The Landing Zone | 4.19.13
By Alan W. Dowd
Much has been reported about
Washington’s pivot to Asia and the Pacific. What’s not as well-known is Beijing’s pivot to the
Americas. Like a global chess match, Beijing is probing the Western Hemisphere
and sending a message that it, too, can cultivate trade and military ties outside
its neighborhood. Given that the United States has been the predominant power
in this hemisphere since the 1800s, China’s message warrants a response.
Before recapping some of
China’s moves in Latin America, it’s important to note that there are pluses
and minuses to Beijing’s increased interest and investment in this hemisphere.
Investment from China, Europe, Britain and the United States is fueling a much-needed
development boom in South America. That’s a plus. But China’s riches come with
strings, and that’s what raises concerns.
Driven by a thirst for oil and other
resources, China is aggressively and strategically building its economic
portfolio in the Western Hemisphere. A study in Joint Forces Quarterly (JFQ)
offers the highlights:
- $1.24 billion to upgrade
Costa Rica’s main oil refinery;
- $28 billion to underwrite
oil exploration and development in Venezuela;
- $2.7 billion,
including a new hydroelectric plant, for access to Ecuadoran oil;
- $10 billion to modernize
Argentina’s rail system and $3.1 billion to purchase Argentina’s petroleum
- $1.9 billion for development
of Chile’s iron mines;
- a planned “dry canal” to link
Colombia’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts by rail, with dedicated ports at
the Pacific terminus for shipping Colombian coal to China;
- $3.1 billion for a
slice of Brazil’s vast offshore oil fields.
Brazil is a prime example of how Beijing is using its
checkbook to gain access to energy resources. AsThe Washington Times reports, China’s
state-run oil and banking giants have inked technology-transfer, chemical,
energy and real-estate deals with Brazil. Plus, China came to the rescue of
Brazil’s main oil company when it sought financing for its massive drilling
plans, pouring $10 billion into the project.
“They are buying loyalty,”
warns a former British diplomat to the region. Indeed, U.S. diplomatic
cables reveal concerns that Beijing’s largesse is making the Bahamas, to
cite just one example, “indebted to
Chinese interests” and establishing “a relationship of patronage…less than 190
miles from the United States.”
That brings us to the
security dimensions of the China challenge. We know from our own history that trade
and economic ties often lead to security and defense ties. And that’s exactly
what’s happening as China lays down roots in the Americas:
- Officials with U.S. Southern Command reported in 2006 that Beijing had “approached every country in our area of
responsibility” and provided military exchanges, aid or training to
Ecuador, Jamaica, Bolivia, Cuba, Chile and Venezuela.
- The Argentine defense minister traveled to Beijing in 2012 to hail
a “bilateral strategic association in defense cooperation with China.”
- JFQ reports that most
Latin American nations “send officers to professional military education
courses in the PRC.”
- A congressional commission reports that Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are buying Chinese arms.
Bolivia has a military cooperation agreement with Beijing.
- According to a 2012 Pentagon
study, Beijing has sent senior
military officials to Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico
and Argentina in the past five years.
- A report in Military Review, a journal of
the U.S. Army, concludes that China is “winning a foothold” in the
Americas, detailing the flow of Chinese small-arms, medium artillery, air
defenses and ground-attack aircraft into Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela.
- The JFQ report
concludes that Chinese defense firms “are likely to leverage their
experience and a growing track record for their goods to expand their
market share in the region, with the secondary consequence being that those
purchasers will become more reliant on the associated Chinese logistics,
maintenance and training infrastructure.”
In short, China’s moves represent
a challenge to U.S. primacy in the region—a challenge that must be answered.
A good place to start would
be to dust off the Monroe Doctrine. The origin of the threats may change—France and Spain in
the 1800s, Imperial Germany in the early 1900s, the Soviet Union during the
Cold War—but the Monroe Doctrine remains an important guide for U.S. foreign
2.0” should make it clear to Beijing that while the United States welcomes
China’s efforts to conduct trade in the Americas, the American people look
unfavorably upon the sale of Chinese arms in this hemisphere and would not
countenance the basing of Chinese military personnel or export of China’s authoritarian-capitalism
model into this hemisphere. To borrow the
polite but candid language of the original Monroe Doctrine, a
Chinese outpost in the Americas could
only be seen as an “unfriendly” action “endangering our peace and happiness.”
Washington needs to send the right message—and in the right way—to the
Caribbean, Central America and South America. Specifically, Washington should emphasize
that just as they are not U.S. colonies or European colonies, they should not
allow themselves to become Chinese colonies. Already, there is a backlash in Brazil
and Argentina against China buying up land, and in the Bahamas against the
influx of Chinese workers. Washington should leverage this backlash.
actions should amplify U.S. pronouncements:
- The United States should make hemispheric
trade a priority, instead of allowing trade deals to languish. Colombia
and Panama waited five years for the U.S. to approve free-trade
- The United States should revive
aid and investment in the Americas, instead of allowing China to outflank
it. It pays to recall that Washington used to conduct the sort of
checkbook diplomacy that characterizes Beijing’s approach to Latin
- Washington should be proactive on hemispheric
security, building on successful partnership-oriented models in Colombia
and Mexico. China will fill the vacuum created by a distracted United
Monroe 2.0 would avoid
conflict by helping Beijing understand how serious the United States is about the
Americas. What was true in the 19th and 20th centuries must remain true in the
21st: There is room for only one great power in the Western Hemisphere.
The Landing Zone is Dowd’s monthly column on national defense and international security featured on the American Legion's website.