Over the past two decades, China has strengthened its economic ties with countries in Latin America, but it is China’s growing influence in the region that worries Washington.
China’s growing threat to America has always been front and center in the American consciousness as defense officials and lawmakers continue to monitor emerging trends from Beijing’s growing ties around the world.
China’s quiet expansion in the Southern Hemisphere has increasingly attracted the attention of US defense officials and lawmakers, including Florida Republican Representative Maria Elvira Salazar, who last month drew attention to growing security threats from Latin America.
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At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Salazar told lawmakers that Argentina, along with countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia, is allowing China a military foothold in Latin America.
,[Chinese President] Salazar told lawmakers, “Xi Jinping has visited Latin America more times in the past 10 years than Presidents Obama, Trump and Biden combined.” The Chinese are not here for business. They are here for war.”
The Florida lawmaker pointed to China’s sale of military equipment and weapons to the region over the past decade and claimed that Argentina is now considering opening a Chinese fighter jet factory.
Argentina’s ambassador to the US, Jorge Arguello, earlier this month dismissed Salazar’s claims as false and called them “absurd”.
However, Salazar also drew attention to a deep space station the size of “400 football fields” in the middle of Argentina’s Patagonia desert as another major security concern.
“I’m sure the Chinese are very interested in studying the stars and every constellation. But the problem is that the Argentines don’t know what’s going on there because the Chinese don’t let them in,” she added before questioning Said whether this program has anything to do with the recent Chinese “ballooning” activity over the US
The ambassador scoffed at Salazar’s concerns about the space station, saying he had personally visited it and claimed it was similar to another agreement Argentina had with the European Space Agency.
However, an expert on Latin America told Fox News Digital that the US has serious concerns when it comes to the space station.
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“We have no clue what is happening there and neither do the people of Argentina. We believe that [China’s] As a mechanism for tracking our space activity and otherwise being a collector of intelligence, said Juan Cruz, former National Security Council Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Beijing’s involvement in Latin America extends well beyond its military interests there.
According to Salazar’s office, China has a “physical presence” in 25 of the 31 Latin American countries and about 30% of its global debt goes to Latin America.
Trade between China and Latin America also grew 26-fold from 2000-2020 – increasing from $12 billion to $315 billion, according to the World Economic Forum.
This growth is expected to reach over $700 billion per year by 2035.
While the US remains Latin America’s largest trading partner, China is moving quickly to overtake Washington in nearly every area in the region, including trade, security, technology and diplomatic relations – a feat that has largely But it is being done through soft power.
“We woke up one day and the Chinese were in our neighborhood,” Cruz said. “This displacement doesn’t just happen in business and government [and] Diplomatic influence but in terms of technology and what they’re doing around the world is very much relevant to American interests.”
Cruz explained that the US has a “crisis-oriented” approach when it comes to Latin American foreign policy, which generally means that Washington focuses on regions that are already in crisis or a threat to the US. are causing problems.
“Chinese investment and Chinese involvement is the opposite,” he said. “They’re investing, and their role is where no one is watching.”
China first began investing in small local projects throughout Latin America in the late 90s. With the beginning of the War on Terror in the early 2000s, China increased its investment in places such as the Caribbean, where former colonial powers were no longer spending many of their resources.
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Cruz explained that this left a “vacuum” that China stepped in and filled, cementing itself as a top international player in Latin America.
“That’s how they got into the game and gained their influence,” he said. “They come up with these little projects or insignificant things that you or I underestimate the importance of, yet they’re thinking about it in a completely different way.”
American businesses have largely left Latin America for various reasons related to corruption, legal norms, and other foreign financial incentives.
However, under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese companies have not only been intimidated by similar barriers, but have chosen to invest in projects that do not show clear or immediate benefits.
“Nobody makes money from public utilities – so they’re selling them. But the Chinese are buying,” Cruz elaborated. “And what is it that they get? It gets attention. It gets impact.”
However, investing in public infrastructure and technology development not only favors China in this area, it also opens them up to a certain amount of control.
Cruz said, “The Chinese are fantastic.” “They buy agreements that don’t make money, but that … make an impact that you can’t tabulate.”
US and international defense officials have long warned about the kind of intelligence China can collect through its Huawei infrastructure and how it could threaten international security.
However, Cruz pointed to another advantage that China enjoys in obtaining bargaining chips – public utility services such as water, electricity and internet facilities.
“Would you want another country to operate and control that kind of infrastructure in your country?” Cruz inquired. “If they wanted, they could put a tool in their software that remotely controls your electricity.
“It makes these countries more attractive to the Chinese,” he explained.
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As China appears to be buying influence in Latin America, security officials are concerned about the number of fronts Beijing is inserting itself in, including acquisition of natural resources, 5G development, space security and Taiwan’s security. Covers major geopolitical hot topics.
Cruz said, “The Chinese playbook is not the only one. They have tool after tool that they are working with.”
“They have opened 10 fronts against us. Do we fight on all 10 fronts?” He continued. “Can it be done? I don’t know.”