is not like the Soviet Union 50 years ago. There will be no Cuban missile crisis."

Shannon said U.S. and Chinese officials had discussed how to stem terrorism, organized crime, money laundering and illegal drugs. He also cited Beijing's commitment to a U.N.-sponsored multinational force in Haiti, in which 134 Chinese police officers serve.

Most of China's military missions in nearly 20 Latin American countries focus on training, Shannon added. However, those defense activities are dwarfed by China's trade and investment ties with the region.

Critics in Washington have accused China of locking up resources in long-term deals that undercut other potential customers, particularly when the arrangements involve state-owned companies that may not have to abide by market principles.

Venezuela, which ships about 60% of its oil to the U.S., has been of particular concern. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez deeply distrusts Washington, and his government wants to diversify the customer base for its oil.

Shannon suggested, however, that Washington had the upper hand in this relationship.

"Venezuela ships to the United States about 1.5 million barrels of petroleum a day," he said. "Venezuela has a greater stake in oil relations with the U.S. than the U.S. has with Venezuela."

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