China and Latin America sit on the opposite sides of the globe, but the formidably vast Pacific Ocean that separates them did not stop them from sharing a long history of exchanges.
Today, the major developing country in the East is forging an increasingly close partnership with the dynamic region in the Western Hemisphere, especially since Chinese President Xi Jinping took office in 2013, and set into motion what is now known as Xiplomacy.
In the past six years, President Xi has visited 11 Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) Countries. On Tuesday, he is setting foot on the region for the fifth time as President, as he arrives in Brazil for the upcoming 11th BRICS Summit.
Thanks in no small part to Xi’s push, the time honoured, distance defying China-Latin America relationship is flourishing with new vitality. China has become the second largest trading partner of Latin America, while the latter is one of the fastest-growing sources of exports to China. Two-way trade rose 18.9 percent year on year to 307.4 billion U.S. dollars in 2018.
Every time President Xi visited Latin America, he reaffirmed China’s commitment to cementing bilateral friendship and expanding win-win cooperation.
His first trip to the region as the head of state, in 2013, took him to Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Mexico. The following year saw him travel to Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Cuba.
It was in Brazil that President Xi met with leaders from 11 LAC Countries, and for the first time laid out his grand vision for building a China-Latin American community with a shared future.
“Let us seize the opportunities presented to us and work together to blaze new trails in building a community of shared destiny for common progress and usher in a bright future for the relations between China and Latin America and the Caribbean,” President Xi said in a keynote speech at the first ever China-Latin American and Caribbean Countries Leaders’ Meeting in 2014.
He then proposed a “1+3+6” cooperation framework to “promote faster, broader and deeper cooperation between the two sides for real results.”
The “1” refers to “one plan,” the Chinese-Latin American and Caribbean Cooperation Plan (2015-2019), formulated to promote inclusive growth and sustainable development.
The “3” alludes to “three engines” for driving practical cooperation for comprehensive development, namely trade, investment and financial cooperation.
The “6” means the six priority cooperation fields of energy and resources, infrastructure building, agriculture, manufacturing, scientific and technological innovation, and information technologies.
In 2016, President Xi visited Ecuador, Peru and Chile. Two years later, he travelled to Argentina for the Group of 20 summits as well as Panama, a Central American country which established diplomatic ties with China in June 2017.
In a landmark speech at the Peruvian Congress in Lima in 2016, Xi expounded the significance of strengthening China-Latin America cooperation.
“With one-fifth of the world’s total area and nearly one-third of the world’s population, China and Latin America and the Caribbean are crucial forces for world peace and stability,” he said.
China, he added, “will increase sharing of governance experience and improve planning and coordination of macro policies with Latin American and Caribbean states to better synergize our development plans and strategies.”
Besides top-level engagement, Xi also reaches out to local people from all walks of life, in order to keep cementing the China-Latin America friendship and the public support for bilateral cooperation
While in Costa Rica, President Xi visited a family-run coffee plantation and tried some local brew. “I think some more coffee can well be exported to China,” President Xi told his hosts with a smile.
Today, Costa Rica exports coffee to the Asian market, along with pork, dairy, pineapples and other high-quality agricultural goods, especially after the inauguration of the China International Import Expo in 2018.
With international cooperation within the framework of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) gaining steam worldwide, the Xi proposed vision is creating new opportunities for China-Latin America Cooperation.
The BRI, designed to promote common development along and beyond the ancient Silk Road trade routes, comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and the latter is closely connected to Latin America.
For two and a half centuries, from the mid-1500s to the early 1800s, galleons laden with Chinese silk, spices, porcelain and other goods sailed across the ocean to today’s port city of Acapulco on the Mexican Pacific Coast.
Latin America is the natural extension of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, President Xi said in a meeting with visiting Argentine President Mauricio Macri in May 2017.
In a congratulatory message to the second Ministerial Meeting of the China-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Forum held in Chile on January 22, 2018, Xi stressed that China and LAC countries “need to draw a new blueprint for our joint effort under the Belt & Road Initiative and open a path of cooperation across the Pacific Ocean that will better connect the richly endowed lands of China and Latin America and usher in a new era of China-LAC relations.”
During President Xi’s visits, the Chinese President is always dedicated to better aligning the BRI an open platform for cooperation with the development plans of LAC Countries.
In his meeting with Macri, President Xi called for dovetailing the BRI with Argentina’s development strategy, expanding cooperation in such sectors like infrastructure, energy, agriculture, mining and manufacturing, and implementing existing major cooperation projects in hydro-power, railway and other fields.
Similarly, during the state visit to Panama in December 2018, President Xi said the National Logistics Strategy of Panama 2030 and the BRI are highly compatible, calling on the two sides to synergize their respective development strategies, boost cooperation and promote connectivity.
So far, 19 LAC countries have signed BRI cooperation agreements with China. China-Latin America cooperation in various areas has effectively promoted local economic and social development, bringing visible and tangible benefits to the Latin American people.
Just as President Xi said in his speech at the Peruvian Congress in 2016, “China will share its development experience and opportunities with the rest of the world and welcome other countries to board the express train of its development so that we can all develop together.”