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Latin America – China and Japan’s new battleground?

30 Jul Latin America – China and Japan’s new battleground?

Just two days after Chinese President Xi Jinping finished his nine-day tour of Latin America, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived in Mexico last week to begin his nine-day visit to the region.

The timing seems to suggest that the two Asian powers are vying for yet another set of trade partners and geopolitical allies – after having done so in Africa, Central Asia and Southeast Asia – although Japanese officials have dismissed the notion. Mr. Abe’s travel schedule, they say, is planned according to Japan’s parliamentary calendar.

Nonetheless, the fact that Latin America is on the radar of both leaders highlights the increasing importance of Asia-Latin American relations, especially in the context of long-running China-Japan and China-US rivalry.

Mr. Xi first arrived in Brazil for the BRICS summit, the five-nation meeting involving the fast-growing economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The BRICS summit was significant in itself, with the five member countries launching a new multilateral development bank and mutual currency stabilisation fund. Mr. Xi then made stops in Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba, all key economic or political allies of Beijing. This was his second visit to the region since taking office last year.

Notably, all countries Mr. Xi visited in July have tense relations with Washington. Brazilian ties with the US have cooled after the National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying row, while Argentinians were recently annoyed by the US Supreme Court’s refusal to review their country’s debt. Venezuela and Cuba are, of course, long-standing opponents of the US.

In contrast, Mr. Abe is visiting countries more firmly within the US sphere of influence, like Mexico, Colombia and Chile. However, Mr. Abe is also making his own stop in Brazil, underscoring the importance of Latin America’s largest economy to both Asian powers.

China, of course, has deeper pockets. During his visit, Mr. Xi pledged more money to Latin American countries in loans and financing. But this does not mean China will naturally have the upper hand. Japan can capitalise on its technology know-how and friendship with the US. There is also goodwill based on historical and cultural connections. Nearly two million people of Japanese descent are now living in Brazil and Peru.

It remains to be seen if China or Japan will emerge the winner in this diplomatic race. But the emerging economies in their new battleground will most likely benefit from more competition.


The diplomatic battle between China and Japan is taking a Latin American road trip [Quartz, 28 Jul 2014]

Xi Jinping’s Latin American trip places trade ahead of ideology [Financial Times, 17 Jul 2014]

Photo Credit: BRICS leaders, Kremlin.ru (Russian Presidential Press and Information Office)