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What is U.S. strategy to counter Chinese influence in the Americas?

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Posted: Monday, December 20, 2021. 11:14 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: The fallout from Nicaragua switching diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China (Taiwan) to the People’s Republic of China continues.

An analyst for the blog The National Interest argues that the United States must develop a robust plan for countering increasing Chinese influence in the Americas, indirectly supporting the Taiwanese as well.

The Mainland Chinese have sought to both reduce Taiwanese influence in order to corner them into coming back to the fold, and lessen American hegemony in its backyard through an economic appeal and recognizing the “one China” policy.

The roots of the current campaign trace back to 2016, when President Tsai Ing-Wen’s pro-independence party took office and she outlined Taiwanese commitment to democracy, countering China’s socialist outlook, and noting the responsibility of acceptable means of interaction that are based on “dignity and reciprocity” that ensures “no provocations or accidents.” China’s Xi Jinping has responded with increased military and diplomatic pressure by showing off its military capability and working to decrease Taiwanese recognition diplomatically.

The United States has tried to play both sides, officially recognizing the PRC as representative of China but also supporting Taiwan by selling them military equipment and weapons and undermining other trouble spots for Mainland China such as Hong Kong.

The Chinese have responded by extending their Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) into the Americas, offering trade opportunities and substantial financial largesse, especially in infrastructure. The region has also grown important to China as it seeks to secure raw materials such as oil, ores, and minerals. Thus far, nineteen countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have signed up from Chile to Antigua and Barbuda.

The Chinese have sold military hardware and surveillance, run disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda operations against the United States and its allies in the region, and support anti-U.S. regimes like Cuba and Venezuela.

Despite their own issues such as imported labour, a disregard for environmental regulations, often opaque corporate balance sheets, and a willingness to use bribery, the Chinese have painted themselves as the good guys and the U.S. and Western countries as ‘the bad guys,’ corrupt, racist and ultimately no good.

So what is America doing about it? As part of the response, Washington launched its Growth in the Americas Initiative (better known in the region as América Crece), which highlights U.S. private sector expertise in infrastructure development. It also lectured the region on the dangers of China’s debt-trap diplomacy whereby Beijing gains influence by intentionally over-lending and taking control of assets in the case of problems with debt payments.

But its approach has not been comprehensive with a US$4 billion aid package to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and the expanded Build Back Better World (B3W) the primary attractions.

Nevertheless, China has been relentless, as in the case of the Guyana-Taiwan trade office debacle this year. Honduras’ Xiomara Castro, the wife of former left-wing President Manuel Zelaya (who was ousted in a coup in 2009) has been vocally anti-American and known to have ties to Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, and there are opportunities according to experts for PRC-driven logistics projects around the Gulf of Fonseca, improving the chances for a new port at La Unión, the improved dry canal corridor from Tigre Island to the Atlantic Coast of Honduras, and a connection to Nicaragua.

However, the Americans may find common ground in plans to tackle the country’s endemic corruption and create better living conditions.

The writer concludes that there is a need to reconceptualize their thinking about Latin America and the Caribbean, that it will have to win hearts and minds without resorting to bullying and recognizing that the world is more interconnected than ever and that China now is what the Soviet Union once was – a dance partner in a larger and riskier new Cold War.

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