- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2004

BUENOS AIRES — China will invest $100 billion in Latin America over the next decade, steering funds primarily to infrastructure and energy projects.

The plan was announced in a series of accords this week during red-carpet visits to Brazil and Argentina by Chinese President Hu Jintao. Mr. Hu will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Santiago, Chile, which begins tomorrow.

In Argentina, investors rallied days before China indicated Wednesday it would pour more than $8 billion into railroads, $6 billion into housing and construction and $5 billion into petroleum projects.

Brazil, the largest economy and China’s top trading partner in Latin America, stands to receive $10 billion in investments.

“Our aim is to strengthen this relationship despite the distances” between the two countries, Argentine President Nestor Kirchner said, according to wire reports.

With an overheating economy facing a winter energy shortage, China is eager to secure supplies of oil and raw materials. Argentina and Brazil, the region’s two largest economies, want Sino investments and hope to persuade Beijing to import value-added products and services, not just raw materials.

“This is a huge opportunity for Argentina,” said Ernesto Fernandez Taboada, director of the Argentine-Chinese Chamber of Production, Industry and Commerce. “But the reality is that Argentina is an agriculture export economy. There are things China might be interested in buying but primarily they want raw materials. People here have to face that reality.”

China, however, is pushing for joint ventures in several areas, including space and energy technologies as well as tourism and educational programs.

Brazil and China, for example, already are partners in a satellite program and Sao Paulo is positioning to sell Beijing uranium and uranium-enrichment technology. Argentina aims to sell Cobalt 60, a radioactive isotope commonly used in industry.

Mr. Hu’s visit comes two weeks after elections in Venezuela, Chile and Uruguay further tilted the already left-leaning region away from the conservatism that dominated the 1990s. Some analysts say that shift, combined with China’s growing presence, could undermine U.S. interests.

“The strategic importance of Mr. Hu’s visit is absolutely critical because the U.S. has been preoccupied by the war and there is a vacuum here,” says Sergio Berensztein, an international relations professor at Torcuato Di Tella University in Buenos Aires.

“China is helping fill that vacuum and if things continue as they are, U.S.-backed free market policies will be threatened.”

Others disagree.

“None of this will be an impediment to relations with the United States,” says Elsa Llenderrozas, an economics professor at the University of Buenos Aires. “Also, there are no ideological affinities behind these types of accords. China wants to be a vast market full of business opportunities, and that is independent of any political regime.”

China’s economic ties have translated into diplomatic support, especially over Taiwan.

While in Argentina, Mr. Hu made thinly veiled references to Taiwan and the Falkland Islands. The newspaper Pagina12 reported that Mr. Hu highlighted the importance of “reciprocal support in matters of fundamental interests to the national sovereignty and territorial integrity” of both countries.

“Like all the nations in this region except for Paraguay, Argentina believes Taiwan is a rebel territory,” Mr. Taboada said. “We see what’s happening there as a rebellion just like in [the Falklands].”

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