#06 event report: China and Latin America Relations: South-South Ties and the Global Commodity Boom


March 22, 2011, Bridge Café (Wudaokou)

Speaker:  Dr. Matt Ferchen, Associate Professor, Department of International Relations, Tsinghua University


The mixture of illusions, plans, hopes, and fears that arise out of the China–Latin America relationship are as powerful in their impact on Latin America as are the deals and events themselves…the greatest impact of China will come from what it leads the region to dream, and what Latin America finds when it awakens.

This statement, part of a recent but growing wave of academic, media, government, and business interest in China’s burgeoning economic and political relations with regions of the developing world from Latin America to Africa to Southeast Asia, captures an important but often underappreciated idea. Specifically, the perceptions and expectations of government and business leaders as well as everyday citizens of countries in Latin America will play a crucial role in determining the development of economic and political relations between their countries and China.

For its part, China has consistently and positively characterized its expanding trade and investment relations with regions of the developing world, in particular with Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia, as ‘win–win.’ Through official diplomacy and media out-lets, China has emphasized that mutually beneficial ties with these regions are a logical outcome of relations with China, itself a developing nation. Such a win–win scenario, China contends, should thus be lauded as a natural outgrowth of ‘South–South’ interaction.

However, within Latin America and Africa, as well as for other interested observers from around the world, perceptions of developing country relations with China span a wide range. At one end of the spectrum is optimism that China constitutes a new and alternative driver of trade and investment for developing countries. Such optimism is sometimes linked to the notion that China also serves an alternative model of economic development and international diplomacy. At the other end of the spectrum is skepticism and fear about China’s rising economic and political intentions and influence. Much of this contentious debate is reflected in the rapid increase in academic and media discussion of the twin ideas of a ‘Beijing Consensus’ or ‘China Model’ of development.

One of the key issues at stake in these debates is whether or not China’s rapidly expanding trade and investment relations with the developing world are of a more equal and sustainable nature than historical relations between developed and developing countries.